Rachel Dolezal is 'pimping blackness,' says prominent black Canadian scholar
By Sheena Goodyear
, Postmedia Network First posted: Friday, June 12, 2015 12:13 PM EDT | Updated: Friday, June 12, 2015 06:06 PM EDT
That Rachel Dolezal remains the president of the Spokane, Wash., branch of the NAACP despite revelations she's a white woman who fabricated her black identity is raising some eyebrows north of the border.
"I think this woman is bogus," Afua Cooper, a Dalhousie University professor who studies the Canadian black identity and founded the Black Canadian Studies Association, told Postmedia Network by e-mail.
"As a black woman, I cannot one day decide to be white and head up a white organization. ... This Rachel person has commodified blackness. Shame. In my opinion, she is pimping blackness. She should resign and stop the fraud."
But the National Association For The Advancement of Coloured People stands by Dolezal, boasting in a statement Friday about its "proud tradition of receiving support from people of all faiths, races, colours and creeds."
It's true that everyone should feel encouraged to fight for civil rights, says Cedric Richards, a black man and a representative on the London, Ont., city council's youth advisory board.
But, he adds, people's activism ought to be done openly and honestly.
"I prefer that people tell the story from their standing in life and not pass themselves off as someone else," he said. "Being black is more than dreadlocks and afros and rap music and level of skin colour."
The bizarre story about Dolezal, who teaches African-American studies at Eastern Washington University, broke when CNN (external - login to view)
-affiliate KXLY (external - login to view)
found her birth certificate, which says she was born to Caucasian parents, and dug up a high school photo of her with pale skin, freckles and straight, blonde hair.
"I can't say I'm terribly surprised," Charmaine Nelson, co-founder of the Black Canadian Studies Association, said in an e-mail.
Nelson, a McGill University art history and communications professor who focuses on black feminist scholarship and critical race theory, says may white people idealize blackness as "cool," and that "normalization of whiteness has led to many whites feeling or actually being de-ethnicized."
Like Richards, she supports the inclusion of everyone in anti-racist organizations, and within black academia, too.
"That said, the fact that she did not disclose her race and that she has allegedly worked to pass herself off as a black or mixed-race woman is definitely problematic since her racial performance has no doubt allowed her to gain credibility has a person who has experienced racism and whose practice and activism comes from her identity," she said. "This is, of course, not the case."
IS 'TRANSRACIAL' A THING?
The scandal has raised debate in Spokane, and across the U.S., about whether being "transracial" — identifying as a member of a different race — is possible.
The word "transracial" exists, but this marks the first time it's been used to describe passing as a member of another race. (Transracial adoption, for example, is when someone adopts a child of another race.)
The theory, spouted by celebrities such as Mia Farrow, was pushed on forums like Reddit and 4Chan on Friday, but many black and transgender people have openly dismissed it.
Trans writer KT Hache (external - login to view)
said on Twitter the phenomenon has been made up "to attack" trans people.
Many were quick to point out that they can't conveniently avoid anti-black discrimination just by identifying as white.
Rachel Dolezal is 'pimping blackness,' says prominent black Canadian scholar | W