Only in Con Artistlandia Does a Curly Kinky Weave and a Tan Make You Black
|Kinky-curly weave + tan ≠ Black|
Con artist: a person who cheats or tricks others by persuading them to believe something that is not true.
In the late 1990s I was on board a plane that was sitting on the runway in Birmingham, Alabama, waiting for takeoff. The white man next to me struck up a conversation. "I bet you sure are proud of that Tiger Woods," he said with a grin. (This was pre-Tiger getting beat down with a golf club for cheating on his wife.)
"I don't follow much golf, but I guess he's pretty good," I replied.
"And such a credit to your race." the old man said.
His smile oozed Southern Charm. I smiled back, but inside I was a bubbling pot of Martin Gore in the Strangelove video.
|Resting "Mode Face"|
So I decided to check this man's assumptions and have a little fun.
"As a white person, I don't know how much I have in common with Tiger," I replied.
He shifted in his seat and looked at me like I was slow. "No, the black race. Your people."
"Oh, but I'm not black," I told the old man with a smile. "I'm white."
He physically recoiled from me, and after a few heartbeats he reached up and pressed the call button. One of the flight attendants soon arrived and he whispered to her that he needed to change his seat. The look that man gave me as he got his stuff together to move to another seat was all:
I've thought about that incident on the plane quite a bit since we entered the Era of Rachel Dolezal.
I felt empathetic when I first heard last week that Dolezal, who resigned on Monday as head of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP, had been confronted by a reporter about her racial identity. I figured maybe her parents had been passing as white and she was just coming correct and recognizing her black heritage. (It's happened before in America.)
But after it became evident that this was not the situation, I had lots of questions, namely, if we say Rachel Dolezal sounds kinda crazy, are we saying that you have to be nuts to want to be black?
In any case, I figured we'd reached Peak Dolezal on Monday afternoon. That's when I received an email from my brilliant colleague Willy Blackmore with the following subject line: "Dolezal sued Howard for racial discrimination."
I clicked Willy's email open and there was a link to an article on The Smoking Gun. The article explained how Dolezal, who identified as white when she attended Howard University, had sued the school "for denying her teaching posts and a scholarship because she was a white woman."
Dolezal alleged that Howard is “permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult."
So not only has this woman lied to herself and others about being black, she SUED Howard University—an institution founded because white folks would not admit black Americans to their schools—because she believes she was discriminated against because she's white.
I think I secretly hoped Dolezal would refuse to talk to the media, but on Tuesday she entered the sitting down for interviews phase of her 15 Minutes of Black Fame.
This morning with Matt Lauer on the Today show, she explained away the Howard lawsuit by saying she was told "other people needed opportunities and you probably have white relatives that can afford to help you with your tuition."
She also shared how she began feeling connected to black folks at age 5. "I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon, and black curly hair," she told Lauer at one point.
I've felt simultaneously angry and puzzled by the delusions and white privilege that are inherent in Dolezal's situation—maybe that's what made it so easy to laugh at the #AskRachel hashtag and scores of other jokes on Twitter.
Lauer: Do you consider yourself black? Dolezal: Matt, the bigger question is — are we human or are we dancer?— Gene Demby (@GeeDee215) June 16, 2015
Thank you for your interest in BLACK. After reviewing your credentials, we concluded your qualifications do not currently suit our needs.— Mat Johnson (@mat_johnson) June 16, 2015
It's either fall out on the floor laughing or punch a wall.
As I told a couple of people this afternoon, when you've spent a good chunk of your life being called zebra or Oreo, or being told that you're not REALLY black because your father is white, and then this heffa comes along and some people are all "she's transracial" or "let her be black because race is a social construct"...it's A LITTLE ENRAGING.
Dolezal doesn't think black women should rake her over the coals for her lies. “But they don't know me. They really don't know what I've actually walked through and how hard it is," she told Harris-Perry. "This has not been something that just is a casual, you know come-and-go sort of identity you know, or an identity crisis. It's something that I've paid away.”
Cry me a motherf******* river.
I'm still waiting for black women who didn't wake up one morning and decide they feel black to be given a national platform to talk about identity and how we often feel "isolated", as Dolezal told MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry on Tuesday.
#BlackWomenWork Every day Unnoticed Underpaid Exploited Demanded Criticized Erased Plagiarized Ridiculed— FJ (@FeministaJones) June 16, 2015
However Dolezal seems to believe black folks should stop being mean to her and start being grateful for her behavior. After all, she is reigniting the National Conversation on Race.
"As much as this discussion has somewhat been at my expense recently, and in a very sort of viciously inhumane way come out of the woodwork, the discussion is really about what it is to be human," Dolezal told Lauer. "I hope that that can drive at the core of definitions of race, ethnicity, culture, self determination, personal agency and, ultimately, empowerment."
Indeed, what makes this so dangerous is, as my friend Kelly Wickham put it:
She has derailed a real and true conversation about the violence against Black bodies while pretending to be a Black body. In the midst of discussing gated community pool parties and section 8 housing and the new Jim Crow laws, there are far too many people making excuses for a woman trying to get in on that very lifestyle. The damage she’s done in what appear to be false accusations of hate crimes perpetrated against her takes away from the real stories. She perpetrated the ultimate in white privilege: instead of allowing actual Black women to tell their stories, she told them as lies and counted them as truth.
As I listened to Dolezal talk today, she began reminding me of Kim Zolciak. Time travel back to 2008 to the first season of Real Housewives of Atlanta when Kim said:
Kim may have had fifty-eleven pounds of weave on her head, and she may have had lots of black friends, but she didn't actually start going around actually SAYING that she's black. And if she had, would anyone have taken her seriously?
Orange Julius John Boehner started saying he's black, would anyone believe him?
|All he needs is an afro...|
He is WAY orange, but the answer, of course, is a resounding hell no. And yep, if Donald Trump and the entire membership of the KKK started saying they are black, we'd give them the gas face, too.
So, why are we taking Rachel Dolezal so seriously? Is it because she was the head of the NAACP in Spokane? Is it because she was a professor of Africana Studies? Or are we just fascinated with con artists?
Melissa Harris-Perry asked Dolezal if she's a con artist.
"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," replied Dolezal.
Con artists are never intentionally careless, are they?
Meanwhile, let's brace ourselves for Dolezal's Fox News appearances and an announcement of a book deal, because surely, those are coming.