Whites Aspiring to be Black? Has America Reached a Racial Tipping Point?

(The real knock against Rachel Dolezal, the White woman who would be Black, is disbelief a White American could genuinely want to be Black. Is that so improbable today?)

A tipping point occurs when a series of small changes or incidents accumulates to cause a larger, more important change. It is the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant, often unstoppable effect or change takes place. An example would be the point when several persons infected with a disease becomes an epidemic. In physics it is the point at which an object is no longer balanced, and adding a small amount of weight can cause it to topple, as when one more card causes a house of cards to collapse, or a person grounded on a teeter-totter, by inching forward causes the weight to shift, and the person on the other side to descend. A tipping point is where ascent shifts to descent, where, for good or ill, what was before, often so long it seemed an immutable norm, changes to something new and different. Thus, the industrial revolution signaled a shift from thousands of years of agrarian, agriculture-based lifestyle to movement of population to cities and urban culture. Development of computers marks change in habits, thinking, and lifestyle that continues to redefine modern life.

Perhaps owing to the impression created by such seeming retrograde developments as events prompting the Black Lives Matter movement and elevation of Donald Trump and a largely White, male cohort to power, it seems not to have been noticed by experts and pundits that America may have reached an important racial tipping point. For the very first time in the long, depressing national history of subordination and denigration of Americans of African origin—Blacks­—by Americans largely of European origin—Whites—, it may not be improbable that a White American might seriously entertain wanting to be Black.

It is this observer’s view that such a tipping point has been reached. Rachel Dolezal, a woman born blonde, blue-eyed, and White, who lives and presents herself as Black, and by all indications and to the seeming consternation of many genuinely aspires to be Black, may symbolize this tipping point.


The reality not so long ago

Circa 1996, during a stand-up routine documented in the film Bring the Pain, Black comedian Chris Rock challenged the few Whites in a large, mostly Black audience, and was not contradicted. He said:

“I’m rich! [Pause for effect.] I’m famous! [Another pause.] And there’s not a White person here who wants to trade places with me! That’s how good it is to be White in America!”

No question, but at that time and probably for some years thereafter, other than momentary imaginings of being a Black athlete on a top-level football or basketball team, or a Black hip-hop performer, no White person in America seriously thought about, much less wanted to be Black.

As was pointed out in a June 18, 2015 article in Psychology Today by Black PhD, Monica T. Williams, entitled “Can a White person Become Black?,” one of well over 100 footnote entries to Rachel Dolezal’s lengthy Wikipedia profile:

“Given the advantages, privilege, and higher social status associated with Whiteness, why would a truly White person walk away from it?  It can certainly seem like insanity to embrace the identity of a stigmatized minority, given the ongoing racism experienced by most African Americans.”

Such has been the perceived disadvantage of being Black in America since before the nation’s birth, and the simultaneous advantage of being even an ordinary White.

That was then. This is now.


What has changed

No question but being Black continues to be a disadvantage for Black Americans as a whole. If Black, one’s expected life span is shorter, one is more likely to be out of work, one is more likely to be poor and live in substandard housing in a substandard neighborhood with substandard schools, to be stopped by police and followed in stores, to be incarcerated, to be perceived negatively, even by other Blacks.

Nonetheless, much in the American racial firmament since 1996 has changed to make being Black appealing. Diversity among extended families has become commonplace. [Somewhere in the portrait of most extended families today is often a person of color.] Mixed-race, mixed-religious relationships among the under forty generation, both educated and not, rich, poor, and in between, is not unusual. That a White billionaire (Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian) would pursue, wed, and father a child with Black icon and tennis great, Serena Williams, suggests a major shift afoot.

An obvious boost to the appeal of being Black has been eight years of a paragon Black man and his family in the White House. Whether one subscribes to Barack Obama’s policies or no, no question but his consistent image of handsome, cool, calm, smart, and competent, and, similarly, that of his wife and the overall positive comportment and aspect of the Obama family, constantly on display, has eroded many negative perceptions and stereotypes about Blacks.

