Rachel Dolezal Has Hijacked what It Means To Be Mixed-Race In America

Rachel Dolezal Has Hijacked what It Means To Be Mixed-Race In America


Sophia Softky

Since the Rachel Dolezal trainwreck began unfolding, each day has brought ever-weirder allegations to light. From her upbringing, days at Howard University, involvement in the NAACP, and position as an Africana Studies professor – along with the predictable flood of hot takes and twitter memes. This week’s interviews with Matt Lauer and Melissa Harris-Perry have only compounded the public outrage. Dolezal’s claims that she “identifies as black” and that presenting herself as a Black woman is a matter of “survival” are breathtakingly audacious, obtuse, and bizarre.

I spent the last several years studying, thinking, and publishing opinions about race in America–even writing a thesis about racial performance and the history of “passing”. So, for me, this scandal should have been low-hanging fruit. Dolezal has been roundly condemned and ridiculed by progressives, and rightly so, but the more I learn, the more I have felt a deeply personal sense of discomfort and anxiety.

Of course, whatever her self-justifications, a white woman deliberately misrepresenting her racial background for personal and professional gain is indefensible, and plenty of ink has already been spilled on dismantling the absurd notion of “transracial”. But I have not been able to avoid drawing uncomfortable parallels between Rachel’s situation and my own life. The Dolezal scandal erases experiences of those who actually experience not ‘feeling’ like the race people assume, and I worry that the public outcry threatens to drown out and delegitimize the voices of people like myself, who exist in complicated racial borderlands and who struggle with social scrutiny and suspicion of our identities…

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