Rachel Dolezal was born a White woman, but felt like a Black woman on the inside. Realizing she was too White-looking to be Black, she instead went for the bi-racial-sista-souljah look. Her journey began at Howard University, the most prestigious Black university in the country. However, she ran into some cultural clashes with the administration, who thought they were helping a poor black girl for Mississippi. Realizing that going to a HBCU wasn’t enough, she then figure marrying a black man would work. However, her and her husband soon divorced (he probably thought he was marrying a White woman).
Realizing that being white wasn’t going to give her the extra street cred she was looking for, Ms. Dolezal-in-distress decided to make an overall transformation. Therefore, if she was to be taken serious by Black America, she felt she had to become Black. Then she decided to tan more than ever, wear darker make up, wear Afrocentric wigs and change her accent a bit. This would be enough for most people to “pass”, but Ms. Dolezal didn’t want to be on the sidelines faking Blackness. No. she felt she need to take her Blackness to the next level.
So she became a professor of Africana studies at Eastern Washington University and rocked some of the most natural Black hairstyles that would make Lauren Hill look like Martha Stewart. She could have stopped there, but her devotion for being Black was so strong that she felt that she had to prove she was down for the cause. Therefore, what do most black people do to prove their Blackness? They join organizations like the NAACP.
You would think that the charade would’ve ended here. However, the Lincoln County, Montana native, with her PhD. in Africana Studies, decided to take on a leadership role in the NAACP. From there, she quickly moved up the ranks to become president of the Spokane, Washington chapter. By becoming the head Nigga in charge of our nations leading civil rights organization, she has now entered the upper echelon of Afro-American culture and now no one could question Ms Dolezal’s blackness. Well, accepted for her parents.
Its one thing to pose as a Black person. It’s another thing to allow that lie to reach the highest level of Black America. Did anyone do a thorough background check on this woman? I know as a brother of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., I can tell if a person is lying about being a Sigma by asking a few questions and making a few calls. Why couldn’t they do it? Even the White NAACP members couldn’t recognize their own kind? You mean to tell me that looking ethnically Black and showing some damn pictures of black people was sufficient enough for them? If that’s the case, then maybe I should squint my eyes, show a few pictures of my day in Chinatown and use it to prove to the Chinese Consulate I’m Blackenese. It’s sad when its harder to become a Greek than it is to become a Black woman.
My point is that if our people had a stronger sense of identity outside of our physical characteristics, than this charade would’ve never went as far as it did. The Spokane Afro-American community would have been able to better spot her fraudulent identity a mile away. They would have been able get past her look and would have focused more attention on the cultural differences. Yet, all this woman had to do was look Black and she was in.
I don’t know if I’m more mad that she lied about her race or mad at the fact that no one was able to challenge her authenticity. The fact that just looking black is enough for Afro-Americans to accept her as one of their own is very problematic to me. In my opinion, this creates a huge flaw in our culture making us very vulnerable for exploitation by other groups. I’m my opinion it was just to damn easy for this White girl from Montana to become a Black woman. And its our fault. While we are spending so much time demonizing her in social media, we should be seriously asking ourselves this question: What is does it really take to be Afro-American?
Ms. Dolezel has shown us how simple it is to become Black, but was does it take to be Afro-American? Is Afro-American just a race or are we actually a culture? Do all one person needs is a big butt, full lips, African ancestry and a “black” or “ghetto” accent? Or could it mean light skin, curly or straight hair, alpine nose, light eyes, and thin lips with a standard American accent? We do have to both categories in our culture you know? Truthfully, there are just too many combinations of physical attributes and cultural influences to just simply define ourselves so one-dimensionally. All blacks come from Africa, but that isn’t enough to make me Zulu, Akan, Xhosa, Amharic or Swahili. I couldn’t go to Nigeria and claim that I’m Igbo, Yoruba, Ife or Nigerian. If Afro-Americans moved to Africa tomorrow, racially we’ll still be black African, but culturally we’ll still be American. If we were in Ghana, we would be called Obruni’s or foreigner/White. On the other hand, if a Ghanaian comes to America, they will just be considered Afro-American and have full access to our cultural legacy.
I will admit that Black immigrants, such as Marcus Garvey, Claude McKay and Shirley Chisholm have made a tremendous contribution to Afro-American culture. For that we should be forever grateful and indebted to them. However, the Italian and Swiss built much of St. Petersburg, Russia, but that don’t make them ethnic Russian. For a long time, Afro-American identity was only confined to race and was not truly accepted as a culture until the Civil Rights movement. Today, with the increase migrations of black foreigners, our people began to see the development of new Black ethnic enclaves. What we found was that the members were more loyal to their culture than their racial identity. I have no problem with increasing the number of Black people in this country. However, foreign Blacks are a more tightly knitted community than we are. Yet, they have to ability to gain access to our culture by simply checking Black/African-American on their applications.
