Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Black Like Me
No one likes to be punked, especially one's parents, who cried foul when their daughter had invented a rough and tumble family of her own to gain entry in the Spokane black community, where she quickly rose up the ladder to become the local head of the NAACP. To hear her parents tell it, the last straw was when Rachel reported a "threatening package" to local police, which the post office challenged.
Her parents decided to pull the plug on their daughter's masquerade, providing photographs that showed she was white and described her heritage as primarily Czech. It proved to be a tough blow for Rachel, who had to step down from her head post of the local NCAAP chapter amid all the furor surrounding this startling revelation. She has managed to upstage Bruce, I mean Caitlyn Jenner, which is no small feat.
There have been no end of jokes at her expense, but some comics have chosen to leave Rachel alone. Dave Chappelle simply doesn't want to go there, which is rare for him, saying it is too sensitive right now. Of course that hasn't stopped the pundits of Fox News, who have had a field day with this story, leading Jon Stewart to offer one of his patented riffs on the hypocrisy of the news network.
Rev. Al is upset with Rachel's parents for not coming out sooner, having allowed this charade to go on as long as it did. It doesn't seem to matter that by all accounts Ms. Dolezal was deeply committed to the NAACP. Jamelle Bouie argues that she could have done the same as a white woman, she just wouldn't have been a "protagonist." I guess this is what Rachel wanted to be -- a protagonist -- not just some well-meaning white woman.
Of course, the NAACP should have questioned her biography. Not many persons grow up in teepees in Montana these days, not even Native Americans, which her parents conceded she may have some Indian blood. She didn't even change her name, other than to take her black husband's surname Moore, since divorced.
Her backstory would have come out at some point, as she had a habit of drawing attention to herself, but I doubt she could have ever imagined her story would have exploded in the media the way it did, replete with memes on social network that manage to drag Liz Warren's faux native American heritage into it as well.
Ethnicity has become a thorny issue. We've long heard stories of Blacks and Hispanics passing as White because it allowed them greater access to American society. However, Affirmative Action purportedly changed all that, at least in the mind of conservative White America, which now railed against what it saw as "reverse discrimination."
Rachel was apparently a "victim" of this, claiming she was denied a teaching assistantship at Howard University on account of her skin color in a law suit. She was white at the time, but had married a black fellow student Kevin Moore. Apparently, this served as the turning point in her life, as she decided that the only way to be fully welcomed in the black community was to become black herself.
After the dust settles, I'm sure we will see a book along the lines of Black Like Me, in which John Howard Griffin donned black face to see how the other half lived in America. Of course, he was praised for pulling the cover off Jim Crow South in the late 50s. Rachel will have much more explaining to do, as hers hasn't been so much an undercover story as it has been a way to move within a community she apparently feels much more comfortable with. Unfortunately for her, she has now lost the trust of that community and probably won't get it back anytime soon.