On Tuesday, Rachel Dolezal continued her parade of television interviews by chatting with MSNBC host and Wake Forest professor Melissa Harris-Perry. Over the weekend, the host herself raised eyebrows on her show when she questioned whether Dolezal could be “transracial” if “cisblack” is a thing.
During the sit-down interview, Harris-Perry asked Dolezal a few questions including:
Melissa Harris-Perry: Are you black?
Rachel Dolezal: Yes, I am.
MHP: What does that mean?
RD: *sigh* It means several things… it means that I’ve really gone there with that experience… as the mother of two black sons.
Hm. Continue ladies.
MHP: Are you a con artist?
RD: I don’t think so, you know? I don’t think that anything that I have done with regards to the movement and my work, my life and my identity. It’s all been very thoughtful and careful.
I think a person so close to the “movement”—which is open to allyship, very much about authenticity and protecting black culture, history and aspirations—would know that the performance Dolezal is putting forth is not being an ally. It is a True Detective-esque mockery of being black in America. Dolezal is not Janet Mock or Laverne Cox. This is not an issue of being assigned the wrong sex at birth.
Dolezal’s identity is a racial construction of her own making in a place where there aren’t a ton of black people to call her out. It must be noted that she didn’t claim to be black while she no doubt underwent the blackest experience of her life at Howard University as a Fine Arts grad student. Nor did she present herself as black while she was married to a black man, which no doubt came with a black family and friends, until 2004.
As much as I love Harris-Perry, her initial questions of “cisblack” and “transracial” echoes what many right wing pundits are saying, and using Dolezal’s performance as an excuse to belittle America’s transgender movement. (This is also why I couldn’t understand how Caitlin Jenner declared herself a Republican, but that’s another post.)
In my opinion, ethnicity isn’t something one can really move in and out of physically or mentally. You can fudge how people may see you with money, social status or class (however that’s viewed in the society you live in), changing your hair, speaking a different language or altering your voice—but you’re still of born of your parents’ racial makeup, and Rachel Dolezal’s is Czech, Swedish, and German.
I’m a light skin black woman with freckles. My grandfather was lighter than I and in the South, he’d pass for white sometimes, just to see what the other side was doing (and probably to see whether he could get away with it). But he said passing was boring because his darker skin friends couldn’t come, among other things. Still, raising his voice an octave to pass for a white man some times didn’t make him white anymore than it makes me less black, or anything else, as his granddaughter. If that was the case, I’d be Dominican, Brazilian or Cuban every time I went to Harlem, got my hair straightened or traveled to another country full of people who look like me. As Jay Z once rapped, “You was who you was when you got here.”
Here’s Dolezal’s interview with Harris-Perry:
Contact the author at Hillary@jezebel.com.
Image via MSNBC.