Rachel Dolezal and racial identity

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Media Archive, Passing, Social Justice, United States on 2022-01-24 01:38Z by Steven

Rachel Dolezal and racial identity

jennifer j. roberts

Jennifer J. Roberts

“…and she also chairs a police oversight commission”

Writing about race, to me, always seems to require a “side”, a perspective: I’m writing as a black woman… I’m writing as a white woman… I’m writing as a bi-racial woman. I could never fully dig my heels in on a side, because I never fully felt like any of those things completely. I was never quite sure what I was, so taking any perspective under those labels felt like taking a side and that felt like fraud.

Each of those racial designations stem from how you experience yourself in the world and, more importantly, how you are experienced by others. It felt different for me every day. There was no template, and my race was a moving target. Black to some, Hispanic to others, mystifying to most. White, as far as my mother was concerned. I looked just like her and she was, according to her, Irish.

My mother countered every swing of the racial bat with our Irish heritage, which was real but clearly, only part of who she was or we were. That other part, the part she didn’t want to know about, was me, looking her in the eyes…the spit of her; dark skinned and frizzy haired

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The Carrie Bourassa story is yet another example of a kind of cultural Munchausen Syndrome

Posted in Articles, Canada, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Passing on 2021-11-10 01:34Z by Steven

The Carrie Bourassa story is yet another example of a kind of cultural Munchausen Syndrome

The Globe and Mail
Toronto, Canada

Drew Hayden Taylor

Carrie Bourassa, a University of Saskatchewan professor, told the world her ancestry was Métis, Anishnawbe and Tlingit. But she has been unable to verify her ancestry following reports questioning those claims.

Here we go again – another day, another story about someone with supposed Indigenous roots turning out perhaps not to be who they say they are. After recent reports from Indigenous scholars and the CBC cast doubts on claims to Indigenous ancestry by Carrie Bourassa, a University of Saskatchewan professor in community health and epidemiology as well as the scientific director of the Institute of Indigenous People’s Health, she was put on indefinite paid leave from one position and unpaid leave from the other.

For the longest time, Bourassa told the world her ancestry was Métis, Anishnawbe and Tlingit. But since the reports questioning those claims, she has been unable to verify her ancestry. Now, relieved of her high-profile positions, she can spend all her spare time jigging, beading and carving totem poles.

She is the latest to be suffering from what I consider a cultural form of Munchausen Syndrome – when a person pretends to be sick in order to get sympathy and attention from those around them. This particular form of the syndrome, which seems to be on the rise, occurs when somebody pretends to be of another race or people – usually Indigenous – possibly to obtain respect and recognition from others and, some might argue, certain financial benefits as well.

An early practitioner was English expat conservationist Archibald Stansfeld Belaney, who claimed to be Native American and called himself Grey Owl – but even back then, most Indigenous people were suspicious of how Grey or Owl-like he actually was. More recently in the U.S., former college instructor Rachel Dolezal claimed to be African-American when in reality she was just a white woman with pigment envy…

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“Lying about a Lie”: Racial Passing in US History, Literature and Popular Culture

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-11-05 16:07Z by Steven

“Lying about a Lie”: Racial Passing in US History, Literature and Popular Culture

Journal of American Studies
Volume 50, Issue 2 (May 2016)
DOI: 10.1017/S0021875816000219

Sinéad Moynihan, Associate Professor of English
University of Exeter

In June 2015, the parents of Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP, claimed that their daughter was passing as black. While she professed to be of mixed (white, African American) racial heritage, her parents asserted that she was of white European descent, with some remote Native American ancestry. The revelations precipitated Dolezal’s resignation from her role at the NAACP and a flurry of articles about the story that were disseminated around the world on Twitter under the “Rachel Dolezal” hashtag.

Much of the media coverage attempted to account for the fact that this story should elicit such impassioned reactions given that race has long been acknowledged as a performance. As Jelani Cobb wrote in the New Yorker, Dolezal had dressed herself in “a fictive garb of race whose determinations are as arbitrary as they are damaging.” This does not mean that Dolezal “wasn’t lying about who she is.” It means that “she was lying about a lie.” Meanwhile, in the New York Times, Daniel J. Sharfstein pointed out that the kind of passing we saw in Dolezal’s case – passing from white to black; so-called “reverse passing” – was not as historically uncommon as other writers had claimed. What is unusual is that Dolezal should feel the need to pass as black when there were no legal (and comparatively few social) obstacles to her forming “meaningful relationships with African-Americans, study[ing], teach[ing] and celebrat[ing] black history and culture and fight[ing] discrimination.” For Sharfstein, the explanation lies in the fact that “when blackness means something very specific – asserting that black lives matter – it follows for many people that categorical clarity has to matter, too.”

The pervasive media and public interest in the Dolezal story confirms the ongoing fascination with racial passing within and beyond the United States, a popular interest that has its counterpart in the proliferation of academic studies of the subject that have been published in the past twenty years. The scholarly attention paid to racial passing inaugurated, arguably, by Elaine K. Ginsberg in her edited volume Passing and the Fictions of Identity (1996) continues unabated in two recent works on the subject. Julie Cary Nerad’s edited volume Passing Interest is concerned with cultural representations of passing, while Allyson Hobbs’s A Chosen Exile grapples with its history.

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