Rachel Dolezal: Some Thoughts As A Bi-Racial (*Black?) Man
Racial Identity: It’s Complicated
The form asks me to pick a race. Asian? No. Clearly not. Hispanic? No. White? Black? I’m both. There’s no option for bi-racial. There’s no empty box to write in my answer.
It’s such an impersonal word. Like, you don’t fit. We don’t know you. You’re not one of us. We don’t see you. We don’t know who your people are. You don’t belong.
And so I ask myself, am I black? For some reason, I just really wanna be black. My adopted parents are white, my middle brother black, my youngest brother white, my biological sisters bi-racial like me. So again, white? Black?
There have been times in my life when I felt black. Like when the obese man at the fairground called me a nigger. Or when that kind older black man called me a brother. Like when I taught myself how to rap. Or when my heart broke as I united myself in solidarity to the suffering community in Ferguson.
What does it mean to be white? How do I act white? Privilege? Like, I get the job because my name is Anthony not D’shaun (source.) Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know. But I do know my sister got bullied when she was known as Latoya — and so she changed her name to Rachel and the bullying stopped. My other sister, Ericka, never had that problem.
Mostly, I feel black when I look in the mirror during the summer, and white when I attempt to dance. I am not other. I refuse to be other. Therefore, I am black.
Black or white?
Alicia Keys: classy R&B artist. Classified as “black” artist. Biracial.
Barrack Obama. America’s first black President. Biracial.
Jennifer Beals. Earned an NAACP Image award. Biracial.
Trevor Noah, comedian. South-African. Jokes about wanting to be black, and being mistaken as Hispanic. Biracial.
Biracial Culture: Does It Even Exist?
So what does black-white biracial culture look like? I wouldn’t know because I’ve never seen it. Even ABC’s hit show Black-ish (I am a fan!) doesn’t provide anything here. I mean, Bow (short for Rainbow) the mom is bi-racial but the show is more interested in exploring how she’s still black or at least black-ish. [And yes, the actress Tracee Ellis Ross received an NAACP Image award for her role on the show.]
So…biracial for me means having both black and white ancestry reflected in my genetic code. Biology. From a biological standpoint, from a scientific standpoint, I am both black and white — I am biracial.
But, culturally? There is no black-white biracial culture that I’ve seen or experienced. There is no musical expression that is a unique blend of black-and-white, no food stereotypes, no representation in popular film or television, no artistic forms or new literary genres, no museums.
Ethnicity is as much culture as it is genes, right?
So maybe, in the case of me being black, I am black because I have skin tones that have black reflected in them? After all, both Fredrick Douglas and Booker T. Washington were biracial from a biological standpoint, yet clearly, we think of them as black men. And frankly, if I were sent back in time to the years of slavery in the United States, maybe my lighter skin would have made me “privileged” enough to work in the house instead of the fields, but I’m damn sure I would still have been a slave.
But maybe, I also embrace blackness as ethnicity because I’m fearful that to embrace white at all means dishonoring the black? Because maybe I’m ashamed that I would have gotten to work in the house instead of the fields, even though I’m black, because I’m not as black as some. Maybe I’m ashamed of my whiteness because the white-privilege separates me from those who also share in the African-American legacy.
The point is, I don’t know. I just know I don’t want to be Other.
And every time — every time — I fill out that box on that form, I ask myself, am I lying? Am I pretending to be something I’m not? Where do I belong? Who are my people? Do I even have the right to decide this for myself? Do I even have the right to check the box that says black?
Identity: My Parents Love Me
Overall, I have a wonderful relationship with my adoptive parents. And I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my parents love me. And because I know that, my identity is pretty well fixed.
My mom didn’t bat an eye when I worked up the courage to share with her several years ago that I felt like I wanted to marry a black woman. Not a specific person. Just a feeling of being drawn to that ethnicity. And she didn’t say I was wrong to feel that way.
And a few years ago, when she was introduced to a young black lady that she knew I had a crush on, she later told me that she could see this girl as her daughter-in-law. And can I just tell you how much that meant to me?
I know, 100% know, that if I ever come home one day with a black woman and say, “I want you to meet my fiance”, I’ll be told off for not introducing the girl sooner (ha, ha) but my parents, and my brothers, won’t think anything of race. And the same is true if that woman were to be white, Asian, Mexican, Arab, biracial, etc.., etc..
My parents love me. That is enough. My identity is secure. My occasional confusion with racial identity when I have to fill out some dumb government form pales in comparison to the security in the love that binds my family.
Rachel Dolezal: Identifying as Black
Rachel Dolezal is the subject of much debate in recent times. Once the leader of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, she has come into controversy now that her parents have outed her as being white but *pretending* to be black.
I don’t know all of her story. I don’t know all the struggles she’s had.
Rachel grew up in an “off-the-grid” homeschool fundamentalist family. Her older brother Joshua is on trial for sexually assaulting a…black boy (source.) Her adopted younger brother Izaiah, an African-American, filed for emancipation from his parents at age 16, citing parental child abuse (source.) Rachel has had guardianship of her brother Izaiah and has raised him as her own son.
Rachel says her parents, with whom she has been estranged for many years, outed-her to destroy her credibility (as revenge for) her efforts on behalf of the victim of her brother Joshua’s abuse, in the upcoming court case (source.) While Rachel could very well be lying, it does seem odd that “all of a sudden” her parents decided to speak out.
I too was homeschooled. And for me, homeschooling was wonderful. I too have both black and white siblings, adopted and biological. So when I read Rachel’s story, I empathize deeply with the situation.
I don’t want to make excuses for Rachel’s lies. I don’t want to play arbiter of truth to decide whether Rachel or her parents are the more trustworthy sources. I don’t want to speculate on why Rachel has struggled with racial identity (though it would be easy to do so, given the information available.)
And I purposefully am not including a picture of Rachel in this article. Because I want to focus on her as she inwardly is, not as her body appears. If, for reasons of attraction to ethnic culture and/or reasons of past emotional pain and turmoil, Rachel wants to identify as black, I am not going to stand in judgment of her. I shared enough of my own story with you that I hope you can at least understand why I’m not comfortable issuing judgment even if perhaps you are.
Conclusion: Identity = Love
For me, all that remains is love. We are all people. We are humanity. We have cultures, we have genes. Neither culture nor genes should change how we treat each other, how we love each other, how we accept each other.
I’m not buying into some multicultural, “be oversensitive”, “just love everyone” progressive brainwashing. I live multicultural. This IS my story. And I’m asking you to be sensitive to it. And I’m asking you to love, not superficially, but deeply.
And I’m asking you to love Rachel. I’m asking you to accept Rachel. I’m asking you to understand the brokeness, the emotional pains, the struggles, that we all face in one shape or another but that Rachel has faced in a more intensive way than most of us. I’m asking you to be sensitive to her pain: to stop making snide jokes and cruel judgments and ignorant statements.
I’m asking you to bestow grace to Rachel, and to me, and to yourself. Understand that we all long to belong, to not be relegated to the Other. And what creates a sense of belonging? Love.