The Heart of Whiteness: Ijeoma Oluo Interviews Rachel Dolezal, the White Woman Who Identifies as Black

Comments

1
This was a thoughtful, frank, and interesting article. Nice work, Ms. Oluo!
2
Wonderful article.
3
Great article! Is there any diagnosis of mental illness that would apply to RD? Because she seems somewhat 'delusional' in this area- like any childhood or teen yr trauma to explain her behavior?
4
Those paintings look like a cross between Catherine O'Hara (Beetlejuice) and Nicole Sullivan (MadTV).
5
Great article. One question – you say that a white woman cannot truly identify as black because she has gone through life experiencing white privilege. Couldn't you say the same about a man who identifies as a woman? That he has gone through life experiencing male privilege, therefore he cannot truly be a woman despite transitioning?
6
I'm a little surprised that 2CV is seeking to offer a medical reason for the behavior of Ms Dolezal. For me, the delusion is driven by exactly the force of white privilege which the writer clearly describes.

Certainly, she is delusional, as I think she may be smarter than her arguments let on. But to seek another excuse for her actions is, in and of itself, privilege speaking. As Ms Oluo points out, she centers herself in her narrative and discards any facts which would upset her centering. That's white privilege.
7
I feel sympathy for Dolezal. Growing up in the 80's, white kids were told over and over that we were in a melting pot. The implication was that it was our job as white people to meld with all the cultures around us. Obviously it is not what we teach our kids today, but it was a confusing time to be a white kid. I remember distinctly thinking as a kid, that I did not have a culture because I was white. I remember being jealous of all the kids who got to go to cultural events, who got to go to special classes where they learned about their cultures, who were treated special because of the color of their skin. I did not see my privilege then. And I can completely sympathize with Dolezal for wanting to be part of a different culture. She was taught to fetishize black culture. While I think she went to the extreme of trying to pass as a member of that culture, I think there are lots of whites, especially us kids of the 80's who had the idea of a melting pot drilled into our heads, who fetishist other cultures. Dolezal is a victim who grew up to become a perpetrator. Like victims of abuse, she needs to own up to her actions, but I think we should see the larger context and try to understand that this was something that was taught to her as a child.
8
RD is a kooky white woman, no doubt, who has gotten way too much airtime. This article though conveys the attitude that white people will never understand anything. This is why many of us avoid talking about race at all. There is no winning. Either you "understand" but you of course are still racist because society has made you automatically, subconsciously, structurally racist by being white-- or else you are just plain old racist. I don't know the answer but we continue to pay the price for the atrocities of chattel slavery.
9
This article is everything. Thank you sis!
10
@6: "she centers herself in her narrative and discards any facts which would upset her centering. That's white privilege."

No, that is just kind of what almost every human on the planet is biologically and socially conditioned to do. I bet you have done it a dozen times today, and you can witness it for yourself an infinite amount of times by visiting any internet forum.
11
I couldn't help but to find myself wondering the same thing as lexical gap after finishing the article. The argument that gender is just a social construct and therefore can be seen as fluid seems similar to the defense that Dolezal gives when she says that race is a social construct. It just leaves me with a feeling like anyone can identify as anything (different race, gender, species even) if they want to regardless of whom it may offend.
12
I'm curious as to whether or not there are other "closeted" people of color, who were perhaps too afraid to speak their truth. Maybe now that Rachel has spoken, more will show themselves, and they'll be able to be taken seriously, like the transgender community. Rachel just might be a hero.
13
@11: I think it may be due to how Americans (I am going to assume you are American) are conditioned by our history and society to view racial issues between whites and blacks as THE defining equality issue, while other racial/gender issues kind of just exist on the peripheral.

Many minority groups will say that their particular struggles are pushed aside for the more "mainstream" issues facing the black community.

So our gut reaction is to see the transgression of "biologically white person viewing themselves as black" to be problematic, whereas "biological male viewing themselves as female" is not. There seems to be a thicker line to cross with the former, but for the life of me I can not figure out an objective intellectual or philosophical reason why.

We seem to agree now that gender is a social construct, and people used to say race was too, but now it seems more muddled. But if race is not a social construct, if it has real biological and irreversible weight to it, then it becomes harder to dismiss things like the Bell Curve on purely philosophical grounds.
14
I'm going to let an expert (Laverne Cox) address how being transgender is totally not like being transracial:
"I was talking to my twin brother today about whether he believes I had male privilege growing up. I was a very feminine child though I was assigned male at birth. My gender was constantly policed. I was told I acted like a girl and was bullied and shamed for that. My femininity did not make me feel privileged. I was a good student and was very much encouraged because of that but I saw cis girls who showed academic promise being nurtured in the black community I grew up in in Mobile, Ala. Gender exists on a spectrum & the binary narrative which suggests that all trans women transition from male privilege erases a lot of experiences and isn’t intersectional. Gender is constituted differently based on the culture we live in. There’s no universal experience of gender, of womanhood. To suggest that is essentialist & again not intersectional. Many of our feminist foremothers cautioned against such essentialism & not having an intersectional approach to feminism. Class, race, sexuality, ability, immigration status, education all influence the ways in which we experience privilege so though I was assigned male at birth I would contend that I did not enjoy male privilege prior to my transition. Patriarchy and cissexism punished my femininity and gender nonconformity. The irony of my life is prior to transition I was called a girl and after I am often called a man. Gender policing & the fact that gender binaries can only exist through strict policing complicates the concept of gendered privilege & that’s OK cause it’s complicated. Intersectionality complicates both male and cis privilege. This is why it is paramount that we continue to lift up diverse trans stories. For too many years there’s been far too few trans stories in the media. For over 60 years since Christine Jorgensen stepped off the plane from Europe and became the first internationally known trans woman the narrative about trans folks in the media was one of macho guy becomes a woman. That’s certainly not my story or the stories of many trans folks I know. That narrative often works to reinforce binaries rather than explode them. That explosion is the gender revolution I imagine,one of true gender self determination.”
15
I guess what I don't understand is that if race is a construct distinct from visible non-european ancestry (and Dolezal apparently recognized the real-world implications of that construct when she sued an HBCU for discriminating against her as a white woman* or married a man she describes as fetishizing her blondeness), why was her only recourse to feign that ancestry?

By carrying out her advocacy as a visibly, and volubly, non-european woman, she effectively sabotaged any subversive 'post-racial' message she might have wanted to send.

