Dos & Don’ts On How to be An Ally: The Rachel Dolezal Edition

rachel dolezai 2I know everyone’s been hyped this weekend because of the return of Orange is the New Black and also because of this LeBron James’ peen GIF in which his junk is looking like a nightstick a mall cop holds as he stands guard outside a Finish Line store on the Black Friday eve, but I’ve been too preoccupied with watching previously on This Bitch Really Tried It starring Rachel Dolezal, the former leader of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP (as of 30 minutes ago):

Really? “I don’t understand the question?” Rachel, that is one big old nope on top of a nope sundae that you eat after a hearty meal of nope rigatoni that’s been drenched in a nope marinara sauce. Never in the history of black people has a black person not understood the question, “Are you African-American?” That question, which is the equivalent of the “Show me your receipt” pregunta when you exit Best Buy, is simple. Either ya is or ya ain’t. So if upon responding to an inquiry about your blackness, you’re somewhat calm on the outside, yet on the inside you’re doing this

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like your boyfriend just asked you how many sexual partners you’ve had, then the answer is no. Furthermore, if right before replying to that question, you don’t do a reverse That’s So Raven where you flashback (instead of flash forward) and recall one of the numerous times your mom has told you to “sit your black ass down and act like you got some sense” then the answer is no. If you are a part-time Africana studies professor at Eastern Washington University, your ex-husband is black, and you style your hair as if you’re auditioning to be Tracee Ellis Ross’ second cousin thrice removed on the upcoming season of black-ish yet all you can muster is a “I don’t understand the question,” then the answer is no. And finally, if you know that your white mommy and daddy can, at any moment, mic drop your entire life by calling the local news and showing them pictures of your ass looking like Julia Stiles in the first ten minutes of Save the Last Dance, then the answer is a gahtdamn no. You are not black, never were black, and never will be black. And the fact that you had the audacity to go through with this plan and not once bother to prepare an answer to the “Are you black” question is a mix sheer unchecked arrogance and unmitigated foolishness. But more on that in a second. Let me back up a bit.

#TeamBlaria, as we all know by now, a news story has revealed (and subsequently gone viral) that Rachel Dolezal has been passing as a black woman for the past nine years or so. And apparently, this is not necessarily news to some folk. There have been some suspicions. James Wilburn, who was the president of the Spokane NAACP chapter before Rachel took over, stated that some of the groups members weren’t convinced her background was on the up and up, but that “it was discussed among close members to me, and we kept it like that.” UMMMMMMMMMM, James. Honey. Sugar pie. Hibiscus sweet tea. This could have easily been solved by asking her if she knows the theme songs to at least three ‘90s black sitcoms. If all she could come up with is, “Mo to the E to the,” then you’d just stop her right there and be like, “‘Mo to the E to the’ doesn’t count because the Moesha theme is just those six words on the repeat now. You ain’t black. #GirlBye.”

In all seriousness, the fact that several people were concerned that Rachel had been lying about her past yet did nothing to investigate it is bizarre. But that decision is still less confusing than what she has been doing for the past decade and in a moment, I will get to that, but first let me say this. Based on the information that has been presented thus far, it seems she was, among other things, attempting to be an ally to the black community (if for no longer than one, brief shining moment before this shit spiraled like a staircase in a townhouse). For example, Rachel taught a Black is Beautiful seminar, which is beneficial and necessary to counteract the notion that European beauty standards are the ideal. Yes, it’s far more important that there are countless black hair blogs and vlogs whose focus is on black beauty, but still this truth needs to be pushed by non-black people as well because strength in numbers is what will change how the fashion, beauty, film, and TV industries perceive attractiveness and decide who can be the symbols of that. Furthermore, as this example of Rachel teaching that class illustrates, historically speaking discriminated groups welcome outside help to usher in change and also lend a sympathetic ear. To be fair, my assumption that Rachel, somewhere along the way and for maybe five minutes, was trying to be ally is just that: an assumption. Yes, some of the evidence such as her falsifying police reports of her being the recipient of hate crimes seems to point towards some sort of psychosis, though I’m not a doctor, so I hate to make any sort of diagnosis; however, other actions like teaching a Black is Beautiful class seems like she was trying to do good in her own very fucked up way. So for the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to focus on the ally part because I think beyond all the chaos, white people learning how to be good allies is one of the key things to be gleaned from this situation.

