Posted June 16, 2015


        There’s a big blow-up happening in America in terms of self identification. In the age of social media, how one is defined doesn’t seem to fit the traditional model.
        Rachel Dolezal has recently been “outed” as a white woman, although she has been self-identifying as a black woman for years.
How she passed herself off as a black woman all this time escapes me. Especially since, in all honesty, she looks to me like Bill O’Reilly with a Side-show Bob hairdo.
        I was struck by the fact that she came from Troy, Montana, a place I am familiar with. Troy is a stones throw from the Idaho panhandle, which is well known as a hotbed of racist, bigoted “Rocky Mountain Hillbillies”. Passing yourself off as a black woman when you are obviously (to me) white seems like a dangerous game plan in that part of the country, and the fact that she went ahead with her ill-fated plan seems more than just silly – it seems reckless.
        This all falls right in the middle of the current American crisis of race relations and identification, especially after the conflicts recently in Ferguson, Staten Island, Baltimore, and countless other locations across the nation. The relations between black and white Americans seem to be at an all time low, and identification seems to be in the eye of the police. Things are difficult enough for African Americans without Rachel Dolezal parading around as a black woman.
        I know how sticky this subject can be, from my own personal experience. I grew up under a father who was adopted at the age of 5 by the Lakota Sioux in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. He identified with his upbringing as a First American. But, when he spoke with white people about his experience, beliefs and lifestyle, he didn’t say he WAS Indian. He always pointed out that he was indeed white, but FELT and identified as an Indian. That’s quite different from checking the box marked African American on your application to school, or your friendly census-taker knocking on your door.
        The appropriation of another culture or race is nothing new, but, using it to advantage that goes beyond societal bounds is pressing realities of identification into a thin white sheet. The fact that Dolezal worked her self all the way up to President of Spokane’s NAACP is astonishing on the surface, and disingenuous just below. Did she profit from her appropriation? And why choose “blackness”? She was surrounded by native tribes in the Salish/Kootenai federation. Why didn’t she pass herself off as a Native American instead? Perhaps because she knows, as most of us do, that Natives are considered socio-economically lower than her preferred choice.
        At the end of the day, with everything else going on in the area of race and identity, this is little more than smoke and mirrors, deflecting out attention away from the issues that really matter.

Colter Langan


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