Book: In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World
Authors: Rachel Doležal and Storms Reback
Comments: We are nearing in on the end of my obsessive look into Rachel Doležal’s book. Just one more installment after this and it will be a short entry (comparatively, don’t laugh). I realize this may look a bit unseemly or even unhinged to any newcomers to this site but this happens to me from time to time. I get obsessed with a topic – anthropodermic bibliopegy, an obscure child murder in Germany, among others – and I gnaw at it like a dog with a bone until I reach the marrow. I’ll have a new obsession in a few months and will tl;dr the hell of it when it comes.
So two more remaining. If you haven’t read Part One, Part Two, Part Three or Part Four, and you find Rachel Doležal interesting enough to invest that kind of time reading an obsessive’s interpretation of her book, be sure to check them out.
Part Five is going to look into how it is Rachel tends to view dislike for her through the lens of racism or sexism rather than engaging in a hard, long look at herself, her behaviors and how she may be the sole person responsible for her many failures in life. Rachel developed her love for black culture before her personality was solidly settled. But now, as an adult who engaged in a race hoax and was publicly shamed, it seems odd that she refuses to examine herself and see if maybe, just maybe, the dislike people had for her when she was still trying to pass as black stemmed from a reaction to Rachel rather than a reaction to her race-appearance or sex. This section will also look at how it is even as Rachel adores all that is black and acknowledges her status as a “transBlack,” she also seems to not really know who or what she is. As you read how she discusses these issues, in places it’s hard to pin down what she really thinks about her genuine race while readers are able to see clearly how she is still informed greatly by her whiteness.
Rachel Thinks ‘Isms Are Why She Was Disliked
Rachel Doležal is convinced that her transBlackness is why she is always on the outside looking in. All the jobs she lost, all the chances she missed – they had nothing to do with the abrasive, attention-seeking, melodramatic and ultimately false persona she created. Nope, it was all to do with racism and sexism.
Just as a transgender person might be born male but identify as female, I wasn’t pretending to be something I wasn’t but was expressing something I already was. I wasn’t passing as Black; I was Black and there was no going back.
Living as a Black woman made my life infinitely better. It also made it infinitely harder, thanks to other people’s racist perception of me. The Blacker I became – not just in the clothes I wore or the books I read but in terms of how I was being seen and treated – the more distance and isolated I felt from white people.
Other people’s racist perceptions of her didn’t prevent other blacks, women and people of ethnic minorities from succeeding where she failed. Rachel was treated black, in all the ways such treatment can be good or bad, because she deliberately changed her appearance to appear black. Her relentless refusal to understand that black people could not give a shit if she looked like them by choice and therefore suffered is going to be the bane of her existence. Also, as we will see in a moment, those white people she felt isolated from may not always have been white people. She just assumed they were because they weren’t engaging in full-scale race theater like she was.
HREI (Human Rights Education Institute) in Idaho was reluctant to offer a position to Rachel but did so while paying her less than they had paid previous candidates.
That I was young, poor, bisexual, nonreligious, Black, and female were all undoubtedly factors in my being given such a low ball offer.
One of the reasons her offer was so low was because a co-worker outright demanded that Rachel not be paid more than her because she did more work than Rachel. Others agreed and Rachel was incensed that a mere secretary received a similar salary as an MA such as herself, but took the job anyway and proceeded to make everyone’s life a simulacrum of hell as she staged one scene after another. She was not well-liked because others felt she did not carry her weight, suspected she was staging hate crimes, and despaired of her continual dramatics while courting the press. The moment they could they got rid of her they did, and they offered her position as executive director to a Jewish man, and poor Donna the secretary was no longer the reason why the surveillance cameras didn’t work. They also likely didn’t need those cameras anymore after Rachel left.
Did Rachel engage in any soul-searching to try to understand why this happened?
The normal instinct in such a situation is to want to change the aspects of your character that are holding you back, but the only thing I could possibly fix was being penniless and, trust me, I was doing the best I could there. Everything else involved a permanent aspect of my being, something that couldn’t be changed or removed. If I was looking to live an easier life, this would have been a great time for me to opt out of being Black. Simply by untwisting my braids and staying out of the sun, I could have crossed back over the color line. This assumes, of course, that Blackness describes little more than racialized physical features. But to me, Blackness is a permanent part of who I am, an aspect of my character that had taken me a lifetime to have the courage to publicly claim and openly embrace, and I wasn’t about to give up on me.
