thoughts on rachel dolezal, advocacy and privilege in no particular order


{image is a photo of a television camera’s video monitor on which we see Rachel Dolezal, who is also in the background of the shot, during an interview}

A few thoughts on Rachel Dolezal.

In no particular order …

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is funny.

Many people believe that co-opting lived experience isn’t.

Being transracial IS a thing. Just not remotely the thing we (the author of the article to which I will link in the next sentence and I) thought it was – er, wasn’t.

(Hint: it has nothing, zero, nada to do with transgenderism and to conflate the two is so not right it’s not even wrong.)

With apologies and ever-fawning respect to Audre Lorde, I believe it is far more powerful to use one’s own privilege to bring about its demise than to deny its existence in order to attempt to strip it from others. You may need to read that sentence twice. I did, and I’m the one who wrote it.

You don’t negate your own privilege by changing the world’s perception of your identity — rather, the ability to change the world’s perception of your identity at will IS privilege. By exercising the former, you flaunt the latter.

Which leads me to this, which came from here:

And also, “privilege” isn’t even a good word. A privilege is getting to stay up late, or eat an extra popsicle. The things that comprise “white privilege” are actually basic human rights that are denied to black people, like the right to not be capriciously murdered by a cop for no reason.

‘Cause, well, that.

No one can take away the good work that you’ve done.

Having done good work doesn’t mean you didn’t hurt people or aren’t still hurting them, nor does it mitigate the ongoing effect of that hurt.

When asked about the mounting inconsistencies in your personal narrative, answering, “Some of it has kind of a little bit of creative non-fiction with regards to what happened in sequence of events and dates and so forth,” doesn’t do a lot to bolster your credibility.

While transracial identity is indeed a thing, even if it’s not the thing we thought it was (see above), creative non-fiction isn’t.*

Saying, “I don’t believe in reverse racism. I really don’t,” after suing Howard University for racial discrimination is like saying, “I don’t believe in gardening,” after spending a day planting seeds. No matter how many, “I really don’t,”s you add, the blossoming lilies still call you out.

There are a lot of facets to this story.

Far more, I’m guessing, than we know.

No matter how sensational the headlines or outrageous this woman’s behavior gets, at the heart of the story is a sexual assault case and people with a lot to gain – and lose – from slandering each other.

That matters.

A lot.

It may not change anything, but it still matters.

And this ..

Allyship involves, at its best, working with people of color, rather than speaking for them. And I suspect Rachel discovered, perhaps while at Howard, that, “Gee, ya know what, black folks don’t automatically trust me, and this proving myself stuff is hard and takes time, and allyship is messy, and I’m impatient, so … let’s cut out the middle man and just be black.” That way she didn’t have to work with or follow, she could speak for and lead. It’s a horrible betrayal of what the proper role for white folks in the work is; a slap in the face to the history of solidarity.

Whether or not his take on her motivation is accurate, Tim Wise‘s thoughts (above) about what it means to be an ally resonate deeply with me in the context of my own efforts to be an allistic (non autistic) ally to the Autistic community. Even more so when he added:

The lesson is this: authentic antiracist white identity is what we must cultivate. We can not shed our skin, nor our privileges; we must work in conjunction with people of color to overturn the system that bestows those privileges. But the key word is WITH people of color, not AS people of color. We must be willing to do the difficult work of finding a different way to live in this skin. THIS skin.

Substitute anti-ableist for antiracist and you have completed lesson one in intersectionality.

No matter what we think of Rachel’s actions, there’s something to be learned from this – a lot in fact – no matter who we are, but particularly if we are an advocate for a disenfranchised group (or a single member thereof) to which we do not belong. (Psst … See what I did there? I described a non-autistic parent of an autistic child. Sneaky, I know.)

So, that said, here’s my last thought as it relates to my experience …

In the fight for our loved ones’ rights, dignity, and respect, the first thing we must do is respect their experience. As their experience.

And to acknowledge the raw and sometimes ugly truth that its differences from ours are not just intrinsic, but systemic and that we – far more often than we know – perpetuate the system.

By working together, we can change it.

Not by speaking for and leading, but by following.

It’s messy.

And painful.

And hard.

And worth it.

* As it turns out, I was wrong again. Apparently creative non-fiction is also a thing. But it’s a thing that is a literary device one employs to make a true story more readable, not a thing that gets you off the hook when your fundamental facts change. 

8 thoughts on “thoughts on rachel dolezal, advocacy and privilege in no particular order

  1. Very interesting. You and I do not need to become “autistic” in order to advocate for our daughters’ and to make their voices heard.
    I think the whole unfolding of this story (and its many many layers) will prove the simple fact; truth will always come out.

  2. I feel like I am constantly commenting on your posts with “thank yous” and maybe they lose their value, but this one…

    Well, this one I just wanted to put my head under the pillow and say I can’t look, I won’t look, it’s too much, I just want to pretend I don’t see it until it goes away.

    It’s too hard to talk about when we have SO many other things to talk about…

    And, as usual, you point out that everything, every debate has value in understanding who we are as people and what we believe in and we owe it to ourselves to be clear on it.

    ESPECIALLY if we are going to be the guide for our children to begin to understand their own thoughts etc.
    So, as usual, thank you for never shying away from the big issues.
    The world is big and scary and if we’re going to change it for our kids, we’re going to have to face the whole of it.

    And more concretely, thank you for always taking the time to provide links and sources when talking about the hard things. Very much appreciated.


  3. I think white privilege is a thing, and the term CAN be useful for when what we’re talking about IS “white privilege” and not “basic human rights.” This is tangential, but…I actually feel like the equation of basic human rights or civil rights, with “privilege” or unearned benefits….has dragged the state of social justice discourse into the dirt.

    I get that the word has a slightly different meaning in academic or sociological discussions, but it really strong negative connotations in its vernacular use, and I think it’s a huge, counterproductive, distraction when we’re talking about human rights outrages.

    • oh gosh, i hope i didn’t give the impression that i don’t think that white privilege is a very real thing – indeed i do. i only included the quote about the word privilege because i felt like the connotation of the word itself (out of context) was diluting the very real implications of the concept, much like ‘entitlement’ visa vis entitlements. i feel like i’m tripping on words right now, but my point is simply that i meant with this post to affirm that white privilege is very, very real. my brain is muddled today, so if i’m missing the point here, i sincerely apologize and would welcome clarification.

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