This is very problematic considering that many of these groups do not move into traditional Afro-American communities and/or create their own separate communities. In Chicago for example, most of the Ethnic Black communities are on the North side, which is far away from the traditional black enclaves of the South and West side. Although, that trend is beginning to change, if Afro-Americans think they will have access to other Black group’s resources, they can think again. We might all be Black, but we are not the same. Even if we do work together economically, sooner or later our cultural ideologies will clash with one another. We shouldn’t take this personal or look at our foreign Black brothers as enemies because most first-generation immigrants operate in this manner. Their main objective is to build their world in America, not enter someone else world. They will use any resource imaginable to accomplish this goal, even if it requires them to cooperate with us for a little bit. Our own people do need to take a page out of their books and start thinking a little more selfishly. However, if we don’t look out for ourselves first then we would be even more vulnerable for exploitation.
Race doesn’t mean a damn thing to the rest of the world the same way it matters to Americans. Black, White, Hispanic and Asians only go along with racial identity for political reasons and sheer numbers, but they separate into their own ethnic enclaves for economic and survival reasons. Its time for Afro-Americans to recognize the fact that we are different culturally from not just Whites, but Blacks as well. We are as different from other Black immigrants as we are from any other immigrant group. We also have to admit that we are more Western than we are African. Because our African heritage was stripped away from us during slavery and forced into isolation, we developed a uniquely American culture. As individuals, our ancestry comes from Africa, yet our culture did not develop in Africa. No matter how you look at it, our culture is American born and American bread. In other words, Afro-Americans are as American as apple pie (with a bit more flava’). If we just see our experience simply as an extended sentence in complexion-oriented captivity, we will never reach the fullest extent of our cultural development.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about how exploitation works. As I mentioned before, Afro-Americans are easily exploited because the criteria for being apart of our culture is so weak that people can just jump in and out of it whenever they want to. It’s mainly has to do with the draconian laws of the one-drop rule that we still practice today. Instead of the one-drop rule being the only criteria, maybe we should go by our standard rituals, rights of passage, holidays and celebrations or maybe create unified code of conduct and philosophy outside of the construct of race and racism. Maybe we can add some symbolism and iconography that we all can identify with. Culture is what really distinguishes people, not race. Culture is what should distinguish us from every White and Black cultures in the world. If Afro-Americans want to start acting like a real culture, we first to have to establish some real cultural standards so that people like Ms. Dolezal can’t easily infiltrate Afro-American culture and become apart of Black high-society by simply tanning their skin and changing her hairstyles. Otherwise, we will never be safe in this world. Even though it was based on a lie, Ms. Dolezal appeared to actually care about our people. However, other infiltrators won’t be so kind.
American slavery may be a good place to start distinguishing folks. Only people who are descendents of American slaves should be considered Afro-American. The one-drop rule is the reason why our people possess a plethora of physical attributes. However, we can’t continue to be defined by this rule alone. One of the reason why Rachel Dolezal was able to pass for Afro-American was because of the technicality of the one-drop rule that only requires a person to look Black. We can get mad at Rachel Dolezal all we want to. However, I say we should use this moment as an opportunity to think about what it means to be Afro-American and actually create some general prerequisites. Therefore, it won’t be so easy for the next person to pass as one of us. Depending on how we define Afro-American, Negro, African-American or Black American culture, if Ms. Dolezal is actually serious about being Black and prove that she’s not self-serving (or crazy for that matter), maybe we can actually welcome her into our culture like we sort of did with Tina Marie (RIP)… Or maybe not.
Some food for thought
First of all, I think its important that we understand the difference between race, nationality and ethnicity. Even though Germans, Austrians and Swiss people are all White and all have the same cultural roots and speak the same language, they still do not consider themselves to be the same people. Race is a social construct based on the color of ones skin and geographical origin. Nationality is simply one’s country of origin. Ethnicity, though more complicated, is the culture a person belongs to. To simply put it. All Igbos are Nigerian and all Nigerians are Black African. However, all Black Africans are not Nigerian and all Nigerians aren’t Igbo. Therefore, why should all Black American should be Afro-Americans? We can still be involved in the Pan-African movement, but there is nothing wrong with distinguishing ours culture from rest of the pan-African world.
Secondly, I’m appreciative for the President showing us that a Black man can reach the highest level of office. However, it is important to note that his background is White American and Kenyan. Plus, he also grew up in Hawaii far away from traditional Black cultural centers. If there were 10 million Kenyans in America, would Barack Obama still be the first Afro-American president? We know he will still be the first American president of African descent. However, which ethnicity would Barack Obama belong to more: Afro-Americans or Kenyan Americans? My guess is that he would be considered the first Kenyan American president. If you think about it, as diverse as his background is, he has more of a legitimate case for not being Afro-American than Tiger Woods does. Yet, he still choose to incorporate hisself into our culture. When he made that decision, sort of had to integrate into our culture. He first married a Afro-American woman, lived in an affluent Afro-American community, attended a predominantly Afro-American church, do something positive for Afro-Americans and navigated his way through the traditional Afro-American political structure. In other words, he kind of did the same thing Ms. Dolezal did, except he didn’t have to lie about his race.