Rachel Dolezal considers herself black even though her white birth parents “outed” her as 100% white. The responses to this phenomenon have been varied – some project a “who cares” attitude and some, well, frankly, both black and white, show a hostile response to her choice. Why is this white woman wanting to give up the power and dominant privilege of being white for an ethnic identification of black the status of which means historically a never-ending struggle for equality, justice, fair play and often for the privilege of living life itself? Others ask why is this white woman taking money and position away from a person of color who needs it more than she.
This motif is not unheard of in film. Gregory Peck in the 1947 movie “Gentlemen’s Agreement” takes on the persona of a Jew giving up, for the time it took him to write a newspaper article, the privilege of being Christian in a culture that judged Christian as superior and in a culture where the price for being Jewish was often rejection, exclusion, shame, even assault and even in America. The difference in the treatment of others toward him was profound including his own son beaten up because other boys found out he was a Jew or being denied – albeit politely – a hotel room when the clerk discovers he is Jewish. Signs of that era saying “No Jews or Dogs Allowed” in the swimming pool were not uncommon as were signs “No Jews or Irish Need Apply” for a job.
“Black Like Me,” a 1964 film found on IDMB, linked below is “the true account of John Griffin's experiences when he passed as a black man. In the film, John Horton takes treatments to darken his skin and leaves his home in Texas to travel throughout the South at the height of the civil-rights movement, so that he could experience the realities of a black man's life in the segregated South.”
I cannot comment as to why Ms. Dolezal awkwardly attested to her black origin nor can I armchair psychoanalyze her motivations but I can comment on my own. It may surprise some as it did when in the late 1960’s I revealed to my parents, relatives and friends that if reincarnation existed I would like to return black. Some, sadly, thought I had temporarily lost my mind. Why should I want to be black when I could be immersed in the luck and the birthright of being white in America? Few understood my reason. One can be assured that my desire to be black had nothing to do with gaining advantage either for an occupational position or for “affirmative action” entrance into a selective university but it was because my sheltered life of suburban white that said “all men are created equal” was replaced by the reality I discovered in college that only some in this country were. It was the first time I became aware of social injustices so cruel, so marginalizing and so debilitating against persons of color that I wanted to be a personal part of a movement making a colossal wrong right.
Two black women resided on my dorm room floor with whom many of us enjoyed a friendship. My heart ached that these lovely women had to suffer the cruel injustices about which I could only read but never truly experience. I wanted them to know I was part of their struggle. I told my white Jewish friend, with whom I talked radical left-wing politics incessantly, of my yearning. She said “Forget about it." "You can never, will never know what it is like to be black and they will never accept you as IF you were black because you are not." I will never forget that time.
Perhaps, if I may speculate (even if I said I would not) Rachel Donzel raised in a house with adopted black siblings and marrying a black man merely wants the same thing as I did those many years ago and that is to say I am with you, I am a part of your struggle and to prove it I will become black. Maybe it is as simple as that.
WORK for Hillary Rodham Clinton who shares our progressive ideals although she must work in a system where money must unfortunately secure for Democrats high office OR any office! GET OUT THE 2016 VOTE for HRC! I love Sanders BUT he cannot win!