Further, there are omnipresent media images of amiable, well-spoken Blacks such as the Gumbel brothers (Bryant and Greg), Lester Holt, Mike Tirico (hosting everything from Olympics to World Cup soccer to the Kentucky Derby), and such less visible, influential, attractive Black personages as Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express. Are there not Whites who might want to be such men, or Oprah?

Globalization and the push worldwide of racial and color diversity in all walks of endeavor has greatly dimmed the once-blinding, dominant shine of Whiteness. Increasingly visible, thanks to the internet and instant worldwide news coverage, the world is hugely diverse. Chinese, Indian, Arab, and other non-white advances in creating skyscraper new cities and projecting power and influence have diminished perceptions equating modernity and progress to Whiteness. There are numerous Yellow and Brown billionaires. The definition of who and what racially has appeal in the world has changed dramatically.

Is it beyond belief today that a White person at, say, a Chris Rock performance, certainly at a Drake or Beyonce performance, or if asked by Lebron James, Stephen Curry, or current young, handsome, multi-racial number one formula race car driver Lewis Hamilton, “Do you want to be Black, rich, famous, glamorous me?”, would say, “Heck yes! That would be so cool!”?


Television/movie effect

Similar to disadvantaged Blacks, middle and upper-middle class, even mega-wealthy Blacks in America still lead lives marred by race-related challenges White counterparts do not face. Successful Blacks are eyed suspiciously by White neighbors. They are profiled and stopped by police as they travel to nice homes in nice neighborhoods in nice cars. They endure daily indignities of negative presumption owing to skin color.

However, if actual everyday life of many Blacks is not sufficient enticement to want to become Black, Black presence on television and in movies is another story. An impression of advance and race-blind participation by Blacks in American society on television and in movies has been significant and ongoing for many years. Elevation and normalization of Blacks as persons one might want to know, as persons whose lives are appealing, as persons one might have as partners in work and even marriage has far outstripped and shaped reality for quite some time.

There was the pioneering effect of The Cosby Show. Such as Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Oprah, and, especially, the ubiquitous, normally benign, avuncular, grandfatherly Morgan Freeman (who has played God in more than one movie!) have brought an attractive image of Blackness into White households in segregated suburban subdivisions for decades.

Not only Black athletes and entertainers are portrayed in media leading enviable lives, but ordinary-seeming Blacks—fixtures in commercials and shows. Liberal creative classes for decades have promoted a vision of a diverse, harmonious, colorized America. Diversity is de rigueur on political talk shows, game shows, almost everything on television, even the conservative FOX network. Also in movies. Every law enforcement-related offering has Black officers, including persons competently in charge. Every hospital offering has Black doctors and nurses. All popular so-called reality shows have Black participants. If the plot line contains no Blacks but there is a court scene, the judge is Black.

The current protagonist in the mega-popular television show, The Bachelorette, is Black, the result of votes of a largely White, largely young fan base. Six of ten finalists in the recent Miss USA pageant were Black. (The winner the previous year was an impressive Black army captain from Washington, D.C. The current winner is a Black rocket scientist from Washington, D.C.) Smiling, mixed-racial Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, professional wrestler turned movie-television juggernaut, is pointed to as someone liked by men and women of all races and both blue and red staters­—a likeable unifier­—, and touted as a potential presidential prospect. Prominent influencers such as Neil Degrasse Tyson, the amiable, articulate Black astrophysicist, have raised the attractiveness quotient of Blackness.

Influence on younger generation thinking of television and movies cannot be underestimated. If a single movie—Fatal Attraction—could popularize ankle-length black leather coats for women (and dent male cheating temporarily), would not a several decade march of colorblind television and movie offerings do the same for Black acceptance and appeal?

Indeed, the impression created by television and movies, not to mention eight years of Barack Obama, doubtless fueled the revanchist, Make-America-[White]-Again Trump movement. In its turn, the Trump elevation has but heightened the determination of any of even centrist bent, given a choice, to choose to promote an image of harmonious American diversity. Ever more Blacks seem to be appearing on television and in movies. Commercials feature interracial couples and White grandparents with grandchildren of color.