*http://www.politico.com/story/2015/06/ra…
16
I guess what I don't understand is that if race is a construct distinct from visible non-european ancestry (and Dolezal apparently recognized the real-world implications of that construct when she sued an HBCU for discriminating against her as a white woman* or married a man she describes as fetishizing her blondeness), why was her only recourse to feign that ancestry?

By carrying out her advocacy as a visibly, and volubly, non-european woman, she effectively sabotaged any subversive 'post-racial' message she might have wanted to send.

*http://www.politico.com/story/2015/06/ra…
17
This is a very moving article. I'm sorry that Oluo had to endure the craziness of this whitesplaining narcissistic self-appointed Lawrence of Arabia.

18
@5: Trans woman here. It's common to suggest that trans women benefitted from male privilege, particularly by trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) who seek to keep trans women out of women's spaces. There's a superficial truth in it, but it's counteracted by other factors and doesn't account for the lack of privilege we face pre- and post-transtition.

I'm sure I benefitted from male privilege pre-transition. I was never catcalled as a teenager, for example, and was never discouraged from STEM fields or hobbies like video games. But I also experienced a very different life from a cis man. My actual identity was actively oppressed; any expression of femininity was squelched, and I was constantly exposed to the idea that people like me were freaks or psychos. Further, post-transition, I have consciously given up any male privilege I may have enjoyed; I now have to contend not only with how society sees women, but also how society sees trans women. I'm never going to have lived a cis woman's life, but I'm definitely not living a cis man's life either, and that doesn't invalidate my inner identity.

Dolezal, conversely, doesn't seem to have suffered by secretly "feeling black". Her adoption of a "black" identity feels much more appropriative, like it's something she wanted to do rather than needed to do. And I thought that about my own identity for a long time. It was only after careful introspection that I realized it was something I needed. I was miserable as a man; it was painful, and wrong.

Further, there's a biological component to this. Transphobes often harp on about how "sex is genetic", but gender identity is really more hormonal; the XY chromosomes really only determine how your genitals form, and the sense of being male or female (or something else) is an emergent property of how your mind develops. Race, physical race, on the other hand, is purely genetic. You inherit your race; you don't inherit your gender. For those reasons, I don't think "transracial" can be put on equal footing with transgender.
19
seilo, thanks for your comment. To your last paragraph, it seems you could say the same for race; your genetics determine what color your skin is, but an existential understanding of your race is an emergent property that develops over time. Physical race is pure genetic, definitely, but there is also an experience of race- why couldn't this experience be analogous to that of trans persons'?

Your point about wanting vs needing to change is apt as well, though. I am very interested in this conversation.
20
As a trans woman, it seems pretty obvious to me that the arguments used against Rachel Dolezal can be used against me. Here is what that looks like.... Becoming a woman is the ultimate expression of male privilege. I didn't experience the same sexism growing up as females did. When people know my history, they say I will always look male to them, just as Rachel always appears white to people in the know.

From what I can tell, the only thing separating trans people like me from Rachel in what we experience is that the liberal community and the medical community generally have our backs right now. It's not socially acceptable to say these things about trans people, but you can say them about freaky people like Rachel.

But -- when I go to other parts of the country of when I look in online comments, I hear this stuff. You're a fake. You're not a real woman, you never will be. You're mentally ill. You're oppressing women. You're a threat to children. Your transition is an example of male privilege at its worst.

And you know what? So what if I am a fake? Maybe I am a fake like Rachel. But choosing to transition was something that came from deep inside of me, something I felt compelled to do. My sense is Rachel felt this compulsion as well. I don't understand what she felt but I *totally* understand the drive to present yourself in a way that most of the world considers batshit crazy. I've been there, I've done it, and I get it. It wasn't that long ago that trans people were seen as complete crazies by even liberals and progressives - you know, the same way we liberals and progressives look at Rachel now.

We are all flawed human beings and we all fake it sometimes. When you attack Rachel Dolezal, be very very careful about the collateral damage you cause.
21
Bravo. Well written article!

I'm pissed enough that she's appropriated the language of transgender people causing us untold harm in the public eye. I can only imagine how it must feel to be a black person sitting alone with her hearing her say things that are appropriating your entire life experience AND culture.

For those of you wondering why trans is OK but Black appropriation is not (@5 etc) ... well, for starters, being transgender has actual biological roots which have been measured. The science is still young, but it's pretty clear that this isn't just a matter of words, unlike Ms. Dolezal. Zinnia Jones does an excellent job breaking down why trans is different: http://genderanalysis.net/2017/03/no-mor…
22
I thought the same thing as @5: As in, when Bruce Jenner announced he wanted to be addressed as she, Caitlin, but before he/she had undergone any gender reassignment surgery, what if a super womanly woman interviewed him about how what he/she is doing makes a mockery of all that The cisgendered women out there have had to endure for centuries, and it's only his longtime male privilege that is allowing him/her to make this dilettante-like change.

Now, I do think RD is a kook and, in some ways, a definite con artist. Yet, on another level I admire her for sticking with what she's long believed in, despite its being a tough patch to hoe; she's definitely contradictory and defensive, but she also seems to be doing the best she can from the position she's put herself in.

I feel like this interview was a missed opportunity: there was a much wider range of facets to this issue that could have been discussed. The headline is clever, because it sets up the author as a reluctant Marlow, going upriver to the backwater of Spokane, to track down RD's mad, rogue ivory trader Mr. Kurtz (only we're through the looking glass, so it's more like RD is a rogue ebony trader). Toward the end, the author tosses out the presumption that she's being written off by RD as "bitter, petty," but frankly that's how a lot of the piece does come across, especially opening as it does with an anecdote that conveys less of a "racial angst" vibe and more of a "literary world angst" vibe.

