Andrea Smith, Rachel Dolezal and Reading Realness

Both Dolezal and Smith maintain they are African American and Native American (Cherokee) respectively, which is their right.  However, Rachel does not seem to have any blood kinship ties to any person of African American descent and twice, reportedly, Andrea Smith failed to meet the 1/8192 blood quantum minimum required to be certified as Cherokee.  That’s not a typo: 1/8192. In addition, neither Dolezal nor Smith (allegedly)  had to endure the barrage of racist messages Black and Native American children receive about their lack of worth, intelligence, and capacity to be fully human and agents of change. That’s not a read – that’s just the truth.

Regardless of our opinions of these two controversies,  this is an important opportunity for the anti-racist community to ask ourselves some difficult questions.AssataCheGif

  • How many of us prefer diversifying spaces with people in bodies that do not disturb our literal vision of who should be included prestigious schools, organizations, or media outlets?
  • What work have we done on our campuses and in our organizations, to include the differently-abled, the browner skinned, the sized, or the gender non-conforming (which is not the same as trans)?
  • How many of us feel validated in our social justice values by the presence of people who physically reflect mainstream standards of beauty?
  • Have we so internalized White supremacist ideology that we are more comfortable with leadership that looks nothing like many of us do?
  • When we see ourselves in the mirror, do we honestly love what we see? So much so that we want to see our full lips, broad noses, almond shaped eyes, regional twangs, dark skin, snapping fingers, and thick thighs reflected in others?

I’ve included a photograph of Dorian Corey because I first became aware of the concept of realness through the film Paris is Burning.  Although I don’t know anything about her kin, I imagine the fact that Corey lived in a segregated neighborhood, was likely the victim of a transphobic attack against which she defended herself but never felt comfortable calling the police, and (in my opinion) never received the recognition she deserved as a performer, are  indicators that she was also likely #ActualBlack.  Paris is Burning – directed by Jennie Livingston – documented gay men and trans women in the late ‘80s who sought to emulate the cis-gendered, upper class, White community they had little opportunity to know in person but were acquainted with through mainstream media depictions of that lifestyle. To be real, Corey explained, enabled members of her community to get home “with all their clothes, in one piece.”

In the world, for people of color being able to blend into mainstream institutions is the difference between life and death – not professor positions and book awards.

With that I’ll raise my glass to those of us who are still striving to bring all of ourselves everywhere we are. To the White allies who are working for human rights the hard way: continuously questioning their privilege, calling out racism in the White community, and putting themselves in spaces where they bear witness to the justifiable frustration and hurt people of color feel. To my fellow people of color, who insist on the right to be real 24/7 – however we define it – and make it home alive.

What do you think of the Dolezal and Smith controversies? Comment below or Tweet us @PPupil.

Yours in Solidarity,

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Robin J. Hayes

Writer/Director, Black and Cuba

Now Available on Educational DVD and Vimeo on Demand

 

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3 Comments

  1. Savanna Kustra

     /  September 28, 2015

    The act of ‘outing’ an individual in any sense of the term somehow feels violating. I have always felt this way, but somehow hearing about these individuals who have passed as another race for personal gain, it feels wrong; it does not sit well with me.

    While I cannot say exactly why this does not feel right, perhaps it is because ( speaking specifically to Rachel Dolezal) she had in fact identified as white with such passion that in her youth, she felt comfortable enough to peruse legal action against those who were being unfair to white students.

    Is race something that you can choose, or is this again white privilege peaking its head out. A white woman can decide to be black, tan her skin and tell tall tales of her past. A white woman could decide to appropriate a culture that is not her own without question, but a black woman certainly cannot decide to be white. She cannot wake up one day and erase the prejudice that she faces, it is not believable.

    Perhaps the uproar about Rachel D. is not just about the fact that she has decided to manipulate the system and an organization devoted to help people who have been systematically targeted for hundreds of years, maybe it is that she was accepted without question speaking to racism that she experienced willingly. Rachel D. decided to become black, and while I cannot speak to her true intent, I think that we can all agree it just does not feel fair.

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  2. Ksenia Voropaeva

     /  September 28, 2015

    I think it is a very good question, and anyone of any race or ethnicity is wondering the same when someone from another race claims a race that’s not theirs. Perhaps it has caused a sensation because we all, to various degrees, desire a just and honest society. Or at least one that attempts to fall in that spectrum. Rachel Dolezal, and others claiming to be something they are not, be it for personal reasons – still registers to the public as falsehood and misrepresentation. Society takes stances against lies and inaccuracies consistently, it is at times conscious and at times subconscious, but it is a learned and accepted practice. Consequently, when something is reported as being misrepresented and perhaps false, society must intervene and demand the truth.

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  3. Azra S

     /  November 9, 2015

    I think the outing of specifically Rachel Dolezal and the sensation that ensued really has to do with the time we are in as a society. Both that we love the opportunity to call someone out on their fabrications, but we also are in a time where there is a lot more conversation about racism faced by black individuals due to police brutality, racial profiling, aggression and ongoing injustice.

    In the case of Dolezal it’s more than cultural appropriation it’s a women identifying as another race without truly living the authentic life of a black woman. She has the privilege to alter her appearance in order to appear less like her biological race. The injustices faced by people of color are not realities faced by white people not things they can choose not to experience one day. Rachel Dolezal’s experience as a White women until the point she decided to identify as Black woman afforded her so many more opportunities that she may not have had otherwise.

    The fact is we can choose to identify with whatever we want, we can proclaim our appreciation for a culture or a race but that doesn’t mean a person knows the authentic experience, the history, the challenges faced by that race or culture. It’s undermining, its offensive and it doesn’t create progress.

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