However, an even greater influence in making Blackness attractive, especially to younger Whites, exists. It has flown completely under the radar of public notice and commentary.


Rap-Hip-Hop factor

Rap-hip-hop (RHH) is the voice of downtrodden young Blacks in neglected, impoverished, urban American “hoods.” First appearing in the 1970’s as “urban poetry,” RHH quickly, predictably exhibited the anger and violent, misogynist bent of many young males in urban hoods (and some females). It morphed into the popular genre of “gangsta” rap-hip-hop (GRHH).

In the 1990’s Tipper Gore, wife of then Vice-President, Al Gore, was roundly ridiculed, denounced, and accused of racism by Blacks and liberals when she attempted to muzzle misogynistic, violent lyrics of the Compton, California rap group N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit Attitudes). Since then criticism of GRHH and its vile lyrics has been a kind of third rail for leftist-leaning groups, in particular the creative media class. Even conservative radio and television outlets have largely given GRHH a pass. As a result, with an ironic major assist from the internet “invented” by Tipper husband, Al, GRHH has not only come Straight Outta Compton (the name of a recent acclaimed movie chronicling GRHH’s rise). GRHH has become, arguably, not only America’s premier cultural export, but the most influential worldwide cultural influence extant.

In a world ruled by over twenties, increasingly dominated and dictated to by corporate marketing, in which youth are incessantly invited to buy product, then settle sedately, anonymously into boring ranks of product marketing, the appeal of something that thrusts a vigorous middle finger at such expectation and life going forward is obvious. Strutting, posturing, pants-down-the-butt, ball-cap-askew, gang-sign-flashing, hoodie-face-obscuring, badass spouting of the most vile, violent, misogynistic, middle-finger-thrusting lyrics, all blasted at high decibel levels from suburban bedrooms, automobiles, and urban street corners is nigh irresistible.

Bill Cosby’s lonely crusade against such pants-down-the-butt, GRHH, ghetto Black youth affect and posturing has been derailed by his personal problems. In the meantime, countless video and YouTube internet offerings, not to mention seemingly every television award show, features precisely such strutting, ball-cap-askew, gang-sign-flashing, pants-down-the-butt, “Yo! I am badass!” Black (and White and Asian) rappers bouncing about, delivering watered-down-for-television versions of GRHH.

Not just Black and White middle class youth in American suburbia, but youth in every metropolis in the world—Tokyo, Beijing, Mumbai, Rio, Paris, London, Cape Town, etc.—postures to GRHH blaring from sound systems. They affect Black American urban ghetto attire (often after shedding workday attire) to proclaim, “Yo! I am badass! I am a rebel!” And nary a Black or White commentator or leader, liberal or conservative, seems moved to object. Indeed, corporate commercials now routinely employ badass “swagga” imagery of GRHH to sell cars, shoes, clothing, movies, drink, etc.

[Note. This observer objects strongly. GRHH projects precisely an image of young Black men that fosters fear in law-abiding citizens of all colors, and also police officers. If the Black Lives Matter movement wants to pinpoint the reason the vast number of Blacks unfairly profiled and stopped by police (including this observer’s seven brothers and numerous uncles, cousins, and nephews—for decades!) are not shot, arrested, or even particularly hassled before being sent on their way, look to GRHH and who has truly bought into its ethos of “resist the pig” and play the badass. In this observer’s view, GRHH should be roundly condemned and exposed for what it is—an invitation to appear and act in a threatening way that is getting young Black men killed!]

Not Donald-Melania, nor the Obamas, nor Branjolina or Billary, but onetime genuine gangster drug-dealer rapper-turned-promoter/impresario, Jay Z, and his strutting mega pop-star wife, Beyonce, is the most powerful, influential couple in the world today.

GRHH rules (yo!). Accordingly, among youth worldwide Black is WAY COOL! At the same time White, by contrast, is boring, increasingly inconsequential as a model of aspiration.

