White People, Stop Saying You’re ‘Black On The Inside’

By Natasha Diaz

White people are consistent; I’ll give them that. They take Black culture as the blueprint for their fashion, entertainment, music, and new hip terms to enhance their Urban Dictionary posts. They colonize neighborhoods, forcing out people who have lived there for generations, stripping the area of culture, and filling it with ridiculous storefronts that specialize in multiple varieties of a single condiment that could easily be made at home. Just when you thought they couldn’t take any more, they’ll figure out a way to snatch even the intangible away. Take #BlackLivesMatter, a slogan built to anchor a human rights movement, stolen to protect Smurfs. (Presumably that’s what “Blue Lives Matter” is about, since otherwise it makes no goddamn sense.) Usually, white people want everything Black, except to actually be Black. That is, until Friday, June 12th, 2015, when Rachel Dolezal and her circus full of weave and spray tan came marching out into the public eye.

Everyone I knew emailed to tell me about Dolezal. As a woman of mixed race that inadvertently passes as white, I clearly needed to be in the know. A few idiots even reached out to say that they “finally understood now” where I was coming from in explaining my racial background. Let’s have a moment of silence for those poor unfortunate souls, now eternally “unfriended” in all senses of the term — R.I.P. But none of my friends’ and ex-friends’ responses were as offensive as Dolezal’s spurious claim to be Black.

That said, despite the disgust I felt about Dolezal’s song and dance, I had to admit that her commitment to deceit deserved a pedestal. That woman put an inordinate amount of work into that facade, and where I come from, you give credit where credit is due. I’ve loosely followed her out-of-touch journey in the public eye, where she continues to claim she is a Black woman, and in a sick way I’ve been almost grateful to have experienced this anomaly during my lifetime. Or so I thought, until I recently read the New York Magazine exposé on artist and former Kimye collaborator Vanessa Beecroft — in which Beecroft talks about taking a DNA test to check whether she’s Black, and being “disappointed” to find that she’s just another white thief. “I want to do [the test] again, because when I work with Africans or African-Americans, I feel that I am autobiographical,” said Beecroft. “If I don’t call myself white, maybe I am not.”

In truth, I read the piece multiple times to make sure I wasn’t being punk’d. I write this with no disrespect to journalist, Amy Larocca, who I honestly believe deserves an award for self-restraint. Can someone please bring her a giant, delicious cookie for revealing Beecroft as the ignorant, delusional, entitled white woman she is, as tenderly as someone breaking it to a friend that their current partner is on all the dating apps? My writer hat goes off to you, Ms. Larocca, but I just don’t have that willpower.

When Dolezal sauntered onto the scene, stuttering through her nonsensical justifications for her longstanding life of lies, I thought, “finally, there is actually going to be a larger discussion about what it means to pass. Surely people will understand that the reason she got away with this is because there are actually people who look like her that ARE Black.” I considered the rest of my life, overjoyed with the idea that maybe I wouldn’t need to pre-empt every conversation I have with a new white person with a quick lesson on my family background, to prevent them from saying something stupid or hurtful. Instead what ensued was a media frenzy fixated on her lies — a frenzy that relied on old middle-school photos of a blonde and pale-skinned Dolezal, intended to prove that she could not be Black. If anything, Dolezal’s now-famous racial appropriation distanced us all from a much-needed conversation about racial constructs. It made people like myself, a person who looks as ridiculous as Rachel in my own family photos, feel more alone, with less of a right to claim my true identity in the eyes of the general public.

Beecroft took a different and even more baffling approach to her false Blackness than Dolezal. Rather than attempt to “look the part,” she turned Black people into her art — and when that wasn’t enough, she declared herself to have the superpower ability to somehow absorb their personality through artistic collaboration. By that I mean her claim to actually in some sense be Kanye West: “There is Vanessa Beecroft as a European white female, and then there is Vanessa Beecroft as Kanye, an African-American male.” Girl, please just subscribe to their Snapchat like the rest of us. Shit.

