Both Dolezal and Smith maintain they are African American and Native American (Cherokee) respectively, which is their right. However, Rachel does not seem to have any blood kinship ties to any person of African American descent and twice, reportedly, Andrea Smith failed to meet the 1/8192 blood quantum minimum required to be certified as Cherokee. That’s not a typo: 1/8192. In addition, neither Dolezal nor Smith (allegedly) had to endure the barrage of racist messages Black and Native American children receive about their lack of worth, intelligence, and capacity to be fully human and agents of change. That’s not a read – that’s just the truth.
Regardless of our opinions of these two controversies, this is an important opportunity for the anti-racist community to ask ourselves some difficult questions.
- How many of us prefer diversifying spaces with people in bodies that do not disturb our literal vision of who should be included prestigious schools, organizations, or media outlets?
- What work have we done on our campuses and in our organizations, to include the differently-abled, the browner skinned, the sized, or the gender non-conforming (which is not the same as trans)?
- How many of us feel validated in our social justice values by the presence of people who physically reflect mainstream standards of beauty?
- Have we so internalized White supremacist ideology that we are more comfortable with leadership that looks nothing like many of us do?
- When we see ourselves in the mirror, do we honestly love what we see? So much so that we want to see our full lips, broad noses, almond shaped eyes, regional twangs, dark skin, snapping fingers, and thick thighs reflected in others?
I’ve included a photograph of Dorian Corey because I first became aware of the concept of realness through the film Paris is Burning. Although I don’t know anything about her kin, I imagine the fact that Corey lived in a segregated neighborhood, was likely the victim of a transphobic attack against which she defended herself but never felt comfortable calling the police, and (in my opinion) never received the recognition she deserved as a performer, are indicators that she was also likely #ActualBlack. Paris is Burning – directed by Jennie Livingston – documented gay men and trans women in the late ‘80s who sought to emulate the cis-gendered, upper class, White community they had little opportunity to know in person but were acquainted with through mainstream media depictions of that lifestyle. To be real, Corey explained, enabled members of her community to get home “with all their clothes, in one piece.”
In the world, for people of color being able to blend into mainstream institutions is the difference between life and death – not professor positions and book awards.
With that I’ll raise my glass to those of us who are still striving to bring all of ourselves everywhere we are. To the White allies who are working for human rights the hard way: continuously questioning their privilege, calling out racism in the White community, and putting themselves in spaces where they bear witness to the justifiable frustration and hurt people of color feel. To my fellow people of color, who insist on the right to be real 24/7 – however we define it – and make it home alive.
What do you think of the Dolezal and Smith controversies? Comment below or Tweet us @PPupil.
Yours in Solidarity,
Robin J. Hayes
Writer/Director, Black and Cuba
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