The Internet is aflutter with news of how Rachel Dolezal, head of the NAACP chapter of Spokane, Washington, is not African-American. The uproar isn't -- we're told -- caused by Dolezal's race, more that she seems to have actively promoted herself as black, all the while being a person of Caucasian heritage. While the deception is noteworthy, I can't help but feel there's some genuine disdain for a woman who isn't of color heading a chapter of the NAACP. Perhaps I'm too cynical?
It is unclear what drives a person of one ethnicity to go to great lengths to pass as another but, more than anything, I feel sorry for anyone who does. It's obviously they're unhappy with themselves in some regard. Whatever caused Rachel Dolezal to pull an opposite of Soul Man, I hope she is able to find some sort of peace and self-worth that isn't derived from ethnic origins. Indeed, letting our ethnicity consume our identities would seem to be folly of the highest order.
It's no secret that racial/ethnic divisions are -- and have been -- as common to our human struggle as the rising and setting of the sun. For whatever reason, we fear the 'other.' If one ethnicity is able to gain a foothold on the rung of the power, then it typically spells rough times ahead for the other ones. While it's true that there can be some biological difference between races (one race may have a higher propensity for high blood pressure or cholesterol), it ultimately doesn't matter who we are ethnically or what we look like.
Or, it shouldn't matter. And there's the rub.
Take myself as an example: My father was black, my mother was white. On dad's side of the family we have some Native American ancestry. On mom's side, we have a family who came over from Hungary. For the sake of expedience, I consider myself to be bi-racial, white & black, but could claim much more. I'm a mutt. So are a lot of folks. Many of us have a multi-ethnic, multi-national heritage. I wish we'd embrace that more -- truly embrace it.
Honestly, the notion of unilaterally defining ourselves by our ethnicity seems absurd. Persons such as myself, President Obama, Halle Berry, Mariah Carey, etc. are the norm, not the exception. We're pretty much all blended, folks. Taking-on a racial/ethnic identity is a societal construct, not a natural outcome. What it means to "be black" (just to use that as an example) means something different in Africa than it does in the United States. It means something still different in the U.K., and so on and so forth.
'What you're saying is that anyone who identifies themselves by race is dumb?' I can hear you ask. Alas, no.
Unfortunately, there can be more than one reality. My reality is that I am multi-racial. Fact. End of story. That does not, however, preclude me from understanding the other reality that exists, the one where I've been called the 'n' word at a water fountain in a small town, where I was told (by a gay man no less!) that I am "the product of race traitors and should be hung from a tree," the reality of a white school teacher telling me that my hair "felt like carpet." This other reality, the one of our societal/social construct, is that race/ethnicity plays a role in our everyday lives.
So, we define ourselves and judge others by race? That's just how it is? Wrong. It may be how the world works, but it doesn't have to be. If humanity has one defining trait, it's that it strives to better itself. The journey isn't always easy, and it's difficult not to lose faith, but we have to continue to push forward.
The next time you have to complete a form that asks for your ethnicity, leave it blank. Does it matter? Sure. But it shouldn't matter, and that's more than just a platitude. It's time we worked together on dropping the inconsequential constructs that define and divide us.
I am Matt, a human being. Who are you?