"Rachel Divided": Identity or White Privilege?
You may remember a few years back, in 2015, a huge story broke about a woman named Rachel Dolezal. Dolezal was born white and into a white family but has identified as a black woman for much of her adult life. Up until this point, only Dolezal’s biological family and close childhood friends knew of her true racial identity. She darkens her skin, braids her hair, and alters her appearance to fit that of a black woman. Not only this, but she led the NAACP Spokane, Washington chapter. In 2016, after her story became public, Rachel Dolezal legally changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo.
This entire situation began a heated debate: can an individual of one race identify as another? Should we be accepting of those who change their appearance to emulate one culture or identity, even if it is not their own? Some individuals are accepting of Dolezal’s (now Diallo’s) decision while others pushed back and brought up issues of privilege, choice, and culture. This discussion is being brought back to the surface as Netflix released a documentary called the “The Rachel Divide”, following the release of her book “In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World.” On Twitter, Netflix recently clarified that she did not receive payment for the documentary which was created “to explore Dolezal’s life as a microcosm for a larger conversation about race and identity. The film focused not just on her life but on the larger conversation, including people who see her actions as the ultimate expression of white privilege.” This article, written by Tre’Vell Anderson, cited four major takeaways from the documentary. Firstly, as the NAACP president in Spokane, her lies surrounding her family and their race as well as her own racial identity led to suspicions in the community. It also instilled feelings of illegitimacy in the Spokane NAACP office and arguably “set back” its goal to acquire social justice in this community.
Secondly, Dolezal became a hairdresser for black women in the Spokane area, an industry that is sparsely populated in this area. Additionally, her family members are black and have faced extremely public scrutiny for her decision to identify as “transracial.” Her son, Franklin, has a difficult time processing his mom’s decisions and feelings their effect on many aspects of his life.
Lastly, Anderson ends with the statement “Dolezal still doesn’t get ‘it’”. That is, although she is seen marking both the black and white boxes for her new son’s birth paper, the documentary ends with her going to the DMV to change her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo. This indicates she still identifies as a black woman and did not allow the conversation of white privilege and culture impact her decisions. So, what do you think about Dolezal’s controversial decision to identify as “transracial”, meaning she identifies a black woman even though she was born white and into a white family? Do you think this Netflix documentary will shed light on the conversation of race, identity, and privilege in the U.S., or will it inadvertently glorify her action? Lastly, will you watch it? Link (for article): http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-rachel-dolezal-netflix-documentary-20180427-story.html Link (for picture): https://studybreaks.com/tvfilm/rachel-dolezal/