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The Tragedy of Rachel.


I started writing a blog post on Rachel Dolezal. It was harsh. It was judgmental. It was a little mean-spirited. It was… honest, but maybe it was a truth not worth telling.

Part of what I hope to develop in my life is a sensitivity to the way that other people experience the world, even if I find their experience utterly baffling.

Look, I think the woman is either in desperate need of intense therapy or… well, yeah I think that’s the only option I have for her. Because whether she believes what she’s saying or she’s saying things to milk her fifteen minutes, she still has to unpack the baggage of identity that she’s carrying around, just as we all do.

The core of this story is a woman denying her foundational roots. For whatever reason, she has rejected her earthly source. She identifies as something “other” from her parentage. That, in and of itself, is tragic and not that uncommon. We all have that moment when we say that “I don’t want to be anything like my parent(s)”. Most of us will not take it to this extent. We’ll choose a different faith path, a different career, adopt different values. For most of us though, we snap back like a rubber band. Both nature and nurture are hard to escape. For one to so greatly distance oneself from their point of origin, there can’t be anything but heartbreak there.

What I don’t approve of when it comes to this story is the deception. A lot of people invested heavily in Rachel’s lie. It has to be called that. there was a willful misrepresentation committed. And some people were hurt by it. I don’t know that you can make a legitimate trek toward finding your true identity while perpetuating a lie. It’s never worked for me, anyway.  The good that she may have done will always be scrutinized. She will have an asterisks next to her name in the record books for using blackness enhancing substances.

It’s quite possible to feel more comfortable in a culture that is not your own. I was a black kid raised in the suburbs. I often feel more comfortable around white people, particularly socially-conscious, left-leaning white people. I don’t want to be them. I want them and my black peers to appreciate that I’ve experienced my blackness under unique circumstances. It hasn’t always been a pleasant journey, but it is mine and it is authentic. I don’t doubt that Rachel has a comfort-ability and kinship with black people that comes from having adopted siblings. I do think that there is something legitimate and authentic under all of this, but somewhere in the journey for the authentic self, something got lost or damaged.

I wonder how much more good Rachel could have done had she come to terms with her privilege and identity. I wonder what would have happened had she literally found comfort in her own skin. She could have been an amazing ally. She could have marched in Ferguson and Baltimore in solidarity. She could have been active in the NAACP and taught Africana studies from a place of a compassionate outsider that may have allowed her voice to be heard in some arenas that are closed off from African Americans. The more I reflect on this story, the more tragic it seems.

Maybe I am still being too judgmental. I really don’t know what is in this woman’s heart or mind. My hope for her is that she finds peace. I hope that she finds places where she feels at home. I hope that she finds her authentic community that will love her through whatever storm she finds herself in. I hope that she will know herself, beyond skin or culture, to be loved.

About derricklweston

Father of two. I co-host God Complex Radio, a show highlighting progressive voices in the faith community. (godcomplexradio.com) I am an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church USA. I like lots of stuff. Sometimes I write about that stuff.


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