At first I was curious about Rachel Dolezal’s story. I thought it was interesting but never would I’ve imagined this story would launched such a national frenzy of stories, comments and, in some cases, outrage about a Caucasian woman who chooses to live her life as a “black” or “African-American” woman. In short, I just want to highlight three points:
(1) We are NOT living in a “post-racial” society. While many stories, comments and snafus have demanded clarification or apology by news characters and politicians alike, nothing’s captured the airwaves with such angst and anger as the seemingly “preposterous” idea that a Caucasian woman — one with a peaches-and-cream complexion, naturally straw-colored hair and a “solid Caucasian, northern European” heritage, no less — should relegate herself to the life of a black woman, marrying a black man and having black children. Her brother even suggested that she lived in blackface, which prompted me to check his age since blackface is a theatrical makeup worn to represent a black person. The practice gained popularity during the 19th century and contributed to the proliferation of stereotypes such as the happy-go-lucky darky on the plantation or the dandified coon. Rachel Dolezal was portraying neither stereotype and the suggestion of such her own family is breathtaking.
The story’s also spawned visceral responses from people I’ve known for some time. One woman told me she just couldn’t understand why an attractive white woman would do something like that to herself; she felt that Ms. Dolezal must be “psychotic” or at least “bi-polar.” A gentleman shared with me that his daughters only date African American men and it was for her a “sexual thing.” I found that uber-creepy and deleted him from my contact list — permanently.
Regardless of the response, the basic theme of superiority and inferiority abounds. The practice of “passing” has been around for several centuries. Other races have frequently “passed” for the dominant white culture in order to gain societal and economic advantages. In the Caribbean and Africa, warnings are given to people using skin bleaches, which result in grey skin at best and skin cancer at worst. There are more cultures on this earth that celebrate and promulgate the superiority of a light complexion over a darker one. This is a fact.
But in America, the race issue has gone from overt — with laws and structures protecting one race over another — to covert inferences, rules and occasional “slips.” Such as when Sen. Harry Reid was quoted in a new book saying Barack Obama could be successful as black candidate due to his light skin and ability to speak without a “Negro dialect.” Or when Vice President Biden called Obama the first “clean” African-American candidate. Both of these liberal men espouse their love for blacks, and yet they suggested that most black men talk with an odd dialect and need to bath more frequently because they’re naturally dirty.
This obsession extends to the texture of one’s hair. There’s more outrage regarding this woman’s hair texture than anything else. Why would she do this, seems to be the echo on both sides of the color spectrum, reflecting the idea of good vs. bad hair texture — the silkier and more “European” the hair texture, the better, whereas coarser, shorter and curlier is devalued.(2) We’re hypocrites who lack perspective. Bruce Jenner is a 65-year-old father of six children; 6’2″; thick-boned Olympian; over 200 pounds and still in possession of his penis. Yet we’re willing — no gleeful — to glimpse his burly frame in a maxi halter dress and kitten slippers on his veranda, while vilifying anyone calling him anything but his new moniker. “Caitlyn.” He poses on the front of Vanity Fair with a bathing beauty pinup model suit worthy of a 1940’s movie siren, discretely hiding the his “package.”
ESPN announced Monday that Jenner will be presented with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at its annual award ceremony in Los Angeles this July. Naturally, this broadcast will be watched with misty eyes — yet what level of bravery is all of this showing? And, by the way, several people will NOT watching this stunt…One of these is the woman whose vehicle was hit in the fatal car accident involving Caitlyn Jenner in February. She’s filed a lawsuit against the Olympian formerly known as Bruce Jenner. Naming Bruce Jenner, aka Caitlyn Jenner, in the civil case filed in Los Angeles on Monday, Jessica Steindorff is asking for compensatory and punitive damages.
Also not watching ESPN’s program honoring Jenner will be Kim Howe, who died in the multi-vehicle crash when Jenner’s Escalade knocked her Lexus into oncoming traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. Jenner, 65, is also being sued for wrongful death by Howe’s two adult stepchildren. I guess they won’t enjoy the awards program, either.
We celebrate this person, his changes and his life, while shunning another because of race. We want taxpayers to pay for sex changes in prison and for low-income people wanting to switch, but rabidly attack someone getting a tan, perm and declaring herself black.
(3) We are blind — at least when it comes to race — on both ends of the spectrum. My family includes people from the outside with paler skin, straighter hair and green or blue eyes. These family members consider themselves part of the black race. Racial constructs have been used innocently as a means of classification, and they’ve also been used for more sinister applications. When you visit the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C., you’ll discover that the Nazis used clear classifications of races, so as to highlight the “superior” Aryan race as they deemed it. The destruction of others were planned based upon these classifications.
One can argue there are different cultures and sometimes these cultures do not mix harmoniously. However, cultural values, beliefs and constructs exist outside of the benign pigment beneath our skin’s surface. Until people understand that the pigment itself is not an indicator to superiority or inferiority, this constant twisting will continue on. Its deleterious effects on our society linger, as we see the darker hues of our society appear to be overrepresented in negative institutions, such as prisons and ghettos, as well as having negative impact on upward mobility. There are exceptions, but this has become the rule.