As suggested, the Trump backlash and elevation seems precisely a reaction to a perceived threat to White hegemony in both national and international minds. Incidents of primal, noisome, atavistic racial anger and xenophobia unleashed by the Trump ascendency are altogether natural reactions to the perceived threat of American Black (GRHH) cultural influence, which is strong among children of Trump supporters (!!). The attendant portent of browning America advance is obvious, and is being reacted to, often violently.

What is at all unusual, therefore, about Rachel Dolezal and, indeed, vast numbers of White Americans and others around the globe genuinely, permanently aspiring to be Black, therefore cool and ascendant?


The Rachel Dolezal brouhaha

Rachel Dolezal is a fortyish woman, famously outed in 2015 for presenting herself as Black and occupying positions of importance in Spokane, Washington, as a Black person, such as chairman of the local NAACP chapter. She was born White to White parents—blonde and blue-eyed. Until at least 2007 she regarded herself and presented herself as White, despite having at the time a Black husband and mixed-race child. Since her teen years, when her parents adopted four Black younger brothers, she has indulged in “Black” artistic creations, and has identified with and been sympathetic to Black issues.

Rachel Dolezal chairs May 5 [2015] meeting of Spokane Police Ombudsman Commission

In a frenzy of national and international news, Rachel Dolezal was near-unanimously pilloried as a “fraud,” “cheater,” “hoaxer,” and worse. Recently resurfaced to promote a memoir—In Full Color: Finding My Way in a Black and White World—, now more adamant than ever in proclaiming Black identity, Ms. Dolezal has once again been greeted mostly with condemnation. A primary grievance of Black critics seems to be that via bronzers to darken her skin, and weaves and styling to make her hair appear like that of Blacks, Ms. Dolezal is able to choose to be Black, while, owing to brown skin color, they cannot elect to be White. This option available to Ms. Dolezal is decried as an example of White privilege.


This observer’s credentials

As race is such a sensitive topic in American culture, it seems incumbent, apart from evidence and arguments presented, that I pause for a moment to establish my own credentials to speak on the issue. I am not a PhD in any racial or sociological discipline. However, I am reasonably well-educated, and have been Black for seven decades in America, both in the north and south, the east, west, and middle of the country. I lived in Africa for some years as a child.

Of particular note, I can easily pass for White in appearance, as can my mother and other members of my family. Yet, there has not been a White forbear since the Civil War, when offspring of slaves and their owners, my great grandparents, were freed. It is a fact little known or thought about by most Americans, that from the time of Thomas Jefferson’s red-haired, White-appearing offspring with his mulatto slave mistress, Sally Hemings, and well before, much as immigrants forswearing their native lands for America, White-appearing persons of African slave ancestry, for the obvious reason of the great advantage to living as White in America, have “crossed the color line,” forswearing Black lives and Black relatives.

Walter White, longtime head of the New York City chapter of the NAACP, himself blonde, blue-eyed, indistinguishable from Whites, a circumstance he exploited to infiltrate and investigate the Ku Klux Klan and White atrocities against Blacks in the American south, in 1947 estimated that 12,000 and more Blacks per year crossed the color line to become White. Estimates suggest some seven percent of White Americans have African ancestry owing to this “passing.” Very recently a White police officer in Michigan caused a stir when DNA testing revealed 18 percent African ancestry, and, having announced this, he was made the butt of racist jokes and comments. Readers are referred to the Phillip Roth novel, The Human Stain, made into a movie of the same name, for edification on this phenomenon.

I attended an all-Black elementary school and lived in an all-Black housing project and neighborhood in third grade in Tallahassee. The next year in Boston I attended a school where the very few Christians watched movies in the auditorium on Jewish holidays. I’ve been called the “N” word. I have personally experienced Blacks being allowed to attend Glen Echo amusement park in Maryland only on a certain day of the week in the early 1960’s (Thursdays, I believe), the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Jim Crow discrimination on visits to the family farm outside Memphis, Tennessee (and the fear and caution of southern relatives respecting Whites), as well as attending a top “White” College—Yale—during the turbulence of the sixties, and being privy to conversations with Whites who had no idea I was Black.