This meeting could have been a springboard for a discussion between two very different people on things like the statistics that by 2020 "minorities" will pass the threshold to become the "majority" in America, and that the "two or more races" population is expected to be the fastest growing for the next 45 years. Where does this leave racial essentialism, which seems to be the stance of both the far right and the far left?
23
I haven't read "In Full Color" but I suspect white guilt and a rejection of being homeschooled by fundamentalist Christians is more central to understanding what's going on here. Dolezal may have less in common with Walter White, and more in common with Forest Carter. Having grown up privileged but as minority in a innercity public school norms around of culture appropriation were learned early on. You could be a white kid wearing Fubu, but you can erase your ancestors picnicking under strange fruit!
24
I've been really puzzled about this woman for some time now. After reading this article, I am convinced that she is just a pathetic narcissist who needs attention no matter the cost. She is more like the Octomom than Laverne Cox. It is all about her, not about race or privilege or identity. And selling her book, of course.
25
Trans people intuititely understand their gender identity long before they have any idea what any of it means. Show me evidence that Dolezal was questioning her race at 3 years old, and then show me a bunch of other children with the same experience, and then we can start treating her 'condition' as though it shares the same scientific/medical/psychological footing as transgenderism. It's ridiculous and offensive that trans people are being forced to defend themselves in this context because this fool wants to co-opt their experience for her own personal agenda when they have decades worth of science in their corner and she has a perm and a fucking spray tan.
26
Good article #21!

Also, adding to why being transgender and being transracial are not comparable, I think the fact that sex is not inherited, unlike the phenotypical characteristics known as race, gives us an important distinction. Sex and gender are tied to an individual of a single generation, while racial characteristics depend on the entirety of one's ancestors, which I believe gives the former category much greater fluidity than the latter. To identify as a member of a different racial group, one must basically hide the existence of his or her family; not so with transgender people.

All this is compounded by the studies already alluded to by some here showing that transgender people have brains much more like those of the sex they identify with than the sex they were assigned at birth.
27
She's clearly mentally ill, probably suffering from some type of personality disorder. Why is she getting so much attention and power? This is a sick woman who will probably never get the help she needs because she's too deluded to realize her own sad situation. I feel sorry for her children.
28
Great article. When I first heard this story, I had several questions, but mostly just "The Question."

"Dolezal is simply a white woman who cannot help but center herself in all that she does—including her fight for racial justice. And if racial justice doesn't center her, she will redefine race itself in order to make that happen."

This was what I suspected, but I needed to hear it from someone who took the time to speak with her in person. I think this is an invaluable lesson for Black allies. You cannot support the black community by making it about you or changing their narrative to better suit your own.
29

think about the hate she is getting, that you are contributing to, from all sides just from being outted. She served as the head of a civil rights organization, to HELP black people. give the woman a fuckin' break and just let her live? In all honesty, how does the way she live affect you at all? the judgement is real with you all

31
Lucy, are you for real?
32
In Spokane, most of the comments are that Rachel is mentally ill. Jesus! But it is OK to make Jesus look like he is a northern European tribesman? And the same for Saint Nicholas? There is no cultural mental illness involved?
33
This the best piece I have read on this subject, and the only one I read to completion.
35
Thinking of this woman pretending to be black, I was reminded of John Wayne portraying Genghis Khan in the Conquerer. She should watch that movie.
36
Wow news flash! Spokane and north Idaho are mostly white. Thanks for keying in on that. It's not a good thing or a bad thing it is what it is. Everyone is welcome here.
37
Yeah, I stopped reading right here: "She braids hair for cash..." Of course she does because that's so black. There's nothing wrong with this woman other than the fact that she's an opportunist who lied about her race to get a job--simple as that. The media needs to stop treating her like some sort of phenomenon and feeding into her nonsense and view her for what she is: The real-life, female version of Mark Watson from the 1980s movie Soul Man.
38
You didn't even mention the hate crimes she perpetrated against her own children, trying to make them look like they were done by white supremacists.
39
@10 - With all due respect, I don't fully agree with your response here:

@6: "she centers herself in her narrative and discards any facts which would upset her centering. That's white privilege."

No, that is just kind of what almost every human on the planet is biologically and socially conditioned to do.


So yes, humans tend to be solipsistic and consider most things from their own perspective, often to the exclusion of understanding other people's p.o.v. or situation.

But the difference with privilege, particularly with regards to power, is that when you don't have power you can readily see two perspectives: The perspective of those with power, and your own (and/or those like you).

The people born into the top societal privileges (eg. me as a white male) tend to be completely blind to others' perspectives and narratives. We are the one's who assume our reality is everyone's reality. (This is why while male douchebags act entitled, and why racists don't understand that they are racist.)

A black woman, upon encountering me, (I believe), will have an immediate sense of what my likely narrative is, what my power is, what my "privilege package" is -- it comes across in the implicit assumptions in what I say & do. While I'm very unlikely to understand her narrative and where her power is, or is not -- how her "privilege package" differs from mine.

Remaining ignorant of her perspective, I will simply map over hers with my baseline operating assumptions. I will naturally center my narrative over everyone else's, and operate as if everyone sees what I see & can do what I can do. That's my privilege in operation. But someone without my power, will have a very different awareness & recognize both perspectives.

And that is specifically Dolezal's privilege as a white person.

Most likely she holds a two-perspective understanding of male vs female privilege, but she appears to not have either truly understood it, or has not applied that knowledge to her appropriation of blackness.
40
Im a white person from Spokane, and 100% of the people I know think that R.D.or whatever she wants to call herself is completely ridiculous. She has no love here outside of her small group. We don't condone her nonsense. She's no better than those white kids who wear baggy clothes and listen to rap and think that makes it okay for them to say the "n" word.

I liked your article and I appreciate the hard work you did trying to get a straight answer from her, that must have been hell. However, I wish that media would stop giving her attention because she is a joke.
41
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR AGREEING TO DO THIS INTERVIEW. God, this is the article I've been waiting for. It was actually difficult for me to read because Dolezal makes me SO FURIOUS. The extent to which her fake-braided head is lodged so firmly up her white ASS is utterly astounding, as you've so gorgeously and painfully illustrated here.

Ever since this whole thing hit, I've wanted to ask this WHITE LADY how exactly she defines whiteness. I'm from New Orleans, and I'm white, but the way that white people interact there is VERY different from how they do it where she comes from. Since you've actually called her out on this we get a bit of the "insight" (ugh, using that word loosely and possibly even abusing it!) from her on that here, and it's clear that she's sticking to a wildly, almost hilariously, specific definition of whiteness that only applies to one very particular socioeconomic set. I've known people from that set, they are out there, but good GOD they're not representative of *most* people of any race.

It sounds like we're seeing some SERIOUS shame about this woman's own cultural roots, and under normal circumstances that would be sad, but these are NOT normal circumstances and I don't feel one *jot* of sympathy for her. She's not only erased the experiences of black women including you SITTING RIGHT THERE, she's also completely obliterated any acknowledgment of the existence of poor white people by acting like she's the only one and therefore she can't actually be white.

