A question of ‘blackness’ surrounds NAACP official

Being “black enough” is a standard that’s put plenty of African-Americans on the defensive, but being black at all is putting an apparently Caucasian woman in the national spotlight today.

The debate started after a Spokane, Wash., TV station reported that Rachel Dolezal isn’t black; both of her biological parents are white.

For most people, the question doesn’t matter. But Dolezal heads Spokane’s NAACP. She’s also a part-time professor in Eastern Washington University’s Africana Studies Program.

The national NAACP says it doesn’t matter.

For 106 years, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has held a long and proud tradition of receiving support from people of all faiths, races, colors and creeds.

NAACP Spokane Washington Branch President Rachel Dolezal is enduring a legal issue with her family, and we respect her privacy in this matter. One’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership.

The NAACP Alaska-Oregon-Washington State Conference stands behind Ms. Dolezal’s advocacy record. In every corner of this country, the NAACP remains committed to securing political, educational, and economic justice for all people, and we encourage Americans of all stripes to become members and serve as leaders in our organization.

Writing on The Guardian website, commentator Gary Younge says Dolezal has a responsibility to be believable.

Unfortunately, the story of Rachel Dolezal also compounds those contradictions. It is a cardinal rule of social identity that people have the right to call themselves whatever they want. That’s as true for Dolezal as it is for Caitlyn Jenner. But with this right comes at least one responsibility: what you call yourself must be comprehensible to others.

“A tree, whatever the circumstances, does not become a legume, a vine, or a cow,” explains Kwame Anthony Appiah in the Ethics of Identity. “The reasonable middle view is that constructing an identity is a good thing … but that the identity must make some kind of sense.”

This isn’t the sort of story where you find valuable perspectives in Internet comment sections, but a response to Younge merits attention.

Black identity? Nobody is born with such a thing. People usually realize they count as “black” when others tell them about a story of segregation, struggle, and geographical ancestry. The Negritude identity is just a construct such as the working class identity an so on.

A circumstance of life, not a life condition, not a shared pattern across individual identities. Black culture, black heritage, and African descended genes are another completely different story and they are real, but identity? Come on, punk identity is even more convincing.

However, the major flaw (indeed, a sin) in this gossip-to-wanna-make-sense article and others by “black” authors is to continue to be part in perpetuating of the utterly false notion of races. When SCIENCE and common sense have shown that is not the cases in humans.

Well…given that races are non-existent, “black” identity must be something about how you look and what kind of music you like. Therefore, what Ms Dolezal and Michael Jackson have done is totally ok, and it’s comparable to what Cher and others have done to alter their appearance without having any reasonable claim that they are expressing identity.

In fact Dolezal didn’t become black but she did become brownish, and anyone can choose to be anything between albino and nearly black.

“It’s very sad that Rachel has not just been herself,” her mother, Ruthanne Dolezal, told the Seattle Times. “Her effectiveness in the causes of the African-American community would have been so much more viable, and she would have been more effective, if she had just been honest with everybody.”

Jonathan Capehart,at the Washington Post’s editorial team, says a white person identifying with African Americans isn’t a problem. Neither is a white person running an NAACP chapter. But a white person pretending to be black? That’s a big problem, he says.

Dolezal’s brother Ezra was right when he told The Post, “Back in the early 1900s, what she did would be considered highly racist.” Blackface remains highly racist, no matter how down with the cause a white person is. But Dolezal’s mother nails it when she told the Spokesman-Review newspaper, “Her effectiveness in the causes of the African-American community would have been so much more viable, and she would have been more effective if she had just been honest with everybody.”

Instead Dolezal is a laughingstock and had made a mockery of the work she said she cared about.

Related: The Short But Intriguing History of White Americans Pretending to Be Black (Slate)