How Quickly We Forget
Rachel Dolezal, apparently of caucasic origin but who wished to be seen as black, has resigned from her leadership post at the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The Times reports that Ms. Dolezal told Matt Lauer on the Today Show that “I identify as black.”
Ms. Dolezal wished to pass as black though her position was fraught with danger.
Passing, in the sense of adopting a different racial persona, has a lengthy American history.
For the most part it was blacks who were attempting to pass as white as opposed to the other way around.
That’s what makes the Dolezal case interesting; that we now live in a society where a white would wish to pass as a black.
Is it evidence of a post-racial ethos or just an oddity?
19th century passing was all about making it in a “white world.”
Black Africans in a city like Washington, DC were relegated to the lowest rungs of the socio-economic scale largely due to their deep skin color.
Mulattos, octaroons and quadroons enjoyed an easier time of it, both within and without black society.
Indeed, the lighter skin blacks often attempted to pass as white with some success.
Historian Constance Green tells of Washington’s racially segregated National Theater having to hire a black usher who knew black Washington well in order to “weed out” attempted passers.
Blacks also self-segregated by racial tone with lighter blacks avoiding those of darker colors in a version of caste society.
Color and Identity
Dolezal, or the reaction to her “outing”, proves that we are strongly attached to the notion of racial identity.
Perhaps some of the white concern is about her pseudo, and cosmetic miscegenation.
It may be okay for a black to be white but the other way around is perhaps fraught with suspicion and the freighted archetype of lusty and elicit encounters.