What the FUCK. I've always said that if you're going to be this much of an IDIOT you have to at least be a kind person. She is unforgivably stupid AND, it would appear, a total bitch. You, on the other hand, kept your cool in a way that I can't even conceive of and would never have been able to do. I would have thrown knives at her paintings, or gone to, and stopped myself for the toddler's sake. It also never did escape me that she wrote that book with someone else's assistance. Given how incoherently she always talks in interviews I'm SURE that Storms Raeback wrote most of it.
42
Thank you for writing this, for taking the time to speak with her, for trying to see if there is a hidden side to this. Thank you.

I'm half Mexican, half white, and I pass as white thanks to two generations of family who did everything they could to strip away accents, culture, and thick dark hair so they could fit into white, racist, 1950s suburban LA. My relationship with race is complicated as a result and I read about RD with both disdain and intrigue. She will never get it.

Again, you have my deepest thanks.

43
While both are obviously deeply shaped by human social worlds, ethnicity, racial or otherwise, simply is not as much of an individual thing as gender. Ethnic identity really is more about what group "claims you" than what you claim to be, as a lot of Native people have tried to explain to white people who have long sought to claim indigenous ancestry.
44
race is a lie that exists to oppress, gender is a lie that exists to oppress. oluo (in a lot of company) is an identitarian who needs these and other categories to be real beyond the effectaciousness of the lies.

oluo and the stranger can't muster the respect to use diallo's legal and correct name, because it undercuts the specialness and otherness identitarians need to step up (as now with leftish identitarians) or maintantain (as now with rightish identitarians) their chosen id categories.

oluo's arguments against diallo are tweakable ("The dismissive and condescending attitude toward any black people who see [womanness ect] differently than she does") to get all the alleged transphobic arguments (often from actual trans- and phallophobes of course), because identitarians are about winning arguments ("it wasn't a rasta phase in college, it was my black identity surfacing i had to suppress to get a job" is an identitarian argument too), not reality or an honest take on oppression.

identitarians only want to advance their id categories no matter the lies they must lay down or lives they must destroy (barak (not barry) obama starves millions and now that trump took up the cause still not a whimper from the id crew, still a distraction, just as it would've been if she took up the cause); it's selfishness and against supporting people and our liberation.
45
I grew up in a suburban environment whose lack of racial diversity made conversations about race almost nonexistent. So forgive me if my takeaway is super simplistic:

No matter what disadvantages I've experienced in life, that doesn't change the fact that I have benefited from my identity as a white woman. The comforting trap that Dolezal fell into of denying her whiteness is similar to my own temptation to ignore my whiteness. That ability to ignore my racial context/identity/history is in itself a luxury of privilege. I cannot begin to work to eliminate white privilege and the resulting injustice if I don't admit that it has been a part of my story and a part of shaping my interactions in the world. Thank you again for this article and your writing as a whole; it's been instrumental in helping me begin to grapple with issues of race, identity, and my own responsibilities.
46
There is no argument against Rachel Dolezal or transracial people that can't be used against Bruce Jenner or transgender people. Rachel Dolezal is just as Black as Bruce Jenner is female.

Liberals have been fighting very, very hard to make society accept the notion that a man must be treated as a woman if he identifies himself as one or that a woman must be treated as a man if she identifies herself as one. One state, North Carolina, has been boycotted nearly into bankruptcy over this very issue.

Now, suddenly, liberals are all offended that someone has dared to extend this logic (illogic) to the notion of race????

Sorry, liberals. This is the world you fought for - now you get to live in it.
47
"Another branch of manifest destiny. No wonder America couldn't get enough of the Dolezal story."

I can see lots of other reasons why America couldn't get enough of the Dolezal story. Here are two of them:

1.) It gave right wingers an opportunity to stick their tongues out at left wingers while pointing out that the privilege/oppression lens becomes a messy useful tool for interpreting social phenomena. Righties recognize that the Dolezal story requires lefties to acknowledge (however quietly) that Black womanness generates privilege in certain contexts. The righties know that this is not at all a part of the prescribed narrative, and that lefties panicked. They also loved seeing the logical gymnastics necessary to parse out transracial from transgender, which we can see from the comments above is not at all a matter that is settled.

2.) More in line with the author's predictable interpretation of Rachel Dolezal as a symptom of White supremacy, it is obvious that the Dolezal story gives White lefties the opportunity to signal the sophistication of their own racial politics. The interesting thing about this is that they are doing so at the expense of a Black-identifying woman. The White lefties can't wait for an author as polished and positioned as Oluo to take off their muzzles by disavowing Dolezal's Blackness. Seems like taking White lefties taking advantage of the opportunity to pile on and exert their own brand of White supremacy.
49
While I can't personally relate to feeling as though I belong to another race, who cares? If we're being intellectually honest, there is no difference between a transgender identity and a transracial one. You mock this woman for still looking white -- but would you mock a transgender woman for still looking manly? You use her given name rather than her new, legally obtained name -- but would you refuse to use a transgender woman's preferred name? "People either treat me like a freak because I'm the white woman that pretended to be black in their eyes or treat me as a light-skinned black woman." ...can you get any more reminiscent of the transgender struggle than that?

Moreover, it's clear the author was intent on despising this woman, so why did she even write the article? Oluo, demonstrating all the emotional maturity of a 4-year-old, feels deserving of unconditional affection -- that even after an interview comprised of condescending questions and critical comments, any irritation her subject displays should be taken as proof that "Rachel Dolezal has little more than contempt for many black people and their own black identities." On the contrary, it means she's responding to YOUR contempt as any self-respecting person would...without regard to race.
50
Wonderful article, although I'm sorry that Ms. Oluo had to suffer through the interview to write it. Re. The Question: hasn't anyone ever pointed out to Dolezal that people were *punished* for passing, often with murder? That, to me, is the obvious problem with her claim that racial fluidity "goes both ways." Er, yeah, but only in one direction is it punished with lynching, while in her direction it's rewarded with a book deal.
51
And how would this kerfluffle shake out if she were black pretending to be white? And while "white" got elected to city council? Trumpanzees would have race-fetish orgasms over such a thing.
52
Great insight! I remember being in art school and a white student approached me to ask if I thought she should apply for a bursary slated for First Nations students. She said her great great grandmother was Indian and she only just found out about it because it was swept under the carpet due to the shame of her family having this as a dirty little secret. My response to her was...if you need to ask, then you already know this bursary is not for you. Whites who want to pass, do it for a reason...Rachael knows she isn't black...Rachael is only banking on her illusions to make her some money...period. Ms. Oluo...you wrote a great article and your insight is very much appreciated. Thank you
53
Don't criticize what you don't understand. Where is YOUR humanity? That's what matters, not the trivial gossip you engage in.

