Society and Culture

Rachel Dolezal is Transracial and it Doesn’t Negate Her Justice Work

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There has been a lot of speculation with regard to the Rachel Dolezal case. Some say that she lied about her race; lied about who her father was; and maybe even took her adoptive brother and claimed him as her own Black son. She may have also disowned her White parents, and she verbally identifies as African American. She has been pulling the wool over people’s eyes for years about her race, and now that they know the truth, they are mad.

When her parents revealed the truth about her ethnicity, they said that what she was doing was very “puzzling and sad”. Understandable. They went on to say the following:

Her passion for civil rights is influenced by her years in Mississippi, where she advocated for equal rights and participated in community development…She has over the past 20 years assimilated herself into the African American community through her various advocacy and social justice work, and so that may be part of the answer.

Based on the memes, jokes, and rants on Twitter and other social media sites, it seems as if the Black community more or less is not responding well to the NAACP Spokane Branch President lying about her ethnicity. One tweet goes as far as to say:

She lied and lied and lied…and continued to lie. Then when she got caught, she lied some more. That definitely isn’t okay, but does it really make Dolezal a bad person? Some people say “lying is lying;” that it’s wrong and because she did it she’s in the wrong. I am not necessarily sure if that is true. Lying is not okay, and it was clearly not the best way for her to accomplish what she was trying to do. But my thing is, didn’t just last week Bruce–I mean Caitlyn–Jenner come out and reintroduce herself as a woman? Yes, she received a lot of negative backlash, but at the same time there was so much support and positivity surrounding her. Revered as a hero to some who struggle with gender identification, others hold her up as a brave soul who has a lot of courage to reveal who she really felt she was inside. It seems to me that if Dolezal personally identifies as Black, she has every right to pursue that, same as Caitlyn Jenner.

Some Black people have been quick to respond, saying things like “they want to be us so bad,” upset with White America for ignoring Black culture, and instead reestablishing it as their own. Without getting too off subject, here’s an example of what that means exactly.

It’s been a little over a year since Marc Jacobs revealed models for his 2015 Spring line featuring “mini buns,” also known as Bantu Knots. Giving this hairstyle a new title, Jacobs completely discredited its African roots. 

I wonder how many Bantu Knots it took for #RachelDolezal to achieve this look…

But this is not that. She is not “stealing” Black identity, but instead is accepting and fully embracing this ethnicity because this is the race she identifies with the most. Although it was misleading, Dolezal appears to be transracial. Social media has been quick to address the topic and reactions varied.

Black Twitter bemoaned that switching race does not work like switching gender, noting that Black people can’t pretend to avoid discrimination.

Some in social media have accused Dolezal’s actions of being despicable and offensive, because Black rights can still be supported while being White. But aren’t there Black people who bleach their skin so they’re lighter? Michael Jackson? Those people don’t actively give back to the race they claim to identify with; those people are not civil rights activist. The lines of being transgender are not as black and white as the lines of being transracial, but that doesn’t mean that this identification does not exist.

After taking a look at her LinkedIn profile, her entire life’s work appears to be socially reconstructing and advocating for the Black community. She has a Master’s Degree from Howard University and has spent over 20 years as an instructor and expert on African American culture. She represents the black community publicly and vocally, including as a spokeswoman on race-influenced police violence.

Look at all of the hard work she has put in. She may not have gone about it in the best way, but that does not mean that Rachel Dolezal’s intentions or what she did was wrong.

Angel Idowu
Angel Idowu is a member of the Beloit College Class of 2016 and was a Law Street Media Fellow for the Summer of 2015. Contact Angel at



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