I have felt the psychological, if not so much the physical sting and disadvantage of being Black in America. I have long experienced the sense of being less and devalued as a non-White. I recall when Black families called one another to announce that a Black person other than Amos and Andy was appearing on television. I recall the thrill of Sammy Davis Jr., Sidney Poitier, and other Blacks who countered prevailing racist stereotypes appearing on television and in movies. Many in my family, especially my mother, who, apart from sales transactions never talked to a White person until she was 20 and went north to Ohio to college, openly wept at the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. I feel, therefore, that I am as well-positioned as anyone to comment respecting race relations in America.

Personally, I can attest to feeling a racial tipping point has been reached. There has never been a better time to be Black in America. For the first time in my life I am genuinely grateful to be Black. I sometimes have sympathy for those who are merely White.

Thus, I find nothing unusual in the circumstance of Rachel Dolezal or other Whites choosing to identify as Black. I feel Ms. Dolezal should be viewed, applauded, embraced by any and all seeking to move beyond the destructive effects of race differentiation in the United States and the world. She is a wholly positive development. “Come and join us!” should be the response of Blacks.

However, is Rachel Dolezal indeed a pioneer and symbol of a racial tipping point in America? Have there not been other White Americans who genuinely wanted to be Black?


Rachel Dolezal as pioneer

Apart from the White privilege aspect, an avenue of attack against Rachel Dolezal is that she is nothing new. This argument, however, quickly falls apart.

There have been instances of Whites temporarily changing their appearance and adopting a Black identity for the purpose of writing about what it is like to be Black in America. Journalist John Howard Griffin did this, traveling in the South disguised as Black for a period of weeks in order to write his important 1961 book, Black Like Me. Likewise, in 1969 Grace Halsell’s Soul Sister: The Journal of a White Woman Who Turned Herself Black and Went to Live and Work in Harlem and Mississippi. These writers, however, in no wise aspired to being Black.

A June 16, 2015 Vox.com article, one of many reacting to the Dolezal outing, tries to make the case that Rachel Dolezal is nothing new. However, it proves a total deception, arguably a hoax—alternative facts! Entitled, “White people have been passing for black for centuries. A historian explains,” (White) journalist Dara Lind interviews one Baz Dreisinger, a (White) professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (Brooklyn, NY). Professor Dreisinger’s 2008 book, Near Black, purports to have “traced the history of white passing.” Lind inquires “how white passing has worked over time,” and asks whether “there is ever a legitimate way to ‘cross-identify’ with black culture.” She asks further, “Can you give us a brief rundown of the history of white people passing as black in America?”

Given such prologue, one anticipates a trove of instances of Whites attempting to pass for Black. Provocatively, professor Dreisinger begins:

“I think people are shocked to discover that there is actually this history of white people who’ve passed as black and that Rachel Dolezal is hardly the first person to come along and do it, and in fact the way that she did it is in line with a number of historical examples.”

However, not a single “example” that follows is of a White person choosing to be or passing for Black. Professor Dreisinger states:

“In the context of slavery, there are both real and fictional accounts of white people who became enslaved—sometimes white people from the North who are kidnapped and sold into slavery as black. [Emphasis added.] In a sense, passing for black becomes secondary to passing for slave. The idea is that the economic basis of this trumps the racial basis— not that they’re separate.”

Further, “In that context, obviously, there was no change of appearance necessary.”

In other words, Whites who possibly looked or already could pass for Black in appearance were captured and enslaved. They did not “pass,” but were forced into slavery as Blacks. They became Black as the result of heinous criminal acts!

Dreisinger does note that “getting to try on identities and then getting to discard them after you get tired of them, or after you outgrow them” is “the ultimate privilege of whiteness.” Rachel Dolezal is distinguished from “wiggers”—“young white boy who decides he’s black after watching three hours of BET.” (Black Entertainment Television) It is concluded that, “Rachel’s case is pretty fascinating.” (Therefore novel?)

Nowhere is an example offered of a White American prior to Rachel Dolezal wanting, seeking to become Black!

