Two years ago Rachel Dolezal was mocked, shamed and cast aside when she was exposed for being born a white woman who had spent years passing for Black.
She stood her ground, stating that race was just a social construct. Dolezal insisted she had every right to identify herself as a Black woman, saying she had lived the "Black experience."
These days, the former Spokane NAACP president unapologetically identifies as trans-Black but distinguishes between that term and transracial.
"Transracial it almost sounds like I’m neutral, and I’m not neutral on political and social issues," Dolezal told NBCBLK while on a press tour for her new memoir, "In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black And White World."
She added: "If I was allowed a more complex term, I would say I’m pan-African, pro-Black, bisexual, mother, activist, artist, you know that’s like too long. So trans-Black is quicker."
When NBCBLK interviewed Dolezal in 2015, she talked about everything from her white privilege to curious curly hair. While prepping to interview her a second time, I decided to crowdsource some ideas from my Facebook friends.
I heard from high school pals I hadn't talked to in years. Thousands of miles away, my expat friends in Japan and Berlin wanted to discuss. People of different ages, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations filled my timeline. Even my mom weighed in.
While some of these eight questions are on the serious side, others more irreverent, all prove that the controversy around Dolezal's identity is also nothing short of fascinating.
1. How do you define yourself?
I wrote the book to really to encourage and advance the conversation on race and yes to set the record straight about my whole life story. And also to encourage people to be exactly who they really are. And the essential essence of who I am is best defined in culture and in race terms as "Black."
2. How do you define 'Black' and 'Blackness'? What does it mean to be Black? Where does Blackness reside? I'm Black, how is our experience similar?
Well I think that in America, even though race is a social construct, I mean, we say this in theory, but I think a lot of people don’t believe that it really is. And so it’s still a very racialized society. And so there’s a line drawn in the sand. And there’s a Black and white divide and I stand unapologetically on the Black side of that divide with my own internal sense of self and my values, and with my sons and my sister and with the greater cause of really undoing the myth of white supremacy.
3. Didn't she change her name? Doesn't she have an African name now? I would ask about that and how she's being treated since.
It was actually given to me. Unfortunately, the press said I chose it randomly, which I didn’t. And at the end of the book, I discuss that an Igbo man reached out to me and really just said that, “We see you. My tribe sees you for who you are, and you have this high frequency in your soul and you’re incarnated into this white envelope. And you were brought here as a gift from the gods to challenge white supremacy spiritually.”
That was in January 2016, and I fully embraced the name as my legal name in October, so a few months later.
4. Most surprising response from the the Black community? Rihanna called you 'a bit of a hero.'
Yea, I don’t know about surprising. I guess have been a little bit surprised just at the polarization because it seems like it’s either love or hate, as opposed to just like, OK, just cool be who you are whatever. It’s not a big deal. Let’s just work together and strive for common goals of freedom, justice, and equity. I mean that was kind of to some extent maybe more of what I anticipated.
5. Knowing what you know now, given the same circumstances as a child, would you do it again?
Well, I wish that I could have had the chance to tell my whole story and introduce myself to the world instead of being introduced by others in a very negative connotation. So the oppositional people really came out with this narrative of a fraud, a liar and a con and all this kinda stuff before I had a chance to say, "Hello, my name is Rachel and this is who I am."
So I think it just kinda steamrolled and got so much momentum of negativity where my life just got shaped by that, and people’s perceptions of me were shaped by that. And I knew very quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to really describe my experience in full context in an interview and so I really needed to do that in book form.
6. What does she feel about intersectionality and how does she combat/incorporate white feminism?
I think that it is too common for white feminists to say, “We want some diversity, come join our movement about gender, but we want you to check the class and race at the door.” And you can’t undo that braid of race, class and gender, all three intersect with each other, so it’s important for more education to be done about that. We talk about feminism, but I think even in the male world, that Donald Trump is white, rich, and male, like all those three are working together for his opportunities in his life.
7. How has it been for her kids?
Well, I think that it’s important as a mother to support who our children are, and you kind of notice that as they grow and develop, whether it’s gender or sexual orientation, culture, the music that they want to listen to, the food that they like, so I’ll just be constantly encouraging him [her one-year-old] and guiding him toward what resonates with him. And he’s one, so right now, what resonates with him are toys and gadgets and buttons.
8. I would simply ask her if she's done a DNA test as yet to see what her true heritage is.
Well, what I found was kind of like, there’s 10% African ancestry, 35% Iberian peninsula and all these things, and then when I asked the testing facility — I’m not gonna reveal who I did the test with — but they basically said, oh — I asked them to make a certified record and they said, those weren’t your real results, you’re actually 100% European.
I mean, It was under Rachel Dolezal, as my name when I did that test. And I was asking them to certify the results cause I was gonna include it in the book. And really what it made me do is, I just kind of felt like, you know what, this is just b*******. I don’t need a lab to tell me who I am, and if their results are that wishy washy anyway? I mean, we know that race is not biological — and we teach this all the time in sociology courses so I just didn’t get another one done.
And 8 Other Questions From Facebook That NBCBLK Didn't Have Time to Ask
1. As a fellow Black woman can you explain the difference between performative blackface and the experience of being Black?
3. Do you have any black friends? If so, are they still down?
4. Is it because you are a white woman that you feel entitled to everything including other people's cultures and experiences?
5. Can I touch your hair?
6. Tupac or Biggie? Prince or Michael Jackson?
7. Have you ever been called the N-word or been eyed as a shoplifter or denied service or strip-searched by a cop or otherwise gotten the "Black experience"?