I had the opportunity to interview Rachel Dolezal when I was 26. I had attempted several times to reach out to her after the scandal but she said she would not grant any interview unless we had a copy of her work. I did buy it and read it at the time. My angle, though I was younger, as a Black European was not to attack her but to understand her motives. She was nice enough to answer my questions and I never tried to humiliate her in no way though she deserves to be prosecuted for pretending to be another race. I regret one thing. I have been a little bit to general, evasive and open-minded. I should have been tougher. But I did not want to get to that point. Her parents outed her for she was about to testify against her brother for an alleged case of sexual molestation. I also took this into account
After having waited for a month, Rachel Dolezal finally agreed to do an interview with me. I never tried to trap her or attack her in any way as I wanted to ask questions from a European, less race-obsessed point of view. We talked about her experience, her views on Blackness as well as her opinions about the colonial politics of the United States in the Middle East and Africa. This is the content.
Were you aware of the light skin privilege among the black community?
Would you say you benefited from it directly?
Would you say most African Americans gave you the platform for some of them are secretly obsessed with light skin mesiah fantasy?
I believe my promotions in (unpaid) advocacy work were primarily based on my strong track record of commitment to the cause of racial and social justice more than my appearance, but I cannot speak for the intentions of everyone who supported my leadership. I think there was some jealousy over the light-skinned issue among women and also some suspicion about loyalty to the cause due to my complexion, which were obstacles to my leadership I had to overcome. I would say that light-skinned leaders have to be even more militant and committed to supporting the Black community, understanding history, and even demonstrating a comprehension of the destructive effects of colorism as a tenet of racism, in order to be elevated as a leader in the Black community. You have to pay your dues in ways that offset your melanin deficit to demonstrate that you completely understand and are down with shoring up the disproportionalities in education, healthcare, criminal justice, economics, and political representation. And, it’s important to use your leadership to empower other leaders, especially youth, which is something I’m proud to have accomplished. Many great leaders like DuBois, Douglass, Rosa Parks, and even Malcolm X and Angela Davis were light & bright but Black & proud.
They received some haterade within the community as well as opposition from whites, and I think it’s much the same today for such leaders in advocacy work. There is some privilege when it comes to being more trusted in the white community as a Black leader (white people feel safer because they assume you have some white relatives therefore will not see all white folk as the devil – this is helpful in networking to bring in donations to fund the work), and there is some privilege in beauty standards within the Black community (good hair, redbone, high-yella etc. are still seen by some as preferable features), but that privilege has to be checked to gain trust for leadership, so it’s kind of a double-edged sword. No one has time for “light-skinned tears,” so you have to check any pain or issues you face for the sake of the larger issues of the community and the cause of ending white supremacy in all its expressions via racism and colorism. I remain no less committed to this Cause than I was in May 2015, before people came to know I had white parents.
What disgusts you the most about White mentality and the One Drop Rule?
The very idea of the race worldview, that human beings are so different in terms of racialized categories that their behaviors can be determined by their appearance. The idea of race is racist, it is white supremacist to believe in a hierarchical ranking of humans, and that’s the very basis of the race worldview and many historic oppressions.
When it comes to the One Drop Rule, I find this to be hypocritical. How does one drop of “Black blood” make a person Black but one drop of “white blood” not make a person white? It’s all about protecting the stranglehold that whites have on power and privilege. And, after all, “one drop of Black blood” is such an unscientific statement or idea. We have blood types, not blood races. Someone recently told me that when he was 11 years old (now he’s 55), he received a life-saving blood transfusion from a Black woman. He said ever since he’s considered himself part Black (though he was born white) under the one-drop-rule. That was an interesting twist, but it exposes the fallacy of the whole idea of some sort of fundamental race difference.
Why are the media so uninterested about the real reasons your parents outed you?
I think no one even stopped to question them because they are white and claim their whiteness. People associate whiteness with truth and goodness, so everyone rushed to judge me and didn’t think about their motives. I also think the media wanted to stir the pot of racial controversy and did so at my expense, without caring about what it cost me and my children.
Why did they take so long?
