F*#@ you Rachel Dolezal
I think by now, most everyone is familiar with hearing about Rachel Dolezal, the Spokane NAACP President outed as pretending to be mixed-race black by her white parents. I've read a lot of articles and opinions about this situation. A great take on it via Jezebel by Kara Brown, and other more Native perspectives from Gyasi Ross on Indian Country Today Media Network and Levi Rickert on Native News Online.
What bothers me the most from a personal perspective is the backlash that I imagine other light-skinned multiracial folks may now face based on her deceptions. In fact, it has come to light that Rachel herself is guilty of this type of discrimination. ("Rachel Dolezal Told a Student She 'Didn’t Look Hispanic' Enough")
Those who are multi-racial already have to deal with outside opinions on how they should look/identify/act. They are told they have to pick a side and can't go around being more than one race at a time. They are told they are not "white" enough to be white, and not "black/native/asian" enough to fully be another race.
I recall being a child and hearing my parents talk about how sad it is for mixed-race couples, "because of the children." I'm sure they had good intentions with that comment, but seriously, WTF? Also, did they not realize that their own adopted child was mixed-race?
Growing up as member of a white family, I knew that I was technically part Native. But it was an abstract concept. I had light enough skin and eyes that I could generally pass as white. In spite the fact that I was 1/4 Karuk, I really thought of myself as a white person. And culturally, because of the environment I grew up in, I was (and still am for a large part). But I got to a point as I grew into adulthood where I suddenly realized that I wasn't fully white. And it was a shock to recognize that. I was never going to be white enough. And, as we all know, white people don't like being told they can't do something or be someone. They aren't raised like that. They aren't used to that. I wasn't used to that.
So I've gone through my own experience of struggling with with my racial identity. With feeling like I don't deserve to be white and I don't deserve to be Native. With figuring out who I am, and finding a way to integrate all of the parts of myself together into one identity. With becoming strong enough to say who I am, and not feel like an imposter if somebody disagrees with me.
And I'm so disappointed with what Rachel Dolezal has done, because it cheapens the experience for all of us who actually are of more than one race, and who have to struggle to figure out who we are and where we fit in. The fact that she had to say she was "born in a tipi" to make her Native ancestry seem more authentic to the wider world, or that she claimed her adopted siblings as her own children and wore ethnic hairstyles to pass as black, all of these I find repugnant. It is already hard enough to be white-looking and also not white in the larger world. She has done nothing to help those who will now have to defend their identities more vigorously because they don't appear to be ethnic enough for some people.
And so now, I feel a need to preemptively defend myself here from any future allegations: I did change my first name from "Anthony" to "Fox." And I have grown my hair out and wear it long. And I wouldn't be surprised if someone thought I did these things in an attempt to be more Native. But they were choices made about who I wanted to be as a person, not how I wanted others to perceive me. For instance, I was already changing my last name, and I happened to be watching a lot of X-Files at the time and thought that "Fox" was a pretty badass name. And I went for it. I also just happen to like having long hair. Traditionally, the men of my tribe wore their hair in more of a bowl-cut, so this is not an attempt to connect myself to my ancestors. I tan pretty well, but I'm not out there tanning my skin and dying my hair black to look more Native. And you know what? I'm explaining myself here, even though I don't owe anyone an explanation!
So fuck you Rachel Dolezal. Whatever your intentions, you have managed to do way more harm than good with your actions.