Politics & Media
Feb 19, 2024, 06:27AM

What We Did to Rachel Dolezal

The moment of maximum wokeness delivered a spectacle of pointless cruelty, which continues.

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The race traitor and race experimentalist Rachel Dolezal recently hit the news again, fired as a teacher because she was working on OnlyFans. This amounts to the last attempt—or let's say more hopefully, the most recent attempt—by the world-famous pariah to make a living. Plenty of people think she shouldn't be permitted to.

Looking back on it, what we did to Dolezal is incomprehensible and unforgivable. We took a difficult and struggling local person from Spokane who’d devoted her life to racial justice and turned her into a symbol, a scapegoat, a cultural explosion, and above all an emblem of American racism, circa 2015. To take a typical example of high culture ultra-cruelty: even years after it broke, Doreen St. Félix, the television critic the of The New Yorker called Dolezal a "minstrel" and ridiculed photos of her nursing her son, managing no human decency or self-reflection. Trying to drive Dolezal, now known as Nkechi Amare Diallo, to suicide seemed to be everyone's hobby for a few years.

I wonder whether I need to summarize the case, and unfortunately I'm doing what I'm saying shouldn’t be done: that is, hold this woman up to more scrutiny. Maybe the fact that she fetched up on OnlyFans confirms what you always thought about Dolezal. But her desperation was all too real. "Race Faker Claims She Can't Find a Job" reported the Daily Express two years ago. You picture the editors asking themselves—for reasons that remain a bit mysterious—how they can make a contribution, no matter how slight, to starving Dolezal to death.

Try this as an exercise, New Yorker and Daily Express writers: think about what it would be like to be Rachel Dolezal. You can't? You won't? This is rudimentary moral training I'm suggesting: just basic empathy and humanity. You must admit that your own treatment of this woman is a signal failure of those things. I'd suggest re-education, but all the educators apparently agree with you.

It's nearly 10 years since the Dolezal story broke, but we're still chasing her down and hounding her. There's no place to move that we won't find her, no way to make a living that we can't interrupt, no way for her to heal or reflect or live: just the permanent internet posse waiting to try to kill her again. I can't imagine what this has been like, and I admire Dolezal for surviving. If there were some way for me to offer her a new life and identity, I'd do that. Meanwhile, we need to think about what we were doing to people circa 2015, and how we can improve.

By far the most interesting question about the Dolezal affair is why the world went mental. To bring in American Fiction, a novel and film about racial enforcement, what's interesting—what's really wrong and dangerous—is not her pathology, but ours: not her tortured identity, but our devotion to race enforcement. Doreen St. Félix, like so any others, responds to her viscerally, immediately, with no serious attempt to justify or even explain her response, and no sense that she's engaged in cruelty: just overwhelmed outrage that a, or the, central cultural taboo of America has been violated.

Of interest too is where American culture stood in 2015, as "woke" and "cancel" culture broke out across the internet and the college campus. As the Dolezal debacle demonstrates, this amounted to the worst social justice movement of all times, partly driven by the simplistic "insight" that "representation matters." The point was to grab or manufacture definite individual symbols of culture-wide problems. Then by pushing pins into that symbol or lobbing it onto a bonfire, the culturewide problem could be ameliorated. It was the era of the Twitter lynch mob.

A couple of years after Dolezal broke, at the college where I worked a grainy picture was posted to Facebook that purportedly, allegedly, or apparently showed a white freshman in a Colin Kaepernick Halloween costume who’d darkened his face. The campus exploded in a movement to have the student expelled. The history of blackface was a terrible history of which the faculty and students were no doubt unaware, said the dean's memo, and this kid needed to take responsibility for that. The woke conception of fighting for racial justice was putting some poor 18-year-old whose hero was Colin Kaepernick in stocks on the quad and spending a year throwing stuff at him.

Predictably, this kind of demented cruelty aimed at particular people does nothing for racial justice, though it does a lot to make people afraid to express, or even to be, themselves. That Rachel Dolezal is still trying to present herself, still trying to make and hold an identity, is beginning to take on a heroic quality. Survival, as even woke people might realize, can itself be resistance.

The Dolezal controversy could’ve led to a number of rich insights about the nature of race in the US, and also the nature of gender. For the very same wokesters who regard a racial transition as impossible and the whole concept as disgusting and racist, also hold that gender identities are self-selected and can change with your preferred pronouns. But the conversation could hardly break out, even among philosophers, without more witch hunts, conducted by America's race police, also known as "the faculty."

The main law of our apartheid, loved by the far right and the far left equally: YOU SHALL NOT PASS. There's a wall between the races that no one can get over or around. If you try, we'll just roll out more razor wire. The great segregationists of the past wanted to make sure no person with any black ancestry could pass themselves off as white. The social justice warriors of 2017 wanted to make sure no white person passes themselves off as black. But it's the very same wall they've all been working on.

Race does need enforcement. Skin tone isn’t always a reliable guide to ancestry, and it can be altered. The black/white spectrum is continuous: every mix is actual. There are lots of obscure and ambiguous cases. White people and black people, oddly, can have babies together. White and black cultures are both mixed and non-distinct, and you might be a white person who went to all-black schools or vice versa, or a white person with black siblings.

Or, for that matter, you might be a white person who hates being white, precisely because whiteness is the essence of racial oppression. You might be a white person who thinks whiteness is wrong, who doesn't want to have white values and who eventually tries to show that with their outer presentation and comportment. And in this case, also devotes herself to racial justice in the most serious and sincere way.

Now, you might be expressing this wrongly, or pathologically. But it’s a good thing to express. In many dimensions, what we did to Rachel Dolezal is far worse than what Dolezal did, both a spectacular act of gratuitous cruelty and itself a screeching piece of racism, because it’s a serious attempt to enforce American apartheid.

Only Rihanna, whose mother is Afro-Guyanese and whose father is a Barbadian of African, Irish, English, and Scottish descent, did better.

Follow Crispin Sartwell on X: @CrispinSartwell

  • I think most of the animus against Dolezal was that she seemed to represent both (1) the racial spoils system where being black (now maybe surpassed by illegal immigrant) gets you taxpayer funded benefits and (2) the perpetual dishonesty and hypocrisy of so called "progressives," where a white woman like Senator Warren or Dolezal claims to be non-white to get jobs or other benefits.

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  • Another way to describe the animus towards Rachel Dolezal is that she was a white woman pretending to be black.

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