The past few days the news has been filled with the revelation that Rachel Dolezal, head of the Spokane Chapter of the NAACP, is not the person she has claimed to be all these years. Rather than being the biracial daughter of a Black father, Ms. Dolezal was revealed to be the birth child of two Caucasian parents (one man and one woman).
Today the tumult over her presenting herself has something she is not has culminated in her resignation from the Chapter, despite the fact that - according to the NAACP - being Black is not a requirement for the position and Ms. Dolezal has done tremendous work. According to the Wall Street Journal, Ms. Dolezal has stated that "in the eye of this current storm, I can see that a separation of family and organizational outcomes is in the best interest of the NAACP.”
Ms.Dolezal's Story has touched an interesting nerve in America. Race Relations have, for the most part, never been better and never been worse. People are being confronted with ongoing problems with our Law Enforcement procedures as well as having to answer to the problem of Black-on-Black crime. Parents of young, Black males are afraid for the lives of their children as they confront a reality that their children can be at risk from attack by authorities, by their peers and from adults who perceive them as a threat before they have done a darn thing. White kids jumping a fence on the way to a pool party to which they have been invited is something to laugh about; Black kids do it and the police are called.
Ms. Dolezal would seem to be a woman who, caught up in the need to be an advocate for an endangered people, began to identify in such a deep and profound way as to feel she is more Black than White. Yet the response from her adopted brother, who is Black, was the most interesting. He accused his sister, during an appearance on CNN/ of effectively appearing in public in Black Face - a particularly offensive term as it conjures up the true history of performing in the US when even men of African descent donned exaggerated make up that trivialized the looks of their own people in order to perform on the stage.
I get it. This is a weird and wonderful story. It captured our imagination and ignited debate and got us thinking. It certainly got me thinking, especially when I read the columns written about how she was insulting Black America by purposefully changing her outward appearance in order to look Black.
And that is what surprised me.
I asked myself a simple question: would I be taken seriously if I stated that I feel offended when men surgically alter themselves to appear female because they feel like they are a female?
If I was to suggest that all the homosexual men who dress in drag are insulting real women, would anyone stop and ponder that suggestion?
Or would I, as I suspect, be vilified as a 'hater' (one of this generation's more ridiculous adjectives) and accused of being one of those awful right wing, conservative, bigots that hide behind Christianity?
Would other Christian writers, including those who share my faith and see themselves as the only true champions of Catholic Social Teachings, call me out and demand I change my mind? Or would I be told to shut up because I am taking the focus off real issues: torture, climate change, the advance of the evil that is Islamic Fundamentalism, free speech and Minimum Wage?
See, I am a woman. I was born a woman and I have always identified as a woman. I have been attractive by societal standards and I have been considered unattractive by societal standards. I have been accused by shrill, drunken females and scared, macho men, both of whom are deeply suspicious of any single woman who seems to be enjoying her life, of being either a man-hater or a Lesbian (horrors of horrors!). Because I do not fit into the neat little box others have created for me I have had my very character maligned.
I told a dear friend that his partner dressing up in exaggerated drag and calling himself a member of a fake religious order is an insult to those women who ARE members of religious orders and I was told I was overreacting. What would he think if I was to take the tactic of Rachel Dolezal's brother and suggest that a man, pretending to be a woman, even to raise money for AIDS research, is as insulting as a white song and dance man painting his face black and his lips white and singing Mammy, even if by doing so he raises funds for the earthquake victims in Nepal?
I think I know the answer.
Again, this has been an interesting couple of days. I wish Ms. Dolezal well. I hope she reconciles with her family. I will keep her and others who are confounded by their struggles with identity in prayer.
What I will not do is pretend this has not deepened an already difficult conversation. I double dog dare all of us to continue to have this conversation.
God knows where it might lead, right?