This observer, with near 60 years of interest in and attention to matters Black, is aware of no instance prior to Rachel Dolezal in which a White American chose to become Black. Or any White person anywhere else. I have had White friends since high school. I had a White spouse. These Whites like Blacks and are comfortable around Blacks. However, not one has ever indicated wanting to be Black, or even thinking about becoming Black.


Rachel Dolezal’s journey to Blackness

Given the context of elevation in the estimation of Blackness—the tipping point described—, Rachel Dolezal’s journey to identifying as Black is explicable and straightforward enough. It is countered only by the presumption that no right-thinking White American could possibly want to be Black. Also the suspect, defensive insistence by some Blacks that “no way, no how!” can a White person ever be Black.

Respecting the latter objection, this observer will merely point out that the mirror opposite position, that a Black person cannot be White, was a tenet of racist thinking to the extent that most slave-holding states passed laws that mere 1/32nd African heritage (so-called “one drop” rule) disqualified an otherwise White-appearing person from becoming White. As this ploy to preserve slavery, White predominance, and privilege, circumvented by many thousands, is now properly viewed and denounced as inappropriate in the extreme, so too should be an argument that a White or Red or Yellow person cannot become and identify as Black.

This intellectually appealing, logical notion of course flies in the face of current sensitivity that “crimes” of “cultural appropriation,” especially if committed by Whites, be resisted. (To the extent that recently in Portland, Oregon, women seeking to sell tacos from curbside stands, who happened to be White, were upbraided and shut down by protesters.)

Clearly, all such objections are born of insecurity, are specious, and must be resisted. Since the very first primitive band encountered another, cultural appropriation has occurred. It normally benefitted both groups. Romans borrowed from Greeks, who borrowed from Egyptians, who borrowed from ancient cultures below the Sahara. Europeans borrowed from the Orient, and vice versa. The argument of cultural appropriation as “crime” deserves as little credence as anti-globalism, anti-free trade, continued exploitation of non-feasible fossil fuels, and other such defensive, insecure, small-minded notions. Ideally, America moves posthaste beyond divisive concepts of race, color and cultural difference to a more inclusive “We are all Americans!” Enough already with the hyphenated prefixes and superficial dividers!
Rachel Dolezal was born in Montana to educated parents whose alternative outlook and lifestyle had to have encouraged different thinking. The parents lived for a time before the birth of Rachel and her older brother in a teepee. They were Pentecostal and actively evangelist. When Rachel and her brother were grown and out of the household, the parents spent five years in South Africa. When Rachel was sixteen her parents adopted three young Haitian boys and one African-American boy, all of them darkly Black. Rachel lived with, bonded with, cared for these boys in a largely White environment.

Becoming sister to four dark-brown-skinned brothers obviously introduced young Rachel to the possibility of different races and colors comprising a single family. In a telephone interview reported in a June 16, 2015 New York Times article, Ms. Dolezal’s uncle in Couer d’ Alene, Idaho, quotes Rachel’s father saying regarding his daughter’s reaction to the boys’ adoption, “She immediately was drawn to them. Ever since then she’s had a tremendous affinity with African-Americans.”

Photo allegedly of Rachel Dolezal’s wedding. Back row from left to right, according to Lawrence Dolezal: Ruthanne Dolezal, Kevin Moore, Rachel Dolezal, Lawrence Dolezal, and Lawrence Dolezal’s parents, Peggy and Herman. Front row: Dolezals’ adopted children—Ezra, Izaiah, Esther and Zach. The Washington Post, June 12, 2015.

The same article describes young Rachel learning of a Mississippi minister “who preached racial reconciliation and social justice.” Following home-school completion of high school, at small, Christian, Belhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi, Rachel was “adopted as a ‘surrogate daughter’” by relatives of this minister. The minister’s brother-in-law, a Belhaven professor, said Rachel Dolezal “reminded him of ‘a black girl in a white body,’ like ‘hearing a black song by a white artist.’ But she was ‘snow white, white-white, lily white. I had no idea that years later, she would match the body with the soul.’”

