The Dolezal Controversy
In the wake of Rachel Dolezal’s NAACP resignation, members of the TRNN team discuss why the case has become such a national debate
JARED BALL, PRODUCER, IMIXWHATILIKE: What’s up, world. Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball.
A lot’s been happening in the world, and or editorial team has decided to take our inner circle’s conversations about what we talk about in those meetings and plan out for The Real News Network to the community. And given that, all that has gone on in the past few days with Rachel Dolezal, and the exposure perhaps of her racial identification, we thought we would bring the conversation we were having as an editorial team, again, to the community.
So to do that we’re going to get started real quick by playing a clip where we actually interviewed Rachel Dolezal here at The Real News Network some time ago, and we want to play that clip for you right now.
RACHEL DOLEZAL: As one of the very few female presidents of the NAACP, I deal with on a regular basis just the intersection of really triple jeopardy, of race, class, and gender. And just the, the struggle for our black women to be respected for the last 400 years in this [country]. Not only are we mourned less in death, but our leaders are also–black women as leaders are also given less of a platform and are less respected, and less recognized. So I really think that the value of, of our lives and our leadership is an intersection that I’m just really interested in supporting.
And so I really think that it starts with black women valuing black women. And that’s really a kind of a revolutionary act, just to love ourselves. And just to keep, keep strong, and not necessarily to underscore the myth that our lives value less but actually just to counter it and to believe that we indeed do matter equally.
BALL: So there was Rachel Dolezal talking with our correspondent Megan a little time ago. And we know we want to, we’re starting this as a series. This is the first of several series we intend to do, a regular program we want to do here in exposing our audiences to our editorial conversations. And we know that as of this morning Ms. Dolezal has resigned and said that she is stepping back and wanting to remove herself from so much of the dominating conversation.
Megan, you did that interview with her at some point. Tell us when that was and what you thought at the time that this interview took place.
MEGAN SHERMAN: Yeah, that was about a month or so ago, probably. I interviewed her, there was an action that some folks here in Baltimore were doing in relationship to kind of uncovering some of the violence, the police violence that women experience across the country. And so they were doing, like, a joint movement, there were other groups, like, doing it across the country. And so they had one here. And I just was talking to folks who were at the rally, talking to them about why they came out. And yeah, she said that she wanted to be interviewed.
And initially I thought that everything that she was saying was fine. I think it’s funny looking back at the interview now, like, considering all the stuff that’s come out so far. But yeah, I thought that everything that she was saying was right on point for the most part. I mean, if I would have known that she wasn’t a black woman at the time I think my reaction would have been a little different.
BALL: Now, I know one of the things that we wanted to talk about was why is this such an important conversation? Why are so many people focused on this incident since it occurred, or since this story came out? I’ll turn it over to you. Angel, what do you think about this incident, and why do you think so many people are having this conversation?
ANGEL ELLIOTT: Well, first let me talk about that clip. Like Megan said, what she said wasn’t wrong. But to understand that it comes from a person who is so ingrounded in this lie of being a black person and they’re not makes me question her sanity, because she’s–what she’s saying isn’t wrong. Black women do need to, we do need to value each other. But my question is this, did she have to appropriate a black identity to support the black community? And that’s the issue that I have.
This issue of people saying, well, race and gender, they’re both a social construct so technically why couldn’t, if someone can be transgender and someone could be–why couldn’t they be transracial? And I think that that’s a very dangerous comparison to make. So I think that what she did in the end, if she did fake these, these hate notes and this hatred that she received as a black woman, and if she did feel like she had to appropriate blackness in order to support the black community, I think that that’s sending a, a bad message to people that aren’t black about what it means to be black. And to me, being able to take on and off this black identity is white privilege in itself. So that’s how I feel about it.
TAYA GRAHAM: Absolutely. I absolutely agree. And I think what I really find problematic is that she alleged these hate crimes, which I think really delegitimizes other people who have come forward and experienced hate crimes. But the idea that race is a social construction is something that I find encountered here and engaged in an interesting way. Because in academia they always talk about how race is a social construction. But who made this construction? I mean, the one drop rule prevented African-Americans from assimilating into white culture officially, so why would someone choose to give up their privilege?
Well, you could argue that she profited from it. She went to Howard, and she got a full ride. She’s the head of the NAACP. She’s getting on–.
BALL: In Spokane. We just want to clarify, in Spokane.
GRAHAM: Thank you, thank you. In Spokane, Washington. And then she–you know, she has opportunities to speak on behalf of the black community doing advocacy. Perhaps she wouldn’t get as much media attention if she was simply just another white leader of the NAACP.
But honestly, I think this is an important discussion for us to have. Because it has been a white supremacist power structure that dictated what race was to begin with. Who is white, who is black, that established black inferiority and white superiority. So I think this is a great way for us to address this.
BALL: What do you think, Eddie?
EDDIE CONWAY: Yeah, I’m thinking for a lot of people in the black community the problem is how much of us black people is absorbed by white people in terms of first stealing our culture, then stealing our complexion, and then stealing–it’s like they want to, and I was talking to one sister, and she was saying, if they could eat us they would. [Crosstalk]
And so her assuming that identity, it’s, it’s a bad thing because it’s like she needs to represent her feelings about the black community from her white privileged position, and take a position and take a stand there instead of pretending like she is us and absorbing us, and taking away our culture. And delegitimizing us like it’s just been pointed out.
