How Rachel Dolezal Just Made Things Harder for Those of Us Who Don't "Look Black"

Because I appear white to most people, I already get asked the dumbest questions you can imagine about race. Now it’s only going to get worse.
Publish date:
June 15, 2015
race, Rachel Dolezal

I am biracial. Yes, the very white-looking person you see in the picture above has a black mother and a white father. They are my biological parents, and there’s a zero percent chance of them coming forward and saying that I’m lying about it, unlike the parents of NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal, who, as you might have heard, has allegedly been pretending to be black for years.

And she's ruining it for us biracial and light-skinned folk.

My brothers are darker than me, but still on the light-skinned side of things. One brother is a tall, lanky musician with dreads all the way down his back, while the other is a musclehead that looks more like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson than he does me. I may look lighter than them, but there’s no way any human can be in the room with us and not know that we are biologically related. We look alike, we sound alike, and we all have the same twisted sense of humor.

The thing is, when I was growing up, I had no idea that I looked white. Call that whatever you like. Call it naiveté. Call it an identity crisis. I call it good parenting. My parents did not raise me to judge a book based on its cover, so I’ve always had trouble being able to distinguish “colors.”

The more unfortunate side of the story is that I grew up being made fun of for being black for a long time. I grew up in a small town where everyone knows your business, and we were one of the few black families in town. I got called all the names. All of them. Oreo, zebra, the n-word, Brillo Pad (for my then-curly hair, which was never curly enough to be likened to a Brillo Pad)—I could go on. And as a kid, I bought into those names, like any child would.

If you had asked me in high school what my race was, I would not have said I was biracial. I would’ve told you I was black. It wasn’t until college that my friends said, “Uh, you know that you don’t look black, right?" I had no idea! I laugh about it now.

But now, Rachel Dolezal is ruining it for people like me.

I already get asked the dumbest questions you can imagine about race. I think that now, with Dolezal's little antics, it’s only going to get worse. People already give me the side eye if I tell them that I am biracial. Am I going to have to carry some form of identification? You know people are going to ask me to “prove my blackness” now.

I am honored to be the one my white friends go to when they have questions about black people. I love my friends, and I know that the questions are generally harmless. But then there are the “friends"—the people I don’t know all that well, who I’m friends with on social media and share an occasional beer with. When they start to ask questions, I get really nervous about where the conversation is going.

And forget about the complete strangers who think they can ask me personal, invasive questions about race. Or the things you hear people say when they have no clue that you’re biracial. That’s when you see what real assholes people can be.

Let me give you some fun examples of what people say to me, just in case you’re curious:

  • “But you don’t look black," in a tone like some kind of compliment.
  • “Well you have the best of both worlds because you have good hair and a big butt.” Besides being racially offensive, tell any woman on earth that she has a big butt and you deserve to rot.
  • “You can’t be offended about that because you are white.” 1. I’m not white, I’m biracial. 2. Don’t downplay what I went through in life, because you don’t know me. 3. Who is even 100% white any more in America? 4. No matter what color you are, you have every right to be offended when someone is a bigot.
  • “So what will you do if you have a baby and it comes out black?” This is actually one of the most frequent questions that I’m asked. The problem with the question is the underlying racism involved. Like a black baby is any less amazing than a white baby? (And don’t get me started on the assumption that just because I’m a woman I have plans to procreate.)

Rachel, these are the types of idiotic questions people ask me every day of my life. Can you imagine, for one second, the kinds of questions I’m going to get now that you’ve spent years posing as a black woman?

And, girl, you passed. You sure as shit look more "ethnic" than I do. Was that a perm? Who does your spray tans? I get a golden glow like that about two months out of the year here in New York, so I have no clue how you managed to rock that year round in Spokane. Your Glam Squad must be damn good.

But all kidding aside, you should know that conversations about race are precarious, even in 2015. You should know that because of what you do for a living. Did you think that you couldn’t make an impact on the world because of your race? Well, I guess minorities probably feel that way every day.

The thing that is most concerning to me, though, is the welfare of the people who have really struggled. So what if I was called some names when I was little? So what that I still have fools asking me dumb questions all the time? My life is not so bad. But there are minorities struggling in our country every day that need a voice. You were supposed to be one of those voices, and now your credibility is shot to shit. Who's going to listen to you now? You didn’t have to lie to stick up for those who deserve a fighting chance.

I’m not pleased that this game you've been playing is going to make people think that they can ask me even more invasive questions about my racial identity, but I am not afraid of who I am. I am not afraid to stick up for people who need it. I am not afraid to voice my opinion on any matter, even race, because I’m one of the people who think all should be equal.

For now, I’m going to take this stunt as a compliment. I’ll interpret it as you finding black women beautiful, because they are. I’ll overlook your lie and hope that it doesn’t hurt your office’s credibility. But stop the lying. Tell the world who you are. If you’re confused about who that is, it’s OK to say that out loud. We’re not going to be offended if you tell us you wanted to be black. Just stop lying and start using all that time and energy to stand up for people.