At no point does Rachel examine her character. There was plenty to fix other than her relative poverty. And that’s a whole other issue I decided not to get into but while Rachel was responsible for caring for two growing sons, she worked part time at two universities and split all remaining time between duties at the NAACP and her ombudsman committee position. Concentrating on her career, making art, or getting a Ph.D that would have enabled her to pursue a tenure track professorial position would have greatly benefited her sons financially but she didn’t do any of that because it’s hard to be a victim and court the press when you are a doctoral student or busy creating art for a show. Far easier when you have the NAACP as your platform.
And then there is this:
The list of racist comments and behavior I experienced could fill its own book. If I had enough energy at the time these incidents occurred, I would try to use them as teaching moments to educate people about their behavior, what they shouldn’t do and why.
Lord preserve us, I am venturing out of the text and into cyberspace, and it’s gonna be a hoot.
Funny thing about Rachel Doležal: she really didn’t give much of a crap about teaching moments, even when such moments were in a university setting and someone else was going to do the teaching. When she did find herself in a potential teaching moment combined with a chance to become allies with a professor and create professional bonds with another career educator, she could not control her innate nastiness or her need to be the biggest victim of racism who ever lived.
As I was investigating the overall reaction online to Rachel, I came across the Twitter account of a writer named Luvvie Ajayi (@Luvvie). People who had to deal with Rachel Doležal in real life came forward and gave Luvvie information about their time spent around our transBlack heroine, and I have to say you really need to read the whole damn thread because not only is it hilarious in a really awful way but there are some great reaction gifs if you are into that sort of thing. If you don’t have time, I’m going to pull out the best moments that give a fascinating look into what Rachel’s peers thought of her and how she alienated people without understanding how abrasive, hypocritical and nasty she was behaving.
Luvvie Ajayi looks to me like she is pretty much everything Rachel Doležal wishes she was: an accomplished writer, influential in the black community, recognized by her peers as being good at what she does, and most importantly for Rachel, she is a black woman. After I discovered Luvvie, I wondered if Rachel would consider her one of the “darker skinned black women” she complained were attacking her for her white privilege. I have not read her book, I did not know she existed until I researched Rachel, so all I really know about her is what is in her Twitter account (but I should mention James Urbaniak, “Dr Venture,” follows her and that’s always a good thing). All of these screenshots come from Luvvie Ajayi’s Twitter account and she redacted all identifying information, but was given permission to share these texts.
So let me set the scene: Luvvie was approached by a professor who taught at one of the colleges where Rachel worked before she was outed as transBlack. On campus, it appears as if some of the the staff knew Rachel was white, so much so that her nickname on campus was “Darth Becky.” One day one of her co-professors contacted her because he had encountered a situation he felt he needed help with in the future. He taught an “Intercultural Communications” class and a conversation about affirmative action got away from him and he sought Rachel’s advice on how to properly proctor such a conversation in the future. She was president of the Spokane NAACP chapter, taught classes on black culture and art, and seemed like the best resource a colleague could approach for assistance. Right?
I cannot tell you how many times in writing this discussion of In Full Color that I sat with my mouth open, jaw fairly gaping, at the things Rachel Doležal said and did and felt entitled to say and do.
Her response to a colleague seeking her assistance is to say she should be teaching the class, not him, because white people shouldn’t be teaching intercultural classes. She jokes that she would like credit for helping him (note the emoticon that is supposed to imply sly humor) then tells him to piss up a rope and look it up himself. “Fuck off white boy!” would have been more concise but her position is clear: she is not about to help a white man she feels should not be encroaching in on what she feels is her territory as a black woman. Except she’s white.
This? This is bad enough. This shows excellent cause as to why Rachel Doležal found it hard to get enough classes to teach, found it harder to make sure classes she was assigned to teach were not cancelled – she bemoans her lack of money and the tenuousness of her teaching career in the book. This shows why she faced continual roadblocks in her life – she is deeply unpleasant and terribly entitled for a person who was actively engaged in a race hoax.
But it gets better. That professor? He’s Native American, from the Choctaw tribe. He’s an actual minority teaching an intercultural communications class, the very class Rachel, white woman in black face, felt it was her birthright to teach. Watch her backpedal furiously.
Reading this text conversation is sheer cringe, knowing what I know now about Rachel Doležal.
But god, we’re not done. She just cannot stop with this one-person LARP she’s engaging in.
I have read this several times and my jaw still falls open. A fellow professor sought her help, she shit all over him until she found out that he, unlike her, is actually non-white, and she still manages to turn the entire conversation into a pity-party wherein she laments all the hate crimes directed at her and the lack of respect she receives despite her massive efforts in a town that lacks “an authentic civil rights community.” The mind fairly boggles.
