Some days ago, the media and indeed the internet went agog with the story of Rachel Dolezal, a white caucasian female who convinced a lot of people that she was of African descent.
The story in itself came as a surprise to me, because up till that moment, we have dealt with stories of black people trying to fit into the white man’s mold and description of what is beautiful and desirable. We have seen Africans trying to bleach their skin, to speak with the white man’s slur, to eat the white man’s food and generally to promote the white culture. We have even launched campaigns to make sure that our blacks accept themselves as beautiful and not lacking, to love their skin and their hair.
But never before have we seen or heard about a white person, consciously and intentionally give up what is considered as white “privilege” to identify with all the negativity that generally surround being black.
We have heard stories of young people trying to fit in to the media’s depiction of white as good and clean, and black as bad and dirty.
But, no one has ever thought that claiming to be black could get you things, even something like a position in the NAACP.
So, it is understandable that the internet went into a frenzy. It would even be predictable that people would have a hard time wrapping their heads around this disruption of the norms.
Now, I am not against any culture, in fact, I am a product of many of them. I have learnt from all the cultures that I have been brought into contact with. And, I have been around quite a number of them. I was born in African, and have lived outside the continent for the better part of my life. Those who know me will say that there’s a part of me that’s British, there’s another part that is Spanish, there a huge part that is African and there’s an even bigger part that is from everywhere and from nowhere. I have picked up lovely treasures from all these cultures. I have ignored the ones which does not benefit me or help my purpose. I learn, and I identify. I am my own person and I constantly define and redefine who I am and who I want to be and I hope I’ll never have to apologise to anyone about it or to be asked to defend my right to doing that.
And after following the media coverage of the whole Rachel Dolezal thing, and seeing both the outrage by some black communities and the fascination of others by a conscious decision of one young woman to turn herself into something she’s not, I’ve reached certain conclusions.
- I don’t know what led Rachel Dolezal to the decision to choose to see and present herself as a black woman, but it was her choice and I respect it.
- I am reminded never to judge. Never to feel that I am worse hit than anyone, or better off than anyone.
- I am reminded that everyone has a choice and the power to redefine who they are.
- I am reminded that when you do make that choice, there will be people who will applaud you and people who will judge and possibly crucify you.
- It is refreshingly interesting to be reminded that no matter how bad you think you’ve got it, there is someone somewhere wanting and maybe trying to be like you.
As a black woman, I have had to deal with all the struggles and stereotypes surrounding the colour of my skin. I have doors shut in my face. I have had people dismiss me carelessly without giving me the opportunity to prove my worth as a person or a professional. I have been racially profiled. I have been the brunt of jokes. I have seen people make general assupmtions about me and about where I am from. I have felt the sting of racism and discrimination. I survived and I am stronger and wiser and better, in spite of all of them.
I have also enjoyed some privileges that come with being black (you might be surprised to know that there are more than a few, and if you don’t already know them, you’ll have to figure them out yourself). And, I am proud of and confident in accepting my blackness.
I do not want to be white. Never ever. Not because it’s worse or better. It’s my choice. But, I’ll receive with open arms anyone who wants to be black, no matter your motives.
You can call it a lie. But I call it a choice. It was her choice, just like it is your choice to become a better version of you.
So, here’s to Sister Rachel Dolezal! Here’s to you, Rachel. To your choice!