Rachel Dolezal

The Infallibility of Miss Ann
(Or, the Last Rachel Dolezal Thinkpiece Ever)

[OPINION] Jamilah Lemieux asks why it's so hard for us to adequately critique White women

by Jamilah Lemieux, June 15, 2015

Rachel Dolezal

Rachel Dolezal

Robert J Lloyd

If you were asked to close your eyes and think of racist violence against Black folks—White on Black crime, if you will—I’d wager that you’d summon the image of a White man/White men brutalizing someone. The LAPD officers who beat Rodney King. Daniel Pantelleo taking Eric Garner’s air. Darren Wilson’s expressionless mug posing to reveal the “injuries” he sustained while gunning down Mike Brown. And, of course the latest member of the all-too-easy to join club of infamously violent cops, former (and likely, future, if history has taught us anything) police officer Eric Casebolt who brutalized a 14-year-old girl on that now-viral video shot in the ruins of a McKinney, Texas pool party.

But what set things off in the first place? Allegedly, the incident began when a White woman made racist comments about attendees of the party and then slapped the 19-year-old host when she defended her friends. This entire fiasco was (allegedly) set into motion due to the racist violence of a White woman—and a group of Black teens were violated and likely traumatized as a result. Yet, she's been largely absent from the conversation about that infamous day.

We don’t say enough about how the racism of White women—who often escape scrutiny because the public face of racism is The White Man—harms people of color. We forget how the aggression of police when encountering Black bodies is often tied to the idea that these people present a danger to the fragility of White womanhood and how the word of a White woman will nearly almost always be believed over that of a Black man or Black woman (or a Black child, which is frightening, considering how many White women are teaching Black kids that they don’t necessarily value or believe in.)

This is, of course, not a condemnation of the entirety of White womanhood—anyone with half a brain knows that, but we also know that the internet outrage cycle isn’t always powered by the best and brightest among us. However, I do invite you all to spend a little bit of time pondering how we continue to fortify the White Female Fragility Industrial Complex, which is the only reason I’m writing about the woman, the myth, the laughingstock known as Rachel Dolezal—despite the fact that I wanted to keep my thoughts on her reserved for Twitter jokes and Facebook banter.

When Black men are violated or insulted, the Black community’s response is typically pretty clear: this is wrong, this should not have happened, our men deserve better. When Black women are under the gun that is not the case. Prior to the McKinney incident, I can’t recall an instance in which there was so much collective outrage at the mistreatment of a Black female and we had to literally see a teen girl in a bikini getting tossed around by a White police officer to summon it. It seems that regardless of her intentions, Dolezal’s crime against Black womanhood is pretty clear and that all of us should be offended that it happened. Alas, that’s not the case.

Dolezal’s deception, which should be credited to both decent quality hair weaves and the privilege Black folks often afford to light-skinned women (even those that are intellectually and physically mediocre,) is at once an insult to Black women everywhere and a gift to the comedy gods. Yet, Dave Chappelle, known for his brilliant insight on race and racism, has stated that he’s holding off on joking about the now-former NAACP chapter president: “I’m sure her rebuttal will be illuminating. Like, once she’s had time to process it and kind of get her wind back and get her message together.” In a rare interview, he offers a take on Dolezal that is not sympathetic, but thoughtful and nuanced in ways we rarely see when the conversation is centered on an actual Black woman.

Worse than Chappelle’s "gotta hear both sides"-esque commentary, however, have been comments from folks on social media who think that “the work” Dolezal has done affords her some sort of pass or greater consideration. This is despite the fact that she has allegedly lived in Blackface for years and has occupied some of the few spaces of leadership afforded to Black people (NAACP chapter president, Africana studies professor.) I do not believe for a minute that this sort of consideration would be afforded to a White man who did what this woman has. Yet folks like Keri Hilson, and a lot of Twitter’s infamous “Hotep brothers” felt the need to suggest we "thank" her, or at least wait until we hear her side.

What else do we need to hear? We watched her tell a reporter she was “Black” and family has made it pretty obvious that she’s been lying, not suffering from some sort of race-based psychosis.

The most painful conversation I have observed on the whole mess took place on Melissa Harris Perry this weekend. I expected the host, who I consider to be a personal hero and important champion of Black women, to be personally offended by the existence of Dolezal—someone who has dressed herself up to physically resemble Harris Perry and occupy a space in the academy, something many actual Black women struggle to do. Yet, our girl wants to at least consider the possibility of “racial mis-assignment at birth,” and I’m pretty unable to cope with that.

The handwringing, the nuance, the idea that we should be grateful that this woman wanted to occupy space in our community, the inability to hold White women accountable for their racist misdeeds…it’s enough to make an actual Black woman mad. Rachel Dolezal is not an ally; she is not a champion of Blackness. And, reinvented as a light-skinned, light-eyed Black woman with a Howard degree, she was able to gain more access to Black cultural spaces than she would as a White lady who simply likes Black culture and Black men—and those women get a LOT of access.

Dolezal parodied Black womanhood for her own benefit, while allegedly telling other Whites they didn’t have space in the Black Lives Matter movement and, according a few folks claiming to be former students, had a curious way of addressing Black females and pale-skinned Latinos in her classes. Pretending to have our experiences and using them for her personal/professional gain is not “doing the work” and as far as I am concerned, it is unforgiveable anti-Blackness.

White women are human and fallible. They are not standard bearers for femininity, they are not in need of our protection and many of them have willingly participated in the systems of racism that lead to educational disenfranchisement of "unteachable" Black children and overpolicing of Black "superpredators." Our torrid love affair with Whiteness and White supremacy often make it hard for us to hold White folks accountable, but I’d be willing to bet you that the brothers hollering about Rachel Dolezal doing work wouldn’t be as easy on Ronald Dolezal showing up in an Afro- toupee. And considering that mentally-ill Black women are routinely sentenced to prison and discarded by society, I’m disinterested in a lengthy psychoanalysis of Dolezal that can be used to give her a pass. She will be just fine, wherever she imagines herself next.

Do not forget the loudmouthed, bigoted woman who refused to allow a group of teens to enjoy a day in the sun without racialized violence, and do not forget how Rachel Dolezal's deception took space from Black women who need it. Do not keep up the White Female Fragility Complex by silence or complicity.

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