Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Social Death By Misadventure: Rachel Dolezal and the Manipulation of Blackness (Part 1)


            C.Thomas Howell once portrayed a college student, Mark Watson, who used tanning pills to  appear Black in an effort to get admitted to Harvard Law School on a scholarship available to African Ameicans and vis a vis a minority quota.  In this comedy, which I consider dark and lacking humor, Howell’s character oft times finds himself in a conundrum because he doesn’t maintain the sterotypes of a Black male (i.e. physically endowned, great athlete—basketball player), and must wriggle his way out of these situations by positing that he is an “exception” to the aforementioned stereotypes, which is supposed to be funny.  Twenty-nine years later, Rachel Dolezal seems to be the living embodiment of the 1986 cinematic exploitation movie “Soul Man.”    
The thing about minstrelsy, or Blackface, is that it is a brand of antiquated humor, only funny to those of the lighter hue, that exaggerates the socially constructed stereotypes of the African-American that satirize human inferiorities, both intellectual and physical, that are definitely not solely attributed to those of African descent or the darker hue.  It has even been lampooned and inverted in popular culture, particularly entertainment, by positing the Black exception as odd or unnatural in that he or she who is of African descent to be the polar opposite of the infantile, ignorant, shiftless, and overtly foolish imbecile that has been the standard for African American stereotypes since we set foot on the land that is now the United States of America. 
The problem I have with Rachel Dolezal is her manipulative use of the agency of "passing" when it is profitable, convenient, and comfortable.  Identifying and experiencing American Blackness are fruits from a different bowl.  Her faux complaints of racial harrassment and discrimination aside, I would like for her to be Black when it's condemned not when it's cool. Yes, she attended Washington D.C.’s  Howard University (a prominent black college) and married and divorced a Black man, and had Black adopted siblings, and has served as the Alaska-Oregon chapter President of the NAACP, serves as an adjunct instructor in Africana Studies at one of Washington state’s colleges, and wore braids and curls and got an orange tan, yet all of the aforementioned things do not make her Black. 
 The Black American experience is much more nuanced than the music, soul food, civic organizations you have membership in, college courses you teach, or romantic relationships you choose. Braids or 'fros don't cut the mustard, folks.  The conundrum lies in the alleged allegations that she has been a victim of racial discrimination and harrassment because of her race or ethnicity which is a lie in and of itself.  She is a white woman who has chosen to become aesthetically, and for all intents and purposes, Black.  The media alleges that the threats she says she has endured and the letters she has received and the noose planted in her yard are all a hoax.  And this is what’s troubling.  The Black American experience isn’t a game.  The Black lives that have been lost solely due to the stereotypes perpetuated that suggest the Black American is a menace to society and a harbinger of skullduggery and criminality are no joking matter and definitely not something that should be taken with a grain of salt.  There is a huge difference between wearing a costume & wearing a hue or attire that cannot come off or be discarded in a closet or found at a beautyshop or tanning salon.

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