aNewDomain — Rachel Dolezal, the former Spokane leader of the NAACP who was born white but pretends to be (or “identifies as”) black, is widely assumed to be a lying con artist, suffering from psychological problems, or both.
Many Americans, especially blacks who suffer at the hands of systemic racial discrimination, were furious at what they saw as Dolezal’s lack of — forgive me — skin in the game.
Unlike dark-skinned African-Americans pulled over by racist policemen for a broken taillight, Rachel Dolezal could opt out any time.
Indeed, she did exactly that when she sued her alma mater, the historically black Howard University, for race discrimination — and she did it because she was white.
Dolezel has stepped down from her unpaid post at the NAACP, where, by all accounts, she did a magnificent job.
But what about another case of racial slumming that is not dissimilar from Dolezal’s, but far more prominent?
Few others dare to do this, but I am speaking of U.S. President Barack Obama.
Obama, as everyone knows, had a black Kenyan father and a white American mother. Growing up in Hawaii, where so many people have multiple racial identities that they call themselves “chop suey” or “poi dog,” meaning “mixed” or “mutt.”
Obama sublimates his whiteness.
Obama chose to sublimate his white ancestry and identify as fully black. Because he didn’t want to be, as friends remember, a “tragic mulatto” who had to suck up to whites.
Choosing which half of your family you prefer to identify with isn’t unusual. My mother is French and my father is American of German ancestry. I feel very French — I speak and read the language, listen to French music, follow French news, have dual French-American citizenship.
I always assumed that was because my father wasn’t around while I was growing up, so he lost his chance to influence me. (But I’ve never denied his paternity, or the parts of my personality I believe came from him.) But that’s me. Obama’s situation is the reverse of mine.
Like me, he was raised by his mom. The time he spent with his father could be measured in hours.
If he’d followed the path of least resistance in terms of cultural influence, he would have identified as white. Instead, he took on the race of the father who left him. Granted: race is a largely a cultural and political construction.
Still, within the racial construct in which Obama and I (we’re almost the same age, and went to Columbia at the same time) grew up, he was and is biracial.
Yet he identifies as black. And he is known by the world in the messaging his own PR people produce: the first black president.
So why did Obama ditch the biracial moniker?
The Census Bureau began identifying multiracial Americans in 2000. (You check off two or more boxes for race, as applicable.) In 2000, 6.8 million Americans declared themselves as having mixed-race ancestry. Not Obama — in 2010, as President, he declared himself solely African-American.
How is this different than Rachel Dolezal? Both of them identify themselves as blacker than they are genetically: Dolezel 100 percent more, Obama, 50 percent more.
And why is Dolezal, an obscure woman who worked hard to fight for blacks, catching more shit than Obama, arguably the world’s most powerful man, who has been roundly criticized for sitting on his hands when black Americans come under attack, as they did in a Charleston church this week?
If Dolezal is “transracial,” as she told an interview, then so is Obama.
“I think his choice [to declare himself African-American and not biracial] will have political, social and cultural ramifications,” Michele Hughes, president of the Chicago Biracial Families Network, said after stories about Obama’s census declaration appeared.
Certainly, Obama’s choice has sent a message to biracial children, which is: The president of the United States is ashamed of his biracial heritage, and maybe you should be, too.
Is race really a useless construct?
“Aren’t people supposed to fill out their census forms accurately? Why else are we doing it?” asked Elizabeth Chang in a 2010 article in The Washington Post. She added:
If everyone put down on the form how they ‘identified,’ I don’t know what kind of count we’d wind up with, but clearly it would not reflect the racial makeup of the United States. As many have argued, race is an almost useless construct, so that might not matter, except in one very important area: If every biracial person chose one race, as Obama did, or as people had to do before the forms were changed in 2000, the census would portray a society more divided than it actually is.
If the most powerful person in this country says that because society thinks he looks black, he is black, it sends a message that biracial children have to identify with the side they most resemble.
It also endorses the hoary “single drop of blood” rule, which dates to slavery and dictates that if you’re 0.1% black, the law, and American culture, considers you 100 percent black.
As I said, I’m not personally invested in this discussion. But I dislike hypocrisy, particularly in the context of media pile-ons against average citizens while objectively much bigger targets stand around watching, untouched by the flinging mud.
If Dolezal is scum for lying about her race, well, then so is Obama.
They both would be half-scum, anyway.
For aNewDomain, I’m Ted Rall.
Image one: Rachel Dolezal, www.capitalwired.com, All Rights Reserved.
Image two: Barack Obama with his mother, via thewomenseye.com, All Rights Reserved.
Image three: Barack Obama with his father, via www.telegraph.co.uk, All Rights Reserved.
Image four: Rachel Dolezal, via jeffwinbush.com, All Rights Reserved
The American racial caste system is based on what you look like. The president looks like a black man and therefore he is.
As with most black Americans, Obama is of mixed racial heritage. But none are given a choice as to how they identify as Rall insists. His tortured comparison between Dolezal and Obama is complete nonsense. And his assertion that he’s in the same boat because he chose between identifying with his French ancestry instead of his German is so stupid it’s sad.