As a multiracial woman, I understand feeling like you’re two people sometimes. I code switch — in corporate (read: white) settings, I feel self-conscious about my natural speech pattern and change it to be a bit more amenable to the social environment. At Black Lives Matter rallies, aware that I look white, I let my presence speak louder than my voice. I am not in danger of a cop shooting me for how I look and my mixed race does not negate that privilege, so I shut the hell up and listen to the POC who understand that fear and have something to say. But what Vanessa is talking about is something completely different and potentially groundbreaking. She has effectively relinquished the need for any sort of reality-based social perspective due to the fact that she can shape-shift to any race, gender, and ethnic make-up because she says she can. What if Beecroft could somehow bottle and sell this skill, or simply teach lessons? I could see a Groupon selling out in seconds. How many fewer POC would be killed at the hands of militarized, racist police if they had the ability to change their race in moments where they just walk down the street? Play in a park? Drive in a car? GIVE UP YOUR SECRETS TO YOUR FALSELY-CLAIMED PEOPLE, VANESSA, IT’S THE LEAST YOU CAN DO.

Beecroft’s lack of racial awareness is damaging to people of color, who day in and day out attempt to simply make it through the day alive. It is damaging to uninformed white people in search of a public figure to guide their understanding of race and racial politics. And it is damaging to anyone of mixed race who, like me, has been told their whole life that they are “too white to be Black.”

Despite the fact that both Rachel and Vanessa seem to have found their “true” identities, I am still searching for where “multicultural” fits within the landscape that is race in America. When I was younger, I had moments of weakness where I allowed racist, ignorant, hurtful behavior to occur around me without repercussion. Speaking out, would mean having to explain myself, and then be questioned and teased for “not really being” who I say I am. I struggle with a permanent guilt for the way my appearance allows me to move through the world so much more easily than my family members, and I am grateful for the constant reminder. As much as I am connected to and proud of my Black and Brazilian heritage, an intense awareness of how I am perceived by everyone around me is part of who I am. It has taken 29 years to get here with far more work to be done. And when these white women proclaim themselves to be spiritually Black, it feels like they’re pouring multiple varieties of artisanal salt (available at the aforementioned, gentrified storefronts) on the wound.

The sad truth is that people like Dolezal and Beecroft will always find a platform to spew entitled crap all over the interwebs, precisely because of their whiteness. It’s much safer for the media to talk about the sad, confused white girl than it is to acknowledge people like me; those of us who bridge the gap between Black and white and straddle the line of race in America. Rachel Dolezal continues to traipse around telling her sob story of being boxed out of her found community. She’s even in the process of writing a book on none other than racial politics. (Someone please gift this to me on Amazon, I cannot bring myself to actually purchase it but good lord, I know it’s gunna slay after two bottles of rosé.) Beecroft, who thinks she can actually turn into Kanye West, still describes the Black workers at the airport that she first met when she arrived in America thus:When I landed at JFK, my first impression is being welcomed by all of these African, or maybe Jamaican, air people that help you at the airport with your luggage.” Neither of them has learned anything from any of this, nor have they had to.

But is anyone surprised? As white women, Beecroft and Dolezal have been shown (if not explicitly told) that they can have and do whatever they like in this life. They have both embraced and individually interpreted that concept wholeheartedly, with no regret or sign of slowing down. In discussing the unnecessary excess of food in Vanessa Beecroft’s home, a place she voluntarily refers to as — to all my Brazilian family, living and deceased, me perdoe, forgive me — a “favela,” Ms. Larocca writes, “Beecroft doesn’t eat much of it herself, particularly if the children are not around. She relies on powders, briefly including a protein powder that a nutritionist told her would help ground her to the Earth; she’s since given up on protein entirely. ‘I realize I am a bit floating around in the sky,’ she says.”

Of course she can fly. She has magical powers. So I say, go on now, Vanessa Beecroft. Float away. Keep on floating up, up, up, and don’t stop until you hit the sun. The rest of us will be here on Earth, attempting to clean up the mess you’ve helped make, as usual.

***

Lead image: NNelumba/flickr

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