Very conformist, low-brow writing...
54
This woman, who represents no widespread trend, is just a novelty act and rage-bait subject for the media. You've had your bread and circus. Let it go.
55
This "writer" stoops so low, uses people like cattle to get an interview... All you care is money, but you identify as such, right?
56
@51 nikki haley claims whiteness, worked out ok for her; people just turn away and refocus.
57
_Now, I do think RD is a kook and, in some ways, a definite con artist. Yet, on another level I admire her for sticking with what she's long believed in_

@22, you realize that Dolezal sued an HBCU she claimed discriminated against her as a white woman, right? She abandoned what she ostensibly believed in for money long ago.
58
thank you for the article. i hadn't read much on this woman since the story broke. living in seattle, i just hoped she'd fall into the background. her 'fight' is not a thing. You cannot just appropriate a culture and get a book deal and live your life without pushback.

all i can hope is that your excellent work here will lead to more work for you regarding people and issues that are real.
59
@49 It's almost impressive how iterally everything about your post is wrong.

I'm sorry. I'm not being a troll in the comments section here, I'm really not, but you are so off the mark it's embarrassing to read. So, please: go educate yourself. If you care enough to write a comment; you care enough to think through this more thoroughly.

No, the black woman who wrote this article is not being mean or intolerant because she refuses to nod and play along to a white woman who literally went:

- "OK, I'm black now! Treat me as black!"
- "...You're white, though."
- "No, you just don't get race and how wonderful and fluid it is!"
- "I'm black, though."
- "Omg, so am I!"

I've heard your position many times from a lot of (white) mouths and it's just cringe-worthy at this point. I feel pity, without condescension, for how limited your view is and how anchored you are in presenting it as insight.

Please, just think about this thoroughly. Go find a chair. Sit in it. Stare at the wall ahead and think through the RD nonsense. How her logic requires race to be both EVERYTHING & NOTHING. To be permanent and based on history and generations of previous selves, and also to simply amount to a good tanner and knowing the lyrics to enough songs from 'Lemonade'.

Her blackness was not some inner identity she was born with being oppressed and fighting against white culture to emerge as her true authentic self against all odds. (A la trans narrative.) She saw something and took it because she felt it was a mostly superficial identity that she was owed opting into because she was not a rich white person.

Sit on that chair and think through it all. I sincerely know you'll crack it.

Please listen to the black people who are responding to this dialogue they've been FORCED into because a mediocre white woman decided that she was an exceptional black person. A woman whose "wokeness" hits a wall of utter dismissal at black people who won't play along, because that means they're not as smart and educated as her.
60
Great article. I grew up white in a 100% white town. At 18, I took a job where I was the only white among African Americans. I must say, whiteness is a privilege. And it was very apparent just from comparing life experiences with my new peers - that up to age 18 we had very different experiences in how society treats us. One example, all things being equal, I would always get interviews for promotions, where my black peers did not. Another way is auto insurance. In a segregated city, my peers would get hosed financially. I could list many more examples. I don't understand why she can't acknowledge the privilege. You don't have to like it to acknowledge that you benefit from it. And you can't work to change something you say doesn't exist. Yuck.
61
@52: I just don't buy that she's strictly and opportunist. this seems deeply motivated by resentments at her evangelical upbringing - which I think Oluo understands. Dolezal just isn't as smart as she thinks she is, but I believe she is sincere in her delusions and misunderstandings.

then again, anyone that hangs a self-portrait in their house, let alone 4, should check their narcissism.
62
I've been ready to never hear from or of Dolezal again, especially being a current resident of Spokane. 99% of this is incredibly well-written, articulate, and understandable. However, the author's obvious disdain for the entire interview, as well as framing Spokane as a backwater, "lily-white", "dusty Eastern Washington town" to increase the impact of your example of box braids as exotic is a sad reliance on and perpetuation of the stigma that Puget Sound hold that assumes that Spokane is golly-gee-wilikers a shithole on a rive that's not worth mentioning in the same sentence as high and mighty Seattle.

The level of positive shock that I experienced as a former-Seattle-resident-turned-Spokanite reading the other parts of this Spokane-centric issue is completely wiped away by the reminder that, yes, most of the population of Puget Sound still look down on the rest of the state.
63
I find the author's repeated accusation of National Geographic being the product of white supremacy disturbing and interesting, but for such a strong accusation, she is remiss in showing evidence. In what way does Nat Geo "fetishize" black people? By showing photographs of Native peoples in Africa? What exactly is she referring to? Can anyone enlighten me?
64
The privilege to not have to think/read/hear about/remember her at all until I choose to do so--in the context of also getting to hear part of your story and from the comfort of my own home and on my own time schedule--is my white privilege in action. Your story--that this unusually annoying human is pushed at you repeatedly year after year, like salt pushed into a trying-to-heal wound--is the best part of this article. You are living your point. And turning bullshit into fertilizer. As a writer, as a woman, and even as a gardener, I'm inspired. This wasn't her story, it was yours. Thank you for that.
65
@Theodore: "We agree that gender is nothing but a social construct?" Hmm, let me tell you that the trained biologist in me, along with many, many other scientists of various disciplines, would not agree with that blanket statement. :-)
66
@57, You actually quote me aa saying she's a kook and in some ways a con artist, then you feel the need to Commentsplain to me an example of how she's a kook and a con artist? Yeah, I can still admire her sticking to her guns, on another level, because I'm capable of holding two contradictory thoughts in my head.
67
The modern Left is basically the Oppression Olympics.
68
I'm not so sure this has to do with race at all - this woman has ISSUES!
69
P. S. Btw, wonderful story - I wouldn't have been so polite.
70
This would have been a better piece if you'd actually quoted what Dolezal/Oluo wrote about National Geographic, her white privilege and other subjects. Reading this interview, I felt you were interpreting what she said one way, she was interpreting it another way, and the reader was left out of the discussion entirely. To dispute what she wrote, we have to see what she wrote.
71
Thank you, Ms. Oluo, for this very thoughtful, well-written article. I am excited to read your new book and hear more of your analysis. Keep the fascinating, fantastic work up! Thanks again.
72
The only issue I would bring up is generalizing her clear distortion of what she is as a product of her being white. Specifically your noticing that she talks down to you because you are black and don't understand her and aren't as "woke" as she is.