Another thing to be gleaned? Just what the hell was Rachel’s thinking and thankfully, she is finally going to address this entire clusterfuck of a situation tonight at a NAACP meeting.* [Sidenote: Jesus be LiveStream so I can watching be like this from my living room:

Hopefully, information from this meeting will help us start making sense of what the hell is going on (probably not), but in the meantime, I figured it’s probably as good of a time as any to share some Blaria-fied dos and dont’s on how to help, support, listen, and be an ally to black people and the black community overall.

DO: Pull a Mark Cuban on Shark Tank AKA go all in and invest in understanding, learning, and being knowledgeable about the group of people you are trying to help. There’s nothing worse than someone effectively treating your life and cause like a piece of IKEA furniture by not reading the instructions, yet still putting their two Sacagaweas coins in every five seconds with a “Maybe that oughta go here.” What I’m getting at is that despite all the trifling things that Rachel Dolezal has done during her years of passing for black, there is no denying that she didn’t at least educate herself first.

She became so knowledgeable about black history that she teaches the subject matter at an accredited college, her LinkedIn page shows that she once held a job as a black hair beautician, and she worked her way up to becoming the president of a NAACP chapter, and honestly, it’s not outside the realm of believability if someone told she mails out her rent check with Black History Month stamps year round. Y’all, Rach was in it to win it and for a hot second, she made me question my own damn blackness (Kidding!). But also, #RealTalk, I don’t buy BHM stamps because I’m cheap. Instead, I mail my rent out through my day job’s mailroom and if I realize it’s the 3rd of the month and I still haven’t paid my landlord yet, I have the nerve to send that mess via UPS Next Day on the corporate account. In short, I’m about that #TrifeLife in small doses, so who am I to judge? Yet judge I shall because while it is extremely admirable and boss of Rachel to be well-versed in black culture and history, she forget that she actually isn’t black and she took it several steps too far by doing the following…

DON’T: Base your life on the opening sentence from Steve Martin’s The Jerk:

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Rachel made the fatal mistake of rewriting her past in the most ignorant of ways in order to “identify” with those around her. For example, she drew a self-portrait and then posted it on Facebook with the caption, “Sometimes I have to re-look at my first self-portrait (this crayon drawing) to remember who I am and where I come from:”

Alleged self-portrait that Rachel drew when she was a child.
Alleged self-portrait that Rachel drew when she was a child.

Y’all, that means she went down to Staples, bought the 64 count Crayola crayon box, then went home and probably drew this picture with her weak hand, so it would like a child did it and not a grown-ass woman who has seen all the episodes of The Good Wife. Then she uploaded the drawing to FB, so she could get some “Live your truth, child,” likes from the world. Ay-yi-yi, you don’t have to pretend to be someone else in order to relate, connect with, and help those who are not like you. Doing that is #TeamTooMuch, and as much as I wish the following doctored photo on the interwebs didn’t have some truth to it, it probably does:

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That book, which is written by former Onion satirist and actual black person Baratunde Thurston, is a memoir about his life, but knowing what I know about Rachel, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that she went home, read and highlighted this book for later reference like a college freshman’s copy of Beowulf.

DO: Check your privilege. This includes being quiet and listening to someone who has firsthand knowledge of the world you’re trying to understand, it means accepting that you might get some of the facts wrong, and that you may not recognize all of the nuances that others are well-versed in. And thanks to Rachel, checking your privilege means not putting on a Cree Summers wig and rubbing a burnt sienna-colored marker all over your skin to blend in with black people. I mean, Rach might as well be Buffalo Bill up in the crib, tucking the peen away and dancing to “Goodbye Horses” while wearing a damn kimono. What she did was way too far and a prime example of her privilege because unlike me and other black people, we don’t have the luxury to wake up and change our skin tone after living as a white person for thirty plus years. So the fact that she got to skip over the formative years where institutional and systemic racism and second-class treatment due to the color of one’s skin leaves permanent psychological effects and then be like, “I read some W.E.B. DuBois and wore a head wrap when picking up my dry cleaning ergo I’m black now” is prettygoddamnconvenient.edu and the ultimate in “I do what I want because I can” department, which is definitely not a life that black people can be about. Check. Your. Privilege. 

