Her problem is not that she identified with Black culture, that she lied about who and what she was. Was it a personal connection with Black and Native culture that led to the misrepresentation, or a disconnect with her own? Honestly, those two sentences are the most thought I’ve given Rachel Dolezal since the story broke. I’ve found the fallout more interesting.
She appeared on the Today Show this morning and stepped around very direct questions from Matt Lauer. This issue, which we’re going to label a ‘race’ issue actually became an American issue. I’d never heard so many white people comfortably use the term ‘white’ or ‘Caucasian’ (which I equate with “Negro” and, by the way, why is it so difficult for so many people to say ‘White” in connection to people?). It’s not often that the Today Show crew has addresses an issue upon which they do not comment. Heaven forbid that the all white crew openly talk about a white women identifying herself as black. That’s a black issue, right?
Black books, Latino books, those are for those readers, right? Please don’t write about being a lesbian, what it truly means to navigate the world as a lesbian and do not explore any issues of identity that relate to race, religion, gender or disabilities. Not entertaining enough, right? 21st century media must entertain.
We debate back and forth about White authors writing characters outside their specific identity. To me, it works when you’ve immersed yourself in that world, but too many think a little research will carry them a long way. And, I also think it works when author’s of color are provided the same opportunity to be published.
So, what happens when an Asian or African American writer creates a character outside their identity? Are these books marketed to White readers? Black? Asian? All of the above? Are these authors seen as sellouts to their skin? Have they mastered the economics of the game? Or, are they creative geniuses?
It matters and I wonder if it will ever, ever not matter.
I try to blog about non-racial issues as often as I can so that my readers will know I don’t think about race constantly and continuously. Seriously, people who know me in real life would wonder who really writes this blog because I hate talking about race. But, I have a mission here and I have children under my wings. Diverse books won’t change the world, but they do expand the complexion of our collective identity and they do get us closer to having that discussion. Who doesn’t want to talk about a good book?
There are conversations that should be had, long overdue conversations that would allow cultural diffusion to continue, for that pot to melt and for people to self identify as they may. The problem is that she lied and the bigger problem is that we don’t let people be who they are.