In the countless articles and conversations about Rachel Dolezal, so many have wondered why ol’ girl would pretend to be black.
I can’t tell if they mean that question genuinely, like, “Like who in their right mind would put on this ruse for a decade?” Or is it self-depreciating like, “Why would anyone in their right mind want to be black, given the burdens of being such?”
I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt and hope most folks mean the former, not the latter. And to answer that, I’ve got a theory that goes beyond, “Um, duh. Because black women are inherently awesomene!”
My conclusion: Rachel Dolezal’s social capital goes even further as a light-skinned, blue-eyed black girl even than a white girl who’s down for the cause.
Stay with me.
In college, my bestie had a roommate, a white girl, who loved black guys and all things black culture. “Mary” was raised in a lilly-white cow town, somewhere way out in Maryland that, despite growing up in Maryland, I’d never heard of.
And despite proclaiming a love for all things black, Mary didn’t really get black people, especially women.
One day she burst into my dorm room without knocking and yelled, “Where yo baby daddy?” There was a popular song at the time (1997) called “My baby daddy.” It was the first time I’d heard the term. But here was Mary, thinking that because she heard the new term in a song, it must mean all black people spoke this way.
She was that type of white girl.
More Vanilla Ice than Eminem if you understand the (important) distinction.
Uh, no. My roommate chastised her for not knocking, then added, “Hey, do you hear us talking like that?”
Roomie: Then don’t come in here talking that way. We’re in college. Speak like it.
Every time me and bestie, a black girl, went down to Route 1, the local strip where (mostly white) college kids hung out, Mary declined. No interest. Every time we went to the popular black clubs in DC at the time — DC Live, VIP, The Bank or The Ritz — Mary was the first one dressed.
It was interesting partying with her. Mary wasn’t unattractive, but she wasn’t stunning. She was about average. And yet, black guys would clamber over each other and stumble over themselves to get her attention, spit game, and/or dance with her. Part of it is because of the stereotype about white girls being easy, treating oral sex as casually as a kiss, and having (daddy’s) money they freely spend to trick on their black boyfriends. The other part of it is the surprisingly common belief that snagging “a white girl” is some kind trophy-worthy accomplishment.
So of course she liked partying with black folk. Her otherness made her exotic, and her social capital and white privilege were magnified in a room full of color-struck black guys far more so than in a room full of white boys. She was a unicorn instead of just another horse.
This is why I think Rachel Dolezal, another white girl from a cow-town, would be enamored with being around black folk. Now, why she would go the extra step to “pass” as a black woman?
A lot of black folks still think “white is (closer to) right.” Blame it on slavery, if you wish. But the result is: blue-eyed white girl Rachel? Meh. Dime a dozen. Blue-eyed black girl Rachel? Four leaf clover.
There are other factors at play here beyond aesthetics. Healthy doses of racism and the resulting unfavorable economics for black folk have resulted in a somewhat skewed versions of success when it comes for us vs. them.
Another story: I lived overseas once with five roommates. We were all sitting in the living room, and one of them, the other black girl, began speaking to another (white) roommate who was also from Maryland. “I don’t get the obsession with PG County,” the black roommate said. “Like the black people there are so bourgeoisie.” (It was a dig. She knew I was from PG.)
Prince George’s County is one of the wealthiest and degreed black counties in the nation. It’s the east coast version of Los Angeles’ Ladera Heights (which Frank Ocean sings about in “Sweet Life,” calling it “the Black Beverly Hills.”). That said, it might be one of the richest black counties, but it’s only slightly above average in terms of money and degrees in comparison to the overall white counties in the state.
(Yet) another story: I used to work for Essence. When I’d meet a black woman of any age and say I worked there, she’d go “OMG! Essence?!” She was impressed. I’d tell a white person 30-50, the core age demo of the publication, and she’d ask, “What’s Essence?”
I tell you this to make this point: White girl with a double degree? (Rachel hold a master’s from Howard University.) Good for you. Black girl with a double degree? Among black people, you’re deemed bourgeoisie, a part of the New Talented Tenth, and you get on the radar of the Links.
Chris Rock made a joke about this set up, something like, “Tom Hanks is an amazing actor, but Denzel Washington is a god to his people.”
As an educated, blue-eyed, mixed-race-looking black woman operating in black spaces, Rachel Dolezal’s social capital extends the farthest. She’s held in higher esteem, gains greater access to influencers, even becoming one in her circle. Perhaps she garners more sexual/marriage interest because of black folks and our collective colorism issues.
She becomes a big fish in the lake as opposed to just another fish in the ocean.