Last week, a Washington state activist named Rachel Dolezal made national headlines when it was revealed that she lived much of her life as white, and was raised by her white parents, before presenting herself as a black woman in recent years. Dolezal resigned her post as president of the NAACP’s Spokane chapter yesterday, but maintained in a new interview with The Today Show that she has “identified as black” since childhood. Rapper-activist Talib Kweli spoke to Rolling Stone about his perspective on the controversy.
When I heard about Rachel Dolezal on Twitter, my first reaction was, “Wow, I’ve seen this movie. It’s Soul Man.” She even looks a little like C. Thomas Howell; same complexion. I remember watching that movie when I was a little kid and thinking it was ridiculous. I thought, “Okay, clearly, if this was real, everybody would have been able to see through it.” Now here we are.
She’s said she identifies as black. Cool story, but that’s not a real thing – because at any time, she could go back. That is a privilege that people of color do not have. You cannot just jump back and forth between those worlds. It’s very disrespectful to the people of color that she claims to identify with to say something like that. When you say something like that, you are not identifying with us, at all, in any way, shape, or form.
I read that she sued Howard University in 2002 for discriminating against her for being white. She said she was denied a position because of her race, and that a professor there took her artwork off the walls because she was a white woman. To me, that exemplifies the worst aspect of this story. She tried to take advantage of the university by suing them, and then later she advanced her career by playing black. She has a history of taking advantage of the situation.
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With all due respect to the NAACP, working with them doesn’t prove you’re not an asshole. They’re the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and we don’t even call ourselves colored people anymore. I saw NAACP people in Ferguson when I was down there, but I also saw that they were down with Donald Sterling. Anyone can start an NAACP chapter. So I don’t think that’s the best judge of her character.
Every quote-unquote “positive” thing she did to help people – these are all things that she could have done without pretending she was a black woman. The fraud of it would be hilarious, and that would be the end of it, if it wasn’t for the fact that she was using her privilege to occupy spaces that rightfully should have gone to women of color. I don’t see any good in that. I see a self-serving attitude.
I’ve seen people asking, “Well, why can Caitlyn Jenner identify as a woman?” I’m no expert, but it seems to me that there’s scientific evidence that shows that people can be born with a gender identity that they don’t identify with. That’s a real thing. I trust science. But I haven’t seen any scientific evidence – and I looked – that says you can be born one race and identify as another.
I’ve known white people who have said to me verbatim, “I feel black on the inside.” There’s nothing wrong with being honest about that. But she took it to the next level. When you lie; when you’re saying your adopted brother is your son; when you’re suing Howard one year for saying you’re too white, then saying people hung nooses at your door the next year – that’s crossing the line. You’re not a friend or an ally to the movement. You’re an enemy. Maybe you’re not as dangerous an enemy as killer cops, but you’re not down with us at all.