I quickly glanced at the article and saw that Dolezal had changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo. My jaw dropped in disbelief. Nkechi is my sister’s name—my visibly black sister born and raised in Nigeria. Dolezal claimed that the name change was to make it easier for her to get a job, because the scandal had made it so that nobody in the Eastern Washington town of Spokane (pop. 210,000) would look at an application with the name Rachel Dolezal on it.
“I understand National Geographic has been exploitative. I understand that. But as a 5- or 8-year-old child, looking at images of people, you’re not looking with a doctoral degree of sociology and anthropology and parceling this stuff apart. You’re just… you’re looking at representations of the human experience.”
I try to clarify that it is the fact that she thinks that her connection to blackness represented via National Geographic, no matter how inspirational, could be authentic is itself the problem: “But you are looking at representations crafted by white supremacy. I mean, it’s not actually black people you are looking at.”
“Just like when people are watching TV,” Dolezal says in her defense. Then she seems to remember the interviews in which she had bragged that growing up without television saved her from viewing blackness through a white lens, and her tone changes and sounds almost bitter.
Dolezal has argued many times that her insistence on black identity will not only allow her to live in the culture that she says matches her true self, but will also help free visibly black people from racial oppression by helping to destroy the social construct of race.
It’s the same question that other black interviewers have asked her. A question she seems to deeply dislike—so much so that she complains about the question in her book. But even in the book, it’s not a question she actually answers: How is her racial fluidity anything more than a function of her privilege as a white person?
The history of “passing” in the United States is a story filled with pain and separation. It has never been a story of liberation in the way in which Dolezal is trying to describe it.
I am more than a little skeptical that Dolezal’s identity as the revolutionary strike against the myth of race is anything more than impractical white saviorism—at least when it comes to the ways in which race oppresses black people.
It is obvious by then that Dolezal does not like me, but I don’t appear to be alone in that feeling. Throughout our conversation, I get the increasing impression that, for someone who claims to love blackness, Rachel Dolezal has little more than contempt for many black people and their own black identities.
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