I was intrigued by the recent news and controversies that have revolved around Rachel Dolezal, the US woman who got people believing that she was black and then when it was revealed that she was biologically white, she became the target of many comments. Interestingly enough, Rachel’s controversy happened just about when Caitlyn Jenner made her appearance on Vanity Fair, which was another case that revolved around identity and, more so, self-identity.
I think that in a way these controversies will have a positive impact on the world, but I am sad that we live in a world where a woman who wants to be black causes a media storm. We should be over it by now.
The upside to Rachel’s story was that she received not only bad comments from people from around the world, but also a fair amount of positive comments. And she definitely has my support.
The reason why I totally support Rachel Dolezal and her being black if I may say so is that I don’t see anything wrong with cultural appropriation. Moreover, I actually think that honest and decent cultural appropriations are definitely going to be the future. I mean, so many young people these days are obsessed with Japanese and Asian cultures: they speak the language, they listen to k-pop, they know all the stars, practice aikido and judo and I am sure that if they could, they would look Asian as well. And, as long as they’re not hurting anyone, that is OK. Rachel’s case is no different.
Of course, having a different identity than one is thought to have or is expected to have can cause personal dramas, if other people are feeling deceived – and in this case, I believe that the person who is claiming to belong to a different culture or personal identity should be the one responsible to make the people around them comfortable. But otherwise, everyone can go for it.
I, for one, don’t consider myself to be very Romanian, culturally speaking either. But that’s another story.
Back to Rachel Dolezal and everyone who adheres to an identity that is not aligned with their context, we must understand the reasons why people get so perplexed. First of all, someone having another identity than they appear activates our instinctive fear of the unknown, which is only natural. Not knowing something makes us consider that possibility that that thing can be dangerous. Secondly, we tend to feel left out and that we are missing on something, which is more of a cultural thing and thirdly, and here is where some people are right, cultural appropriation can sometimes be insulting.
Taking on being someone you are not originally can become offensive and must always be done with tact. For example, one should never consider himself as part of a strong and long lineage of people – that indeed can be offensive.
This being said, I wish that people would get it as fast as possible that many of the things we consider nature are in fact culture: gender, sexuality, race, etc. – these are all cultural constructs that can be moved, molded and shifted.
As Gloria Steinem said, I hope that 100 years from now, when students will be told that people fought on reasons of ethnicity, that men and women had different roles in society and that people were judged according to their faith or other elements, the students will have a hard time understanding that this was actually a reality.
To end this, I would like to leave you with a great interpretation by the great B.D. Wong of “William’s Doll” from the “Free to Be You and Me” TV special by Marlo Thomas.