I would argue that she would adopt this attitude towards ANYONE who disagrees with or challenges her, including WHITE MEN who have interviewed her. I would take it a step further and say that cis white males in todays society experience this attitude more than any other demographic if they disagrees with any progressive idea...
73
I wish this devolution based author would interview some of her brothers and sisters who racially vett, make catty comments and who throw racially disgusting shade at any person that might look nonwhite that identifies as white. Or who is mixed and doesn't want to identify as Black. I dare her to. You want to see hatred and privilege it's not a Rachel Dolezal it's in the Black one drop enforcing liberal elite. All Rachel would have to do is produce one scrap of Black ancestry and this one drop obsessive author would be beaming with pride. The more Rachel Dolezals that are allowed to exist unabated then the less precious and important whiteness will be but too many Black liberals are too blind to see this. "Racialized features"? What does that mean? This author has more internalized white supremacy than she may be aware of. And she doesn't understand that there are different gradations of whiteness. The experience out of a white Jewish person or Southern Italian person with kinky hair and darker skin is not going to be the same experience as a Norwegian blond with pin straight hair and blue eyes especially if you were born pre 1980. If a white person grows up living with, conflicting and interacting with black people in the real world , real consequences social space then they are not going to have the typical views of whiteness Rachel more than qualifies. Despite obviously some mental issues and some mistake she made she's not the enemy black people. Black people are just as racist as Whites and in this era there is no excuse. Try some new material (folks of all races) and stay on the evolutionary path because time isn't on our side.
74
@20 - your comment hits on something that has made me feel icky about this story from the get-go. In the span of a few days, I saw some of the VERY SAME people who praised Caitlyn Jenner for being brave and embracing her true identity, gleefully rip Rachael Dolezal apart for being a fraud. I still can't fully reconcile it.
75
Wait! I just went to Amazon and can't find any books by you. I want to read more of your writing! Please include in your byline where we can read more. Meanwhile, I'll google. :-)
76
@70 oluo spent hours with diallo as an adversary, yet acts suprised she was treated as one. the article is as much about oluo's reactions as it is about diallo's stupidity, with a little on diallo herself on the side, but we're supposed to accept that diallo is the narcissist, not oluo (likely both).
77
I love reading articles like this...an interesting social study of a bi-racial woman raised by a white woman, discussing with a white woman (trying to pass as a black woman) whom was also raised by a white woman about the black female experience.....so fascinating
78

To 50: When and where is "passing" or more aptly identifying with the race you want to identify with, dealt with by lynching IN THE PRESENT DAY? Where are thee "lynchings" TODAY over people expressing racial fluidity in 2017?!

To 52: Sorry but when I see the cis Black Dolezal resenters like this author up in arms about white people claiming (aka fabricating) Native American ancestry as thousands upon thousands of whites have been for over a century in this country, then I'll buy your argument. More white people have claimed "Cherokee great grandmothers" than is demographically possible and I've seen no one complain about it. That White girl had every right to ask her "first nation status" if she wanted to because THAT racial fluidity IS REAL and approved by Native Americans, Whites and Blacks despite being mostly fiction. Interactions between Europeans and Native Americans were very very limited. But what wasnt limited was interactions between blacks and whites. The majority of Whites AND Blacks with "Native American ancestry" are usually covering up Black or European ancestry respectively or stanning for complete fiction.
79
Resisting transracialism and accepting transgenderism is inconsistent. There is such push back and hatred of this woman, and yet biological males are "appropriating" womanhood. Race is a construct, as is gender. Anyone trying to explain the difference has yet to make a good argument beyond wanting one to be true and not the other.
80
You can’t have a rational debate about racial politics with a person who suffers from DELUSIONS. It was never a fair fight, and it seemed obvious to me that the author of the piece came with her knives already sharpened. And what was gained by any of this? No new light was shed on the person or situation. Oluo came off as just wanting to read Rachel for filth, with zero compassion about her background or obvious mental illness. Rachel is sick and her ideas are foolish. Going after her like that was shooting fish in a barrel.

And that part about Rachel calling them out for wanting to photograph her in the light—even if that wasn’t their true intention, you can’t blame her for being on the defensive or cynical after the grilling she got.
81
Thank-you for an article that was entertaining, interesting, and educational.
82
Fantastic article. It deserves a cleaner platform that allows the reader to focus on the text, as the side margins (ads, links to other articles, etc.) are next-level intrusive and the article text only gets to occupy the middle third of the page. Wish I was in Seattle and could just pick up the print version.
83
Thank you so much for writing this. Several light bulbs exploded over my head while reading this. I wonder how many thousands still remain unexploded in this privileged head of mine? More than I think, I'll bet. Sadly. Thank you for making a difference.
84
Behold the collicky squalls of two attention seekers trying to steal each other's limelight by any means necessary. This piece is almost entirely devoid of journalistic value apart from informing the reader that one attention seeker has published a book and the other one is about to. Longest advertorial ever.
85
Just wondering why the interviewer makes no mention of the fact that Dolezal grew up with 4 adopted siblings who were black? Making it seem like her only childhood interactions with blackness were through magazines is very disingenuous.
86
Rachel Dolezal has offended me since I first saw her being confronted with her deception. I believe she has some narcissistic mental disorder (I'm no expert). It's natural for we whites to admire POCs' beauty, perseverance, family bonds, activism and wokeness. It's ridiculous for her to envy those values so much that she fakes them due to her pathological craving for attention. She could have devoted her efforts instead to valuing the family and history she had, as well as building her own authentic life. It's BS that she has tried to remove herself from scrutiny (confused white chick with a self-chosen African name, anyone?!) bc she arrogantly believes we'll all wake up and revere her as the pristinely nonracist pioneer she pretends to be. Her entire scam is proof that she should be responsible enough to get professional help, although I don't know how productive it can be if the patient insists on maintaining a sham existence and lying to herself and her healthcare team. I pity her kids for the difficulties she'll selfishly impose on them.