While in Mississippi, Rachel married a Black man. Graduating from college in 2000, she applied for and was admitted to a fine arts master’s degree program at traditionally Black Howard University in Washington, D.C., and received a full scholarship. It seems, based on African-American themed artwork submitted as part of her application and telephone conversations in which Rachel “sounded Black,” Howard administrators were under the impression she was Black, and were chagrined to discover she was not. Rachel had not claimed to be Black. She was not at the time presenting herself as Black. However, she now encountered push-back of the sort prompted by her outing in 2015.

She lost her scholarship and unsuccessfully sued the university in 2002, claiming discrimination against her as a “white” woman. Her master’s thesis project was a series of paintings “presented from the perspective of a black man.” In her lawsuit she claimed that a (Black) Howard dean, reacting to her thesis, questioned whether as a White woman she was “qualified to tell this type of story.”

Rachel Dolezal Art

“My Place” – Acrylic on Canvas 72″ x 72″

“Revelations” – Acrylic on Puzzle & Panel, 27″ x 42″

It may be noted that disqualification on account of no obvious race, color, or cultural nexus between subject instructed/discussed and person instructing or leading discussion is a common theme of current college students. As if being Black (or Red or Green or Purple) or male or female, other than symbolic value, contributes as much as experience, interest, and scholarship in addressing one of many facets of Blackness, Native American culture, or any of the myriad disciplines and sub-disciplines of study that may present.

Rachel Dolezal’s Black husband, a physical therapist, accompanied her to Washington, D. C. She had a son with him in 2002, the year she received her Master of Fine Arts degree. Following graduation from Howard, Ms. Dolezal and her husband and son moved to Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho. However, soon thereafter she left her husband. She has said that a cause was that for her Black husband, she was “too Black.” He apparently did not sufficiently share her commitment to racial reconciliation and matters Black.

In 2007, while living in Coeur d’ Alene with her young, biracial son, and having assumed or wrested guardianship of the eldest of her four Black younger brothers, Ms. Dolezal began darkening her complexion via tanning and bronzing creams, and changing her hair color and styling to effect a Black appearance and identity.

It is this observer’s view and contention that nothing in the Rachel Dolezal journey to aspiring to and becoming and presenting herself as Black rings false. That she can elect to return to being White at any time seems no more a disqualifier than the ability of the many thousands of Blacks who elected to live as and be White to elect to return to their original Black identities. In both instances a severe penalty was paid in terms of strain and even severing of family relations, not to mention adverse consequence of the change coming to light.

As a result of her outing in 2015, Ms. Dolezal was stripped of her duties as teacher of African-American-related topics and mentor to Black students and Black organizations at Eastern Washington State University. She was forced to resign her position as chair of the Police Ombudsman Commission of Spokane. Although the NAACP did not call for her resignation as chair of the Spokane branch (where her leadership efforts were credited with “revitalization” of the organization), she nonetheless resigned for the good of the organization.

Not that, in this observer’s view, penalty for declaring identification with one race or another should be a qualifying talisman. Rather, Dr. Martin Luther King’s wish that people be judged not by color of skin (or race or culture or gender, etc.) but by “content of character” should be the only meaningful qualification.


Seismic aspect of a racial tipping point reached

If America has indeed reached a point where being Black can be seen as an attractive identity to a White person, implications are both profound and, doubtless for some, threatening. Such a development would not only be novel, but would strike at the foundational assumption underpinning American culture, values, and self-perception. Namely, that what is White in America is best and to be striven for, that at its best and in its best essence America is White.

The Trump call to “Make America Great Again” is understood by all—Whites, Blacks, others—as a call to make America White again. In other words, return America to a posture of power and exceptionalism thought by many to be dependent not only upon the revolutionary, praiseworthy principles espoused in the Constitution (crafted by White Founding Fathers) and resting at the heart of Americanism, but a necessary, foundational Whiteness. This, notwithstanding that the founding of the nation rests upon extermination of Native Americans and suppression of Native American culture, and the deplorable stain of Black slave labor that nearly destroyed the nation. Make America White Again is a call to reverse what is represented by the Barack Obama ascendency, including the idea that Black person can ever be equivalent to and as desirable as a White.

