Written by: BerThaddaeus Maurice P. Bailey
Recently the concept of Blackness was brought to the forefront of trending topics when Rachel Dolezal, a White woman of Czech and German descent and president of Spokane, Washington chapter of NAACP, falsely identified herself as a Black woman.
Dolezal obtained her master’s degree at Howard University, a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). Court documents disclose that in 2002 she filed a civil complaint against the university stating that the university was “permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult”. Her lawsuit claimed discrimination on the grounds of race because she was not offered an assistant teaching post, a post-graduate instructorship and was denied scholarship aid while attending the institution.
Rachel, who said in an interview that she has “identified as Black since the age of five”, inadvertently assisted in raising a vital question for members of the Black community and our Caucasian counterparts, both young and old: “What does it mean to be Black?”
This discussion has engaged people on social media platforms, in the corridors of educational institutions, in homes and during office chats with coworkers. Many took to Twitter to pose challenges to Mrs. Dolezal. As humorous as those challenges were, they reflected common experiences, practices and “innovations” often deemed ghetto by those who are unaware of the fiscally conservative culture of Black America.
While Mrs. Dolezal has obtained her Master’s degree from a prestigious Black university, she failed to grasp the true meaning of “Blackness”.
Blackness cannot be found in curls, braids or the color of one’s hair. It is much more than texture patterns. The complexion of one’s skin tone is not a qualifying factor for being Black. After all, CNN’s Soledad Obrien is often mistaken for Caucasian, yet her mother is Black Cuban and her father is Australian. The hourglass curve, or lack thereof, does not yield one “more Black” than another. The use of creative and unique language has no bearing on this concept. Attending historically black universities and other institutions with large concentrations of Blacks will not qualify you. Mrs. Dolezal wanted to embody “Blackness” by objectifying it to mere physical features, speech and characterizations, while neglecting the fundamental qualifying aspect. “Blackness” is the underlying shared experience between members of the same ethnic identity. It is an experience of struggle and oppression, faced in large sums by our ancestors and parents. We are the products and posterity of their struggle for today’s freedoms and liberties. For Blacks in America, freedom was far from free. Our ancestors footed the hefty bill for the luxuries we enjoy as liberated Blacks. Because of them, our being Black is no longer interchangeable with being property.
And so Dear Mrs. Dolezal,
You are perpetrating, impersonating, imitating, posing, and mimicking the struggle of our ancestors; 450,000 of whom were shipped to this country and enslaved, 3,500 of whom were lynched. You have attempted to make a mockery of the invaluable history of our precious culture and identity. Mrs. Dolezal, you are not Black! You have had exerted your privilege by identifying with our race, whenever it benefits you to do so.
It is imperative that you note that while many have participated with and advocated for issues pertaining to Blacks in America, most have not fabricated their identity to claim Black heritage– you do not have to assimilate to advocate.
More importantly, it is my earnest hope and prayer that you someday learn to accept and love yourself for who God designed you to be – Rachel Dolezal.
BerThaddaeus Bailey is a native of Tulsa, OK and a senior at the University of Oklahoma pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. He is a nationally recognized orator who moves and motivates the masses towards social action. On campus, he serves as Executive Director for the Department of Diversity, Mr. Black University of Oklahoma, President of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and an honoree of the 100 Black Men of Tulsa. This summer, BerThaddaeus is serving in the office of Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX).