Rachel Dolezal may make it out of this embarrassing escapade yet. She resigned her position as an NAACP chapter president, but there are reports that she’s in talks for reality television shows and will soon be hiring an agent and a publicist.
And some prominent liberal intellectuals are buying her charade — even as both sides struggle for coherence. Tuesday night in an interview with MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, both interviewer and interviewee did their best to justify Dolezal’s nonsense and ever-unspooling deceptions.
Remember when Harris-Perry and her fellow panelists mocked Mitt Romney and his adopted black grandson? The MSNBC host asked Dolezal about, well, something about parenting a black child while white yet sort of black:
MHP: Help me to understand why you see a distinction between, on the one hand, being a white person raising and rearing black children, whether those children are initially your siblings, or whether they’re your bio-children, or whether they’re your adopted children — right, all the different ways we make family — versus feeling in your own skin, in your own personhood, that you are yourself black.
RD: Right. I felt very isolated with my identity virtually my entire life, that nobody really got it. And that I didn’t really have the personal agency to express it, and certainly I kind of imagined that, maybe at some point, especially after the kids were graduated from high school and in their adult stride, that maybe I’d be able to really process that, own it publicly, and discuss this kind of complexity. But certainly, you know, I wasn’t expecting it to be thrust upon me right now.
Harris-Perry also brought up her viewers’ quite palpable outrage and their accusations of “cultural appropriation”:
MHP: When you talk about, when you respond to my question, ‘Are you black?’ and your response is ‘Yes,’ there are listeners who are enraged. Not confused — enraged. And many of those listeners, many of those observers who are angry, are black women. Can you understand that anger?
“Deception” seems more apt than “appropriation,” but Dolezal was into it:
RD: Yes. And I would say, stepping outside of myself, I would probably be enraged. I’d be like, what the, this person, how dare she claim this? But, they don’t know me — they really don’t know what I’ve actually walked through and how hard it is. This has not been something that just is a casual come-and-go sort of identity, or an identity crisis, or something that’s going to fade away, and people have asked, like, are you going to go back to being white? If you’re rejected by the black community, what do you do? Uh, I’ll be me. Because, I feel like, at the same time, I never want to be a liability to the cause, and I take that very seriously in consideration. There’s so much to just process with going from being celebrated as a black woman and loving how that feels, by all the students that I mentor. And, feeling like, I can be me, and they get me, and I get them, and we talk about, you know, Iggy Azalea and cultural appropriation and all these things. You know, I teach race and culture classes, I teach black studies, I teach black feminism…
MHP: So you have a critique of cultural appropriation?
MHP: Because you are currently being criticized as a racial appropriator.
RD: Right, and I get it. I get it.
Harris-Perry then asked Dolezal about what blackness is and how it relates to parentage:
MHP: When I asked you, ‘Are you black?’ and you affirmed, yes, that you are, and you explained to me what blackness is . . . For many people, race — and for more people than I even expected — race is based in some set of biological realities . . .
MHP: . . . and that it has everything to do with parentage. When you talk about the people who are your parents, who are you talking about?
#related#Here’s where Dolezal attempted to sow even more confusion:
RD: Well, if I’m talking about, like, mom and dad, I don’t really have a mom figure in my life right now. I have a dad, and I’ve talked about him. That was the three second pause, when his picture was pulled out: Is this your father? Are you African-American? . . . Everything from all the related incidents, events, flooded my mind. And I was like, okay, this is not about me. Now is the time for no comment, because I need to step back and see who’s really going to be affected by what I say right now. So, I do acknowledge that the people that raised me are Larry and Ruthanne. I do not feel like they are my mom and dad. And I do think that, hopefully, even if I’m judged or you know, this confusion, anger, about how I identify, I hope people can understand that family is fluid. Those same people probably have nephews, cousins, maybe, have somebody that they identify as, yeah, that’s my family, but they might not be biologically . . .
That wasn’t the end of the bizarre tales about Dolezal’s past:
MHP: What about the stories of your birth origins, that you were born in a teepee, that you spent time living in South Africa, because what you’ve said here, and I think it’s an interesting point, that your racial identity becomes tied up with your credibility, and your credibility is tied up with your capacity to be an advocate. So, I’m asking these questions in part because I want you to be able to help us to understand the credibility part.
RD: Right. And so some of that has really gotten to be being stirred up in a soup. So, to clarify, some of that has been a little bit of creative non-fiction, with regards to what happened, and sequence of events, and dates and so forth. And I’m not sure, I’ve never seen pictures of Ruthanne be pregnant with me, and the birth certificate is a month and a half after I was actually born. And yes, they were living in a teepee and were building the house when I was actually born, and I actually remember, the teepee was actually right across the road from the house. Um, and yes, I had a recurve bow, a compound bow, and there was hunting . . . So like, there’s yes and no on some things, and I get the question of credibility, right . . .
“Creative non-fiction,” indeed. Harris-Perry did call her to account briefly:
MHP: People are saying to me, she’s a con artist. Are you a con artist?
RD: I don’t think so, you know. I don’t think anything I’ve done with regards to the movement, my work, my life, my identity. I mean, it’s all been very thoughtful and careful. Sometimes, decisions have been made for survival reasons or to protect people that I love.
Last but not least, Harris-Perry raised one of her favorite topics of inquiry, black hair:
MHP: So, let me ask you the question that every black woman hates to be asked: What’s up with your hair? Right, so for me, for one of my producers, this was the moment, she was like, ‘I can do all of this, I can stretch, I can try to think about racial identity in this more socially constructed way, but I cannot with the hair,’ because hair goes to this… Even if race is not biological, the experiences of being little black girls dealing with the physiological realities of the difficulty of black hair, man, they feel like core pain. So talk to me about your hair, your hair choices, and also the ways in which you have talked and had a kind of discursive relationship with black hair?
RD: Yeah, well, my hair “journey” has been interesting — certainly I’ve gotten the whole TSA, “You know, but there’s so much of it, we have to search it,” you know, whether it’s the twist-out, the dreads . . .
MHP: So, I gotta pause, I want more, but I want you to stop on the TSA thing for just a second. Because literally my producer said to me, and so I want you to address this, she says, every time that happens to her in the TSA, and they’re in her hair, she feels deeply, profoundly violated, and she said, “[Dolezal] probably likes it because it confirms her black racial identity.”
RD: Oh, hell no, hell no, get your hands out of my hair. And no. Like, you know, no. No. That’s a personal violation.
Well, that’s at least one thing we all have in common with Dolezal: deep and profound personal violations at the hands of the TSA.
— Isaac Cohen is an intern at National Review.