Rachel Dolezal’s sincere choice to be Black challenges this. She puts the issue of assumed, unquestioned desirability and supremacy of Whiteness center stage. Although focus has been on Ms. Dolezal’s supposed deceit in presenting herself as Black, the seismic shift in American racial perception she represents is likely the unspoken reason her case exploded with such force. It is perhaps why ongoing discussion of her case, which might have been anticipated, quickly ebbed. At the conclusion of the aforementioned Vox.com article, professor Baz Dreisinger remarks, “I have been a little disappointed that [the Dolezal case] isn’t creating a richer discussion about what it means to cross-identify, and what makes someone legitimately of a culture.”


Implications going forward

If America is to move toward greater color and race blindness and greater national unity, discussion is surely needed about whether fluidity in racial identification is not only possible and feasible, but desirable. Discussion is also needed respecting whether Whiteness and White hegemony is necessary to maintain the essence of what is American and valuable. An assumption heretofore so foundational that it goes unnoticed is that Whiteness goes hand-in-hand with what it means to be American and preservation of the example of America—the unique (exceptional) American experiment in self-government and individual liberty on the world stage and in history.

Note. Here may, indeed should occur a clash with doctrine currently propelled by persons of color and a sizable cohort of liberal Whites—namely, the attempt to equate culture and values of any all sundry nations and peoples, some (Maya and Inca, for example) lost to history, with culture and values thought to be uniquely American and Western, such as freedom of speech, rule of law, and worth and rights of the individual. This clash and confrontation must occur, if what is unique and valuable about America as a liberating beacon in the world and history is to be preserved and promoted.

This observer deems it obvious that American and Western culture and values, insofar as they elevate individual worth, rights, and freedoms, and underpin what is necessary to preserve same—rule of law, freedom of press and speech, democracy, universal education, a prospering middle class, etc.—are indeed superior to those of cultures proposed by college student groups of color and others as deserving of equivalency.

All non-Western cultures and value systems would seem to guarantee none of the necessary supports of individual worth and freedom. Instead, they tend to suppress these rights and values in favor of autocratic, plutocratic rule, nepotism, corruption, and a host of other ills that have retarded individual rights and freedoms throughout history. To believe otherwise, to continue to disrupt and shout down speakers and demand “safe spaces” is to threaten the very (American, Western) culture and values that provide the freedom necessary to insist upon equivalency of other, decidedly lesser cultures. The discussion likely would not even be entertained in those cultures (!!).

More to the point is the question of whether other than frightened (by globalism, etc.), xenophobic, less-educated White Americans—Trump supporters—, can be relied upon to be the vanguard and support of a movement gently, but firmly countering the absurdity and danger of claiming equivalency of all cultures and values. For this to happen, Black Americans and others of color and their supporters, currently operating under an assumption of White supremacy needing to be challenged, must realize that a tipping point in the struggle has been reached.

It must be recognized that the possibility of being American with full privileges and responsibilities thereof implied now exists. If not fully fledged, at least movement and momentum in such direction is now sufficient to cease conflating struggle against Whiteness as enemy and struggle with hegemony of America culture and values as enemy. The two are distinguishable.

Importantly, if continued progress in equality, tolerance, and color blindness in America is to continue, if America is to not slide toward precisely the intolerance and insecure fear of “the other” now being manifested at the highest seats of power, which intolerance and insecurity must result in limits on individual freedom and worth, precisely the ills of societies and cultures other than Western that cause persons of color and other culture to seek to come to America (and Canada and Europe and Australia and New Zealand), this distinction must be embraced by those currently railing against Make America White Again provocateurs.

A declaration needs to be made that equivalency of Black and other identities to White in America has been achieved! At least sufficiently that Americans of color and their White supporters and promoters can unite behind and promote valuable values of a western culture once seemingly consonant with Whiteness, that is actually consonant with what is best for humanity.

Embracing and celebrating, not denigrating the unique example of Rachel Dolezal is a necessary expression of that mature, very urgently necessary evolution.


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