I think one of the things that, you know, Elvis Presley and Hound Dog, or the Beatles, or, or, or–.
BALL: Justin Timberlake.
CONWAY: Yeah. You know, I mean, they just–and this is not a white-black thing, because that is a social construct. But let us have our soul. Let us have our bodies. Let us have our culture. Let us be ourself. You know, and I think that’s where things have gone awry with her. She wants to be us. She can’t be us.
BALL: This is where I thought of Azealia Banks crying in her interview, which I thought a powerful moment when she gave that interview with some commercial radio station up in New York, about we can’t even have our own culture. We, everything we produce is taken.
But the two points that are, that I would like to further investigate with you all is, what are the economic purposes or underpinnings to all of this? Is there a material gain? And then this, this other question of–well, if this was to occur, why couldn’t the white ideal be John Brown, who did not have to assume another identity to perform one of the greatest acts in human history? And then what does–and similarly, what does all this have to say about–or the reaction nationally and internationally, about how race is discussed in this country?
So the material impact or aspects of this, and then how is race covered in this country or discussed that is I think exposed in some of the response to all of this? Anybody have any thoughts on that?
SHERMAN: I mean, to your last point I think something that’s really interesting, I saw a lot of articles that people were posting that was like, well you know, black women wear straight hair to look like European women, or wear fake nails, or do things cosmetically to change the way we look to look more European. And so one thing I found that was, that was really troubling for me. Because there isn’t the same relationship to oppression for Rachel Dolezal. That was something that was–I’m sure she’s mentally unstable.
But I do think that it is interesting when you’re talking about race as a social construct it’s like, when a person wants to assume another identity or assume another race, they play out some of the stereotypes that go along with those roles. And so I think for her it’s really interesting to see which parts of blackness she chose to assume within her own identity. But the conversation about, like, talking about black women’s struggles with identity and self-love and stuff like that, I think it’s really troubling to try to compare it to what she’s going through because I think it’s something that’s completely different, but it does have some kind of parallels.
CONWAY: And I think I want to add something to that, about the economics of it. Our history and our culture goes back beyond slavery, but a large part of our identity, our race consciousness, if you will, comes from that experience of being exploited. Super exploited. Our very existence here in the planet, in America right now, and having the largest prison population in the world, having the most impoverished communities in the world, here in America, that is, is about our identity is being black.
And I think if someone wants to really support this, want to help this, they need to do exactly what you say. They need to be the John Brown of their community to bring those resources from their community and give–you know, if you want to identify that black people need help, give us your privilege. Give us your stuff. Give us back our stuff. I mean, you know, I mean, that’s the bottom line. Just give us our stuff and get out of the way. We’ll be okay. We won’t even be black anymore–I’m sorry. [Crosstalk].
BALL: So of you I ask the same questions. What does this say about the coverage of race or how race is discussed in this country, and what does it mean in terms of the material impact of, on–.
ELLIOTT: I mean, I agree with Megan, and to my point earlier, the fact that she picked and–she chose certain things about blackness to help physically identify herself as black is dangerous to other people who say, I can just put on blackface, essentially, and be black, and say ‘we’ black women, and do classes about kinky hair. And this is what it’s going to mean for me to be black. It’s dangerous. And I think that it kind of minimizes the struggle that black women go through on a daily basis, because it’s more than about hair. Yeah, I wear a weave. I wear just a straight weave. My nails are long. But you know, that isn’t the core of what it means to be black for me.
GRAHAM: Well, she teaches a class on the black struggle at the university. She’s part-time faculty there. And I think the idea that was discussed was the idea of consumption. And what she has chosen to consume of the black culture. When I look at her I do see someone who may be disturbed. Honestly.
But if we put that aside and look at her actions just simply in the intentionality, if we just look at her intent–for example, I think it was John Griffin in like, 1961, he wrote a book called Black Like Me. And he was, he was a reporter, and he went undercover. And he took a drug for vitiligo and had his doctor supervise it so he could really appear to be African-American. And so that was a story that was really an investigative journalist’s story.
So in that case, his intention I think was a noble one and actually illuminated some aspects of the black person’s experience that he–at that time we didn’t have the authority to say ourselves. We needed, unfortunately, him to do that. But when I look at her intentionality I’m very confused.
BALL: All right. Well, there’s clearly a lot of confusion going around with this issue, and I think the way race is commonly discussed or interpreted in general. So it’s perfectly fitting that she and the rest of us express or experience some level of confusion with all of this. For my last two cents, I would just like to recommend that we revive the Eddie Murphy sketch from Saturday Night Live. So be careful out there. The Real News, you never know who might be on that bus next to you.
But anyway, this is the first of many conversations we intend to have where we bring the editorial conversations to the community, and I thank you all for breaking the ground on this first run of it. And thank you for watching here at The Real News. We’ll catch you in the whirlwind. Peace, everybody.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.