87
It is remarkable that Ms. Dolezal cannot understand the impersonal, stubborn advantages of her very body in a segregated culture, especially as she claims to have read critical race theory and to have a deep understanding of colonial history. That she refuses to see that she is seen means that she neglects the conditions of visibility. How she is seen is not ultimately under her control, whether she likes it or not, and this is essentially why she can't understand racialization. Black writers have been writing about the vicissitudes of visibility/invisibility for two hundred years. What is Dunbar's mask? Who is Ellison's invisible man? Who wears Du Bois' veil? Dolezal doesn't seem to have done her homework. In a raced culture, no one is unraced, and regardless of what Dolezal wishes to believe, she is raced as white as I am. It's simply not up to her that she is seen as white. And your interview and analysis shows that her whiteness is not skin deep. Great article. I appreciate your perseverance.
88
"And it is patriarchy that told an unhappy and outcast man that female identity was his for the taking. It is patriarchy that told him that any women who questioned him were obviously uneducated and unmotivated to rise to his level of wokeness. It is patriarchy that then elevated this display of privilege into the dominating conversation on female identity in America. It is patriarchy that decided that it was worth a book deal, national news coverage, and yes—even this interview."

The arguments against Rachel Dolezal's identity are literally the same as the arguments against Caitlyn Jenner's identity.

Just as its offensive for a white woman to don black-face and wallow in black stereotypes, it's equally offensive for a man to don lady-face and wallow in female stereotypes.

To believe otherwise requires faith, which we on the Left should be rejecting.
89
Thank you, thank you for this.

I am light-skinned black, and I'm both racially and culturally ambiguous (more like, confusing). This brings privilege, but it's also complicated. I've been followed around stores, accused of things I didn't do, and so on ... but for me, it's not every day. Sometimes, it's because I'm seen as an ethnicity that's not actually part of my DNA.

I cannot claim the depth of experience that people who are more obviously black undergo. Nor can I claim full white privilege -- unless I choose to attempt fraud, which is as likely to fail as not. Moreover, any such attempt on my part would be immoral and unethical. Rather, any privilege I enjoy is often conferred upon me by others, or taken away by them, at their discretion.

Dolezal's claims infuriate me. Perhaps she has some kind of mental health condition, and cannot be held responsible. If so, I can forgive her, but the situation is still hurtful and offensive. She claimed to be something she is not, and can never be ... and, as a practical matter, never needed to be. The NAACP welcomes white members, and many have been in leadership positions. Allies are welcomed and treasured. Dolezal's work, from all accounts, was fine. But in the end, she created confusion that detracted from her work and continues to muddy interracial communications. She told false stories -- stolen stories.

I've been told several times (including one memorable pile-on) -- by white people -- that I have zero cause for offense. That I should put aside my own truth, and accept hers.

I don't think so.
90
You are seen as bitter because you are bitter. It's intellectually dishonest to say you went into this with a neutral perspective. Every word in this article is written in a condescending tone. This isn't journalism here. It's a bitter opinion piece. Whether you have a right to be bitter is debatable. This woman made choices in her life, right or wrong, she made them and is now dealing with the consequences. Who are you to go into her, through the guise of "journalism" just to mock her and be bitter about it? That makes you, what? A good journalist? A good black woman trying to see the other side of the woman you hate because she said she was black and wants to be black? It's just petty and pathetic. I agree this woman should have lost her job, but I disagree that she needs to be turned into this "thing" that black women get to mock and belittle because it makes them feel good. I came to this article looking for a neutral perspective, and just felt a lot of bitterness. And for the record - I'm neither black or white. I had never heard of this woman until this controversy so I was never a follower/supporter of hers. I just think it's very disingenuous the way people attempt to attack her as a way to feel better about themselves. Finally a white woman we can walk all over. That's the feel I get, which is just petty and pathetic. And when you are the one being called petty/pathetic in comparison to a woman who lived a double life, that's rather sad.
91
The audacity of the interviewer when she presumes to know how Rachel Dolezal experiences life is truly astounding and repugnant. At what point was she gifted the ability from god to know how Rachel Dolezal is treated by other people? The assertions made by Ms. Oluo have in no way convinced me of her veracity, but they have certainly convinced me that she is obnoxious.
92
A White trans woman in Oakland California just brutally murdered a lesbian couple and their black African adopted son. Stabbed them to death. Yet I see more Black and White liberal women hating on Rachel Dolezal every time I log onto the Internet to discuss race. It is rubbish that thousands of trans women out there have clear ties to biology that effects their identity. The brain is still barely understood despite how far science has advanced. To assume that EVERY trans women has some biological marker or something in her genetic makeup is simply an assumption. Trans women now have access shelters and safe spaces spaces for cis women and children simple because of their appearance and self identification. Yet if R Dolezal created a Black community center she would be vilified. People who enter the fray without the ego mania of Dolezal will be better ambassadors for racial fluidity and trans racial will be real and out of the shadows when the millennials are in their forties.
93
I follow the author on Twitter; I'm commenting because this piece has haunted me all day. It's the first I've read that makes Dolezal clear to me, as a person and a problem. You're right, Shalynne #89: there are so many things she could have done with her knowledge, privilege, background, and lived experience. She's had every opportunity, has been offered every chance to both promote and redeem herself (and she continues to receive these offers). Yet, faced with all these choices? Dolezal lies. She sues. She finally changes her name, then complains that it's hard to find work under that new name. In her shoes, I hope I'd have figured out that the common denominator in all these issues is me.

It does not seem that Dolezal has reached this point, and that is chilling. I feel the author is in danger in Dolezal's presence, and this feeling never really goes away. For the first time, I can see Dolezal for what she is to Black women: a kind of taxidermist, studying her prey. I'm not surprised she's a good artist; she would be, after so much time studying her ideal "self."

Thanks to the writer for this uncanny, surprisingly sympathetic profile of a person so threatened by her own origins that she'd rather live out this kind of outrageous serial theft. I'm glad you made it out of there. We need you.
94
Both women in this piece are dripping with victimology, self-pity and self-importance as they argue over the title of Bona Fide Black Woman.
95
I might be too white for you to care...(or am I?... And does it matter?) but the whole time I was reading this all I could think was how this article could have been written in the 50's by a woman interviewing a man who had managed to pass himself off as a woman. "Men can do whatever they want!" "How can he relate to my experience? He has never had his period!" "His whole experience of women is from the outside" "Why would a man with all that privilege ever want to be a woman??" He may not have personal experience, she may not either, but at the end of the day I'm not sure why we need to hate people so easily.