DON’T: Your name is not Charlotte; so do not pull people into your web of lies. Exhibit A is Rachel posing with a black dude and then posting on Facebook that he is her pops:

rachel dolezal fake daddyDa hell, Rach!!! You can’t be taking pictures with any John Amos-looking motherfucker (#ShowingMyAge), claim he’s your daddy, and then upload that shit to social media. Do you realize that he could have a wife and children who stumbled across that and were like, “Hol’ UP! Daddy, who is this barely not beige woman with a How Stella Got Her Groove Back hairdo saying she your child?” And now family dinner is awkward as hell as he has to explain himself while this dude’s messy Aunt Pam is chilling in the cut eating her Zatarain’s and smirking to herself like, “This gonna be good.”

DO: Realize that when you put yourself before the cause that is going to make e’erybody respond the way I do when I open up my Netflix queue and see that my roommate watched The Big Bang Theory and essentially fucked up my whole list, which is now displaying Jim Parsons entire oeuvre:

And the moment that Rachel decided to masquerade as a biracial woman when she doesn’t, in any real way, truly understand what that experience is like is the moment when she put herself before the cause. I don’t care how many perms and relaxers she performed on black women over the years, she has made a mockery of people of color who have been walking the Earth in the skin they cannot change upon moving to a new city. If Rachel would’ve presented herself as who she really is-a white woman who is educated in African studies and is sympathetic to the trials and tribulations of blacks-it would have not prevented her from doing the work she was doing. Granted, people might have given her a sideeye for half a second when she started talking about hot combs and nappy hair in her classes or when she ran for president of the Spokane NAACP, but as James Wilburn, whom I mentioned earlier, has stated, while it is traditional for a black person to be president of a chapter of the NAACP, it is not a prerequisite and that the position is open to people of all races and white people have been president of NAACP’s various chapters before. So could Rachel’s whiteness made it more difficult for her to be elected to that position? Possibly. But Barack Obama is half-black and ran for President of the United States twice and won both times, thus breaking the “white dude as President” 42-0 streak. Basically, if this is were a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, paper (Obama) covers all the damn rocks that make up the Grand Canyon (Rachel and her fuckery). Rachel clearly committed a cardinal sin as an ally. She prioritized the prevention of her own momentary discomfort over the unending discomfort of those she’s trying to help.

DON’T: #YesAllPeople when you damn well know that the world is drastically different in micro and macro ways depending on race, sexual orientation, and gender. Once again when Rachel was questioned about her race, she stated, “We’re all from the African continent.” Cut to me looking at my computer screen like:

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Followed by me making a beeline straight to my bottom bathroom cabinet to disinfect myself from all the buffoonery and ignorance that I just endured from Rachel’s b.s. answer:

Girl. Gurl. GIRL. GURL. We are all descendants from monkeys, but I’m not going around saying that Planet of the Apes 1, 2, and 3 are damn homes videos from the Robinson family (my last name is Robinson, in case you didn’t know). And similarly, yes, humanity all from the African continent, but we don’t all identify with being African-American, so stop. Do not pass “Go” nor collect $200 dollars. Part of being a good ally is recognizing the differences, accepting that they exist, and then seeking out ways eradicate the usage of these differences as weapons to oppress other people instead of giving a dumb ass Miss U.S.A contestant answer.

