Rachel Dolezal, who has dominated headlines around the world for four straight days, on Monday announced in a post on Facebook that she had resigned as head of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP. Dolezal was supposed to hold a press conference, but that was canceled.
I came to this conclusion after reading the Facebook post: Dolezal is quite mad. What else explains her refusal to provide answers for the big questions confronting her from all sides? She did not explain her "natural" hair, the photos of a younger woman who resembles her but who clearly has white hair (the whitest hair: blond), and the fact that she has identified herself as black when her parents insist she is not. Instead, in the face of thousands of angry comments, tweets, and op-eds that accused her of deception, Dolezal simply and madly insisted that she is a hero of the black cause. All that had happened in the last week, the only tragedy to befall her, according to her view of things, is that the public "unexpectedly" shifted its interest from her achievements to her identity.
Let us look squarely into the Facebook post of madness:
"I am delighted that so many organizations and individuals have supported and collaborated with the Spokane NAACP under my leadership to grow this branch into one of the healthiest in the nation in five short months."
The office in Spokane is one of the best in the whole of America, thanks to no one else but her.
"I have waited in deference while others expressed their feelings, beliefs, confusions, and even conclusions—absent the full story."
The word "deference" calls back to Langston Hughes's poem "A Dream Deferred." Dolezal is letting us know that she knows her black literature.
"While challenging the construct of race is at the core of evolving human consciousness, we CANNOT afford to lose sight of the five game changers."
A cosmic sprinkle of New Age speak here, a down-to-earth dash of corporate speak there.
Dolezal sounds very much like Gloria Swanson's character at the end of Sunset Boulevard. You can even hear echoes of Norma Desmond's mad final lines as she descends the stairs in the final lines of Dolezal's Facebook post.
"You see this is my life! It always will be! There is nothing else. Just us and the cameras and those wonderful people in the dark," says Desmond. "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."
Dolezal writes, "Please know I will never stop fighting for human rights and will do everything in my power to help and assist, whether it means stepping up or stepping down, because this is not about me. It's about justice. This is not me quitting; this is a continuum..."
Forgive me for contradicting you, Ms. Dolezal, but at the moment this is all about you. Are you white? Are you black? If you are white, why have you said you are black? Why are you talking nonsense? Is your head broken?
Leaping back a couple of millennia to the Greeks: In Sophocles's play Ajax, after losing a competition Ajax becomes so angry that he ties up Menelaus, Agamemnon, and other leaders of the ancient Greek army and begins to kill them. But Ajax is unaware of a spell cast on him by Athena, so he has no idea that he is actually butchering sheep and not men. Odysseus listens to Ajax boast about how he is about to kill him when Ajax is only about to kill a bleating sheep. Odysseus then says: "Yet, I pity Ajax's wretchedness, though he is my enemy, for the terrible yoke of blindness that is on him."
That is how I felt after my first reading of Dolezal's resignation letter—pity for her wretchedness, pity for her blindness. It's difficult to be angry with someone whose words reveal a profound disconnection from reality. My pity for Dolezal grew as I watched her on NBC's Today show the day after her Facebook post. During the interview with Matt Lauer, she stated that she identifies as black and with the black experience. When asked if she was performing blackface, she said she has "a huge issue with blackface" and that she is not a freak but is on a "very real connected level." She also came close to saying she's a black mother.
Then I read her letter of resignation a second time. On this reading, my feelings and opinion about Dolezal changed. The reason is buried in one of her sentences about all of the wonderful things she did for Spokane's NAACP chapter, such as opening an office in downtown Spokane. It may seem like a small thing. It is not.
Dolezal wrote that she brought "the local branch into financial compliance."
For a person with an advanced degree in black American studies from the most prestigious black university in the United States, who can quote Hughes like it ain't no thing, and who loudly and proudly claims to be one with the "black liberation movement" from the "resistance to chattel slavery to abolition to defiance of Jim Crow... to the #BlackLivesMatter movement," it's revealing that she could not resist boasting that she brought financial order to a black organization. A major stereotype about blacks in the United States and Africa is that blacks can't handle money or finances. In fact, as the argument goes, this is why they are so fucking poor; they are bad at "financial compliance."
So maybe Rachel Dolezal is not as mad as I first thought. Maybe there is a method in all of this nuttiness. If she is white, which is most likely the case (the evidence is mounting—on the day she resigned, for example, the Smoking Gun reported that she sued Howard University in 2002 because she was unfairly treated as a white person), hers might be a deeper, more complicated racism, yes, but ultimately it is the same racism found in the heart of any standard-issue American white supremacist. Blacks can't do it for themselves. Dolezal had to do it for them.
But she could not do it for them if she was white. So she became black.
Dolezal may suffer from an acute form of the white man's burden. As a professor in black studies, Dolezal knows all about the "white man's burden," an attitude, a rationalization, and an ideology with a deeply imperialist history. Blacks and other savages, it was deemed, were incapable of bettering themselves, and so it was the moral duty of whites to help them.
Dolezal's parents, after all, were missionaries.