Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Rachel Dolezal and the Meaning of Racial Labels in America.

There's a great deal of furor over Rachel Dolezal, the now former President of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP. Though born to parents whom identify themselves as Caucasian, Rachel has presented herself as an African-American for some time now. Because of the outrage presented through the national media and via the internet, many have called into question her ability to represent people of color and the NAACP organization.

This is absolutely ridiculous.

Honestly, I'm disgusted at how much press this incident has received. Someone whom has spent their entire life apparently devoted to racial equality has been lambasted because she didn't look how many would expect her to appear. Rachel is a graduate of Howard University, a historically black college. She completed her Masters degree in Fine Art in 2002. There is no doubt in my mind that Rachel cherishes racial equality. In my opinion, she has harmed no one and does not deserve the attention she has received.

That being said, this incident with Dolezal raises a much deeper, more thought provoking notion.

What qualifies someone as black?

Does being black look a certain way? Does it mean you wear your hair in an approved style? Does it mean you dress in a specific manner? Does it mean your skin has to be within a particular range of shades? Does it mean you talk with a certain dialect? Where do you draw the line on these issues?

Is this woman black?

How about this man. Is he black?

Is this couple black?

Is this child black?

Here's the point I'm trying to make -- race is just a superficial label that most people cling to. It provides an inherent sense of instant community, but it also divides us in ways that many would never even consider. In the case of Dolezal, she found comfort and support among other people whom also identify as African-American. She obviously loves the nuances and interests of that community. What's not to love? People of African-American descent have given so much to the United States. Without such people with a proud heritage, our nation would not exist. Thereby, Rachel chose to reflect those traits in her physical appearance. What Dolezal does with her body is her business. You, I, nor anyone else for that matter has any reason to object.

Oh, but you might say "Hey, she's not black. She can't just darken her skin and say she's African-American!"

Are these girls trying to be black?

Yeah? Well tell that to the millions of Americans whom visit tanning salons and use skin bronzer. People who identify as Caucasian have darkened their skin unnaturally for decades on end. Are those people trying to be black? Much less, let's flip this around. Many African-Americans have done their best to appear as light as possible. How many times have we seen one person accuse another of being "light-skinned" in a negative manner? Far too many, in my opinion. Are those people trying to be white?

You're not "white" because of what you look like.
You're not "black" because of what you look like.
You're whatever you choose to be at any given time, regardless of skin color, hair style, manner of dress or personality.

People are so much more complex than a silly color or community label.
As human beings, our deep ancestry can be traced to a mutual point. Africa is typically regarded by scientists as the starting point of the entire human race. Thereby, are we all not of African descent? Do we all not come from the same origin? We are all one big, seven-billion strong family of Homo sapiens.

At the end of this discussion, we have to really analyze what labeling yourself by race does. I don't support racial labels because there's no evidence that any of us are different. We are all the same, no matter where we were born or who our parents were. Many of you would look at me and say my race is Caucasian. You're wrong -- the only race I'm a member of is the HUMAN race. When I am asked my race on a form, I always mark 'mixed' or 'other'. I say we treat others with that same manner of respect, Rachel included.

Just be who you want to be... and to hell with what everyone else thinks.

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