DO: Just like when I’m about to hook up with a dude I have no business messing with and Aunt Flo comes to town like

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please understand that all ye need to do to in order to be a good ally is show the fuck up. You don’t need to change the color of your skin, nor hijack the black experience and claim it as your own, nor do you need to pull a Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves and roll up on a horse (literally or proverbial) and save all the negroes and negresses. We are not looking for a white savior and we certainly didn’t ask for one. What we want is people outside of ourselves to work in tandem with us to get shit done. For far too long, people have acted like black people, and in particular black women, haven’t done anything, but let’s keep it real. History may erase black women’s contributions from the books, but you better believe that black women are the backbone of all the movements black people have done. We’re the first ones marching out in the damn streets anytime a black man is murdered WITHOUT expecting or receiving reciprocity even though we deserve it and black men haven’t come even close to having our backs. We’ve been here trying to fix the damn mess that was created by our oppressors centuries ago and we’ve been doing that long before any allies realized there was a problem, so excuse us if we’re not busting out a box of Lorna Doone because an ally finally showed the fuck up and started paying attention. We’re too busy working. Now, ally, roll up your sleeves and join us.

DON’T: Think that performing as the person or people you’re helping is helping. It’s hurting. It’s hurting the folks you’re supposed to be helping, in particular, black women, who, at best, have been mocked by society, and at worst, been despised. In an age where black women are constantly ridiculed, are thought of merely as Jezebels, and are routinely discounted and discouraged from attempting greatness and overlooked for positions of power, for Rachel to waltz in with some bronzer and a working knowledge of black history and be seen as a leader in the black community and also someone black women should aspire to is disheartening. How can a black woman in Spokane hear this story and not be disillusioned, not feel that their blackness, authentic, is not as desired or admirable as performance-based “blackness” perpetrated by a white woman? Thankfully, black women as a whole are not defeated by this foolishness. We have worked too hard for too long to let the likes of Rachel Dolezal get in the way. We shall continue to bounce back as we always do, work two, three, four times as hard to have a seat at the table, and when asked, “Are you African-American,” we’ll answer, “Yes, I am,” with a fist in the air, marching forward while waiting for an ally who is worthy of our partnership.

*UPDATE: Rachel Dolezal released a press statement and stepped down at the president of the NAACP Spokane Chapter.

Author: Blaria

According to Serial Optimist, NYC-based stand up-comedian and writer Phoebe Robinson “is brilliant and able to critique some really complex concepts in a sentence or two. Bask in it, people.” Which is precisely what The Huffington Post is trying to get people to do when it listed her as one of “18 Funny Women You Should Be Following On Twitter,” but with the way things are going, it seems the place to follow her is on TV. Phoebe is a writer for MTV’s Girl Code and most recently co-hosted an episode of the new series Raising McCain, wrote on the VH1 pilot Chateau Buteau, appeared on FX’s Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell and Comedy Central’s Broad City, was a panelist on VH1’s Big Morning Buzz, and has been featured on several talking head shows for Pivot TV, VH-1, and the TV Guide Channel such as 100 Shows to See Before You Die, 25 Biggest Reality Star Blunders, and 40 Greatest Hip Hop Songs. When not on television, Phoebe’s a writer for Glamour.com and contributes to The New York Times. Her blog Blaria (aka Black Daria) was picked up by The Huffington Post and has been featured on their website. She has also been published in Time Out NY, The NY Post, and The Smoking Jacket. Phoebe has also made her mark in the world of stand up. She was a finalist in NBC’s Stand Up for Diversity competition and was a part of their 2011-2012 USA college tour. Since the tour, she has performed in the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, the Eugene Mirman Festival, the New York Underground Comedy Festival, the All Jane No Dick Festival, SF Sketchfest, the Women in Comedy Festival, the Brooklyn Comedy Festival, and the New York Comedy Festival. Phoebe has also branched out into radio as she has been on Sirius XM’s Raw Dog Comedy, Canada’s CBC Radio, and bitch magazine’s podcast.

4 thoughts

  1. This is the best article I have seen on this – with a good tinge of humor. Thank you. From an older white woman who is ashamed of her.

  2. Don’t know how I found this page, don’t know why I never heard of you before this, but OMG ILY!! I can’t believe Rachel got this far before one random reporter (who was that guy?) asked. Or did I miss that #trending ?

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