Passing as Black

I started writing about this as a comment on a friend’s Facebook post, but I felt the need to expand it further as a blog post, because I think it’s essential for people to understand.

Race is not some psycho-social construct that I create for myself, and as a black woman – particularly one who is dark-skinned – it’s not something I get to choose. While members of the African diaspora living in America ultimately found ways to use the construct to build the social and cultural ties necessary for survival in a hostile, oppressive society, the construct of race is specifically linked to and defined through the lens of white privilege. I’m not black because I decide to be. I’m black because that is how I am perceived and treated as a dark-skinned person of African ethnic heritage – and that remains true no matter whether I try to “define myself” based on my Scottish roots instead of my African ones.

This woman is exercising white privilege in the very act of choosing to be one race or the other. The same is true of people of African ethnic heritage who “pass” as white, and it has always been a problematic issue in the black community. The additional problem with Ms. Dolezal’s version of passing is that she is using it for her personal and professional benefit to access spaces that an oppressed community has specifically created to address and heal from their oppression – without the consent of the people who created those spaces, without allowing them to determine whether her being in the space as a white person met their needs as well as hers. She didn’t want to have to do the difficult work of navigating as a minority in a space she didn’t control (which actual black people have to do daily), so she used her privilege to access and take leadership roles in that space. That’s BS.

“Race is a social construct” is not a get out of jail free card that lets society separate the concept of its origins and purposes. Using it that way is a means of invalidating the real experience of racial minorities in this country in order to win a war of words; it only helps to perpetuate the belief that racial discrimination and inequity are things that black and brown people make up as part of their “psycho-social” experience.

People keep asking why it’s an issue that Rachel Dolezal is white – isn’t she still doing work against racism, and can’t she still do that as a white person? Yes, she can; but she needs to do that work AS A WHITE PERSON, which is what she is. She needs to do the work of confronting race and racism from her authentic position in the world, dealing with what it means to be white in a society built and still operating on racism, where her skin color privilege grants her access and benefits that she uses daily – and that she uses at the expense of others, whether she intends to or not. (And, for the record, that she’s STILL BENEFITTING FROM, passing as a very light skinned “person of color” in both POC and white spaces.)

Rachel Dolezal might have been, and may yet become, an excellent white ally. But cultural and identity appropriation is not allyship; it’s an insult.

And that’s the last thing I’m posting about Rachel Dolezal, because this whole thing has taken me from amazed to amused to angry. Well, OK … I’m also posting the image below, because it’s hilarious. Being angry doesn’t mean I can’t still be amused a little bit.



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