June 15, 2015

Rachel Dolezal resigns NAACP post; a teaching moment for #race?

Rachel A. Dolezal at her home in Spokane, Wash.
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CreditColin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review, via Associated Press
Rachel Dolezal, the ethnically "white" adjunct professor at Eastern Washington University, who has recently come to public light through her pushing her public self-identity as "black," including being president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, has resigned that position. But, not entirely voluntarily, as local members started a campaign.

(UPDATE: We've gone straight to fraud and ego as the best explanation for her behavior if she once "pulled a Bakke" and sued Howard University for anti-white discrimination.)

I have several thoughts on the issue, beyond her ego trips.

First, I reject, in general biological ideas of "race," and even more, the idea that, were we to define race biologically, only one definition is allowed, namely, the "white" definition based on skin tone and a couple of facial features.

Second, I do accept that "race" has been a sociological and cultural construct, and because such constructs have "legs" today, we shouldn't ignore them.

Third, I think that Rachel Dolezal was sociologically "white" as raised. I don't think she's "mentally ill" as broadly and vaguely used. Is she perhaps highly egotistic? Yes; see the "update" link above. And, per her past, she's arguably engaged in cultural appropriation, and perhaps done that for academic or other advancement, in part. See the second link above, or go to what it links to, a new piece from the Smoking Gun.

I mean, maybe she wouldn't have become chapter president, but she certainly could have served on the board of the Spokane NAACP; the organization has long had multiracial involvement.

Is there more to her birth family than we know? As in, maybe abuse of her, or maybe favoritism, or perceived favoritism, to her adopted siblings, who are African-American? Yes. And she has had a fallout with her family, including (but not limited to) her parents, who "reverse outed" her as being Caucasian.

Do I think it's good she resigned her NAACP position? Good for whom? Could be good or bad for her, based on her larger psychology. That said, the details of her announcement offer me little hope on that for now.  And, as the likes of V.S. Ramachandran note, this may be some kind of identity self-dissociation. We might not call that quite "mentally ill," but, we wouldn't call that "normal," either.

At the same time, did she somehow, between adopted siblings and a marriage to an African-American, somehow become "black" in her own mind? Yes. Is it body dysmorphia to have possibly gone beyond tanning, on skin color? I'd also say yes.

As for the NAACP? It's for the board to figure out whether it's ultimately good or bad, but I think it's most likely good. It's especially good if this becomes a "teaching moment" — and one that works. That said, judging by the Spokane local's "push," I think they felt what she had done was harmful — and was some sort of cultural misappropriation.

As for my second wind thoughts on why she was trying to "pass"? (I see no reason not to call a spade a spade.) It does appear that she — even if she really "felt black" in some way — was looking to leverage this into academic and artistic advantage.

That said, this will be like pouring gasoline on the fires of affirmative action cases in court. The next time a Fisher vs University of Texas case reaches the courts, the plaintiff(s) will almost certainly mention this as part of arguments. (And, speaking of ironic timing, SCOTUS today declined to take a second look at that very case.)

As for her parents? Yes, Rachel once claimed she was born in a tepee, but her parents claimed to be both Caucasian and Native American. Apparently, it wasn't enough for official tribal status, so maybe that was untrue, and psychologically, the apple didn't fall far from the tree.

One philosopher in this roundup of mini-essay philosophical thoughts notes this issue, and how the "one drop" theory applied only to blacks in American history, not Asians, Hispanics or even American Indians.

And, I'll give Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the last word. Be yourself, while continuing to work for the causes you back.

Actually, now, I'll take the last word. If the "real yourself" is being a fraud, no, don't be yourself, at least not until you become a better self.

As for that suit? She lost, and had to pay court costs, plus additional costs for trying to delay a medical examination. (Dolezal also claimed she was facing discrimination over being pregnant; I'm guessing she was trying to delay an obstetrical examination.)

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