I believe the author is maybe bitter, even jealous. At the end of the day- all hands on deck. She is doing the best she can to help open up the conversation.
96
@ above comments; its pretty clear the author of this article did not use the descriptor of 'lily-white' to spokane to characterize it as good or bad, it was to shed light on rachels upbringing and where her perspective came from.

i am mentally ill and it's no excuse for dolezal's behaviour even if she were diagnosed. she fabricated her identity because she recognized (in a twist of cruel irony) that it could benefit her- as stated plainly by herself. it goes beyond mere delusion when you recognize the suffering of others and spin it to be about yourself. this is methodical, and she just happens to be intuitive enough about it to gain this much traction.

as a white woman who is currently struggling with trauma recovery, social isolation, poverty, and hell even being an artist trying to get by on their own work, i completely sympathize with rachel in feeling like she does not fit in, i have faced that my whole life as well. however the reason why she did not fit in was not because of her skin, it was because of her ideological differences; her upbringing within her town and her family didnt suit her and that to her felt extremely unfair. i think just about anyone can relate to that.

white people deserve to feel good about themselves as much as anybody else (of course it can go too far the other way), we do not have to appropriate other cultures to do so. look into your heritage- i am irish and german so i have done some reading about those cultures. you might find you relate, you might find you don't. that's alright either way, ultimately its your choice whether or not you want to actively participate in your own culture, but it does not change your heritage and you cannot force your way into others due to lack of connection to your own- especially if you are going to talk over people of whom it belonged to first. where is the love and respect in that?

the saddest part about this to me is that had rachel made a sooner realization to the source of her feelings of isolation she might have found support and acceptance for the right reasons, and probably even from the same communities she's been apart of. it seems now she is too deep into her own thinking for anything to change however. thank you ijeoma, im looking forward to more of your work.

on another note, i read elsewhere that the name "nkechi amare diallo" means "gift of god" in igbo, can anyone confirm this? if so wow, that comes across as very self-important.
97
"Gender is constituted differently based on the culture we live in." says Laverne Cox. The same could be said of race. I spent much of my childhood in the southern United States and now reside in a small town in Alaska where one might hear an agitated Alaska Native person call a black nurse "honky!"
I'm glad The Stranger commissioned this piece and published it. It has motivated me to go to my local independent book seller and order Rachel Dolezal's book, In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World. Now that I've read Ijeoma Oluo's scathing rant (it hardly qualifies as an interview), I'm interested in finding out what her subject's views really are.
98
And of all the possible last names to choose, Dolezal chooses the last name of one of the most famous victims of police violence: Amadou Diallo.
99
Brilliantly written. Thank you for enduring that interview so you could write this story.
100
I am a white woman in UK and the issues of race and privilege (I'm sad to admit) have only become apparent to me in the last few years. This is a result of my white privileges. It is only now in the 21st century that we are starting to get a full racial narrative, in that other races are actually being listened to. Forgive me if that still doesn't feel the case. I am taking into account that I as a white person am able to see these different views more than ever before.
I feel that for me the issues of privilege and cultural appropriation are a complete minefield. I do not consider myself racist but do understand that my race has allowed me and continues to allow me more access to the world. The issue of cultural appropriation makes me very sad. I am a fan of Japanese culture but never thought I was taking anything away from that culture other than an appreciation of it. I understand that certain racial representations are considered stereotypical and therefore a racist representation (native American tribes feather headdresses for instance) but does this include all things within that culture? Clothes, food, music? Isn't a mixing of these to humanitys advantage? I enjoy the cultural diversity I see. So what is cultural appropriation? What is the offensive part other than the obvious racial stereotypes? I can understand that RD is offensive in her entirety as her attitude shows a complete lack of understanding of the race she says she identifies with. Even I can see that.
If anything we at least are seeing a dialogue that I hope continues. Just as I am subject to male privilege and can see it everyday in my life, if this and racial privilege can be openly discussed we as a species can begin to heal the rifts. I may have been late to understand and recognise white priviledge but I hope I can explain it enough to my boys so they have more understanding and appreciation for other races and cultures.
101
The debate about Dolezal's identity reminds me of the debate around Black Live Matter and how difficult it is for much of white America to understand whiteness. Dolezal's defense of her "black" identity is not really about black people or what is an authentic black person but more about her lack of understanding of her own identity as a white woman and the privilege that it provides her.
102
Those of you comparing transgendered men and women to transracial are ignoring one very important issue.

Dolezal compared herself to chattel slaves because she had to grow up working for things. She thinks this makes her identify with being black because she did not grow up rich. This is a rather bizarre claim. Not only does she not understand the basic concept of slavery, but she does not understand the construct of whiteness or blackness. Her view on both is rather distorted, and she is basing her feeling of being black on stereotypes and miseducation.

Transgendered men and women do not claim to be more enlightened on what it means to be a man or woman more than cis men or women. They just are who they are.

Race may be a social construct, but the moment this woman started basing her feelings of being black off of stereotypes and misunderstandings is the moment she should have lost credibility.

But let's be real. The majority of the people on this thread comparing this to transgendered men and women are transphobic and think they're making some deep argument against transgendered people. This article is not about the validity of transgendered men and women. It is not a tool for your smug, transphobic agenda. This article is about a privileged white woman that thinks she can be a black woman better than other black women. Leave your silly transphobic agendas out of this and come up with a valid reason why it is ok for a woman who thinks she's black because she had to work for things as a child to profit off of the pain and oppression of actual black women.
103
As a black woman, with black skin color, wide-bridge nose, extreme prognathism, large lips, coarse black hair, dark eyes, (and yes, two black skin parents) I can say without hesitation that when I first saw photos of Rachel, I took her as a mixed woman. Based on my experiences, she looked like many woman I had known in my life who had a black (generally) father, and white (generally) mother. Why this author has asserted the contrary with such absoluteness (and soaking in disdain) is curious--especially given her own background with a very white mother herself.

The author does not speak for all who make a judgment on another's "race", and her voice certainly does not speak for all within the African diaspora.