They still haven’t really addressed this. No one is on a mission to ruin their lives; most media seems still bent on shaming and ridiculing me, making me an example so no one else steps out of the racial bounds or across the color line without knowing they will be punished too.
Did you pay the price for escapism, since America still refuses to put an end to ethnic categorization?
I absolutely paid the price for crossing the color line in America. I don’t view my journey as “escapist” though, but rather as a path of self-definition and resistance against oppression.
Would you say you backed down by calling yourself TransBlack and not Black anymore?
No, I still go by Black. I’m willing to accept the TransBlack label if that seems more “truthful” to others (it suggests I was born white but identify as Black). Melissa Harris-Perry suggested the term in a discussion about my identity. I don’t want to offend people and am not ashamed of how I was born, but I identify as Black, so if TransBlack is less offensive or communicates my life journey more fully, I’m ok with that as a label. I think time will tell whether we will expand our race & culture vocabulary around identity, or if we will shed the race categories altogether and stick to cultural labels or something else.
What difference do you make between African American and Black?
African-American in my view is a term that is limited by time (only after emancipation and only to people who live in America who are direct descendants of those who were of African origin and were once enslaved in America). Black is a term that has global connection and extends beyond race in the Pan-African Diaspora. So, African-Americans would receive reparations for slavery but not all Black people living in America would (aka anyone identifying as Black who moved here after 1865, which includes me). Black is a beautiful culture and a philosophy of liberation and empowerment, a state of mind that underscores overcoming oppression and undoing racism. As Steve Biko said, “Black is not pigmentation; it’s a mental attitude.”
Did you pay the price for America’s race obsession?
Yes, I have paid a price for America’s race obsession, though I don’t consider myself special or an ultimate victim in that regard. I’m still paying a steep price for not embracing whiteness. I’m shamed every day for embracing Blackness. And yet, there are many who have been tortured, raped and lynched historically and many who are incarcerated, some shot dead in the street and others denied opportunities still today because of America’s racist race obsession. I’m 100% committed to the cause, which means taking the good with the bad in the fight to end white supremacy.
Your views about the colonial tactics used by the American government to lead the world and foment war? (SYRIA AFRICA etc).
Neo-colonialism, nationalism and imperialism are alive and well under the current American administration; there is no doubt about that. It is a sad and completely unacceptable state of affairs for European countries, China, and the U.S. to re-initiate another Scramble for Africa. Carving up the continent for financial gain while exploiting the people with no regard to the value for human life is no doubt a modern form of racist practice. I believe if the worldview of race crumbles, the very foundation of colonial oppression will fall, because colonialism always was based on a sense of entitlement due to the invented racial hierarchy. If the world acknowledged Africa as the sacred continent of our human origins, the very life force for our existence as human beings around the world, perhaps we would find more joy out of seeing the people and land across the continent empowered and flourishing.
Since you refer to the Bantu Congolese culture in your book do you know any political African leader?
I taught African history for years, so I’m familiar with historic and contemporary leaders by name, but I do not know any African politicians personally. Recently, I was in South Africa and was interested to hear how people there are experiencing life under the current leadership of Zuma.
You recently read a book about Ota Benga who was Congolese. Your thoughts?
Yes, I would recommend Pamela Newkirk’s book, “Spectacle,” to anyone interested in Ota Benga’s story. This heartbreaking story reminded me why it is so hard to hold onto hope in a world where people can be indescribably cruel.
What are your views about African politics?
The relatively recent history of independence from colonial rule, combined with current efforts to re-colonize economies and governments in subversive ways, has left a very challenging situation for many countries. Some countries in the continent have fared better than others or have moved closer to a healthy government state, so I don’t believe the entire continent can be generalized as “African politics.” There are specific geographic, climate and political situations in each region and every country. One of my general concerns about international affairs is that Europe and America always talk about “aid to Africa,” but in reality Africa aids the world in terms of billions in resources and wealth leaving the continent and only a fraction of that being reinvested back.
And finally, would you have passed for Black Mulatta in time of Segregation?
Thank you Rachel Dolezal for this precious interview., May 3rd 2017
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