But it’s the “Rachel Luther Queen” thing that really stuns me. She thought she would be as great as MLK if only someone stood behind her when the racists came for her. Then she lists all those hate crimes, most of which she knows (and now we know) she staged against herself. Rachel thinks she is an activist in the same vein as Angela Davis, thinks she’d be the female MLK if only people would protect her and listen to her, that journalists should feel her plight even as they out her for being a hoaxer, that media refusing to cover her every snit was akin to not reporting on the murders of black men by police. Her ego is astounding. The above screenshots again are not a part of this book but, when married with the content in this book, is it not clear yet why Rachel was so reviled BEFORE she was outed as transBlack?
Back to the book. Rachel, through her position on the ombudsman committee to the Spokane Police, had frequent meetings with the Police Chief that never went well.
I always felt like he was checking out my cleavage or wishing I wasn’t there.
Rachel’s cleavage comes up more than it should in this book. She’s either very unlucky and continually encounters boorish men or she’s downshifted into a perniciously nasty belief in the hypersexualized black woman that no white man can resist. Whichever way, Chief Straub is believed to have hired a private investigator to look into Rachel’s past. He was sure interested in more than her breasts in the end, and perhaps he wasn’t looking at her breasts as much as he as staring into space hoping time would pass faster. It very much seems like Rachel misinterpreted his suspicions that she was not who she claimed as sexual interest.
But then the ombudsman position went sour, too.
The sense I was being targeted returned on April 16 when an unnamed individual filed a “whistleblower complaint” against me and my fellow OPOC commissioners Kevin Berkompas and Adrian Dominguez, accusing us of workplace harassment and abusing our authority. I was surprised by the allegations. Like Kevin and Adrian, I had never had my integrity or ethics questioned in my entire career.
She’d had her ethics questioned continually. At least two separate entities were so suspicious of her that they had hired private investigators to look into her. The police had already told her to her face that there were problems with her stories about the “War Pig” packages. Howard University let her in under the impression she was black. HREI employees knew she created drama and made up false stories and heaved a sigh of relief when she was let go. Her entire career had been a mess, yet when her OPOC position came into jeopardy, it was baffling to her that anyone could think she was unethical.
Bear in mind too that OPOC was trying to get to get rid of her before the race scandal became known and it was on a trip to Oakland made as an OPOC representative that she mailed two of the “War Pig” parcels to herself. But when the OPOC complaint was filed against her, that element of this story had not made the press yet. This complaint was all about falsified minutes and intimidation long before they knew she used a trip they funded to stage two hate crimes and had lied about her race, which, by the way, she did on an official OPOC application.
The application was very long and detailed, requiring me to write an essay, and unlike the ballot for the NAACP position it included an “ethnic origins” question. I checked BLACK, WHITE, and NATIVE AMERICAN.
I also should mention she felt the interview process was onerous and unfair to her. Of course it was.
I’ll end this section here. Rachel is speaking of being fired from HREI:
I’d worked twice as hard as all the previous executive directors had and received half the pay, I’d also outperformed all of them, but because I was viewed as a poor young Black woman, how was I rewarded? I’d been slapped in the face with a series of isms – racism, ageism, classism and sexism – which combined delivered the force of a punch.
Yep, Rachel was too black, too young, too poor and too female to have a career at the Human Rights Education Institute, one of most notoriously right-wing, reactionary, racist organizations in the country. Are you rolling your eyes yet?
Still who could ever have predicted that a young, poor, black woman would have a hard time earning what she was worth? I suspect the millions of young poor black women who actually are black women and were raised as black women could have given her a heads up that the professional terrain was often rougher for black women than white women.
Does Rachel Herself Even Understand Who She Is
Rachel knows she is a white woman who engaged in a fraud. She has a strong interest and affiliation with black culture but has the sort of personality wherein she absolutely cannot be just a white woman interested in race and African culture. She needed to be Queen Bee of all that is Africana and black.
I really think most of the time she knows she is not black, but sometimes I am not so sure. Various quotes throughout the book make it hard for me to know just what the hell it is Rachel believes about herself.
I knew nothing about whiteness described who I was.
It may seem as if she is being expansive here and referring to an inner feeling of not belonging culturally to what being white represented to her. But she also says:
I could see that my skin was light, but my perception of myself wasn’t limited to what my eyes could take in.
So I feel now like maybe she is discussing the internal sense that because of the stains of the sexual abuse, her association with blackness through her sense of victimization, and her love of black esthetics, that she feels she is spiritually affiliated with what blackness represents.
But remember the pictures of her from the book, where she emphasizes how much darker she was than her brother – she’s definitely pinker in the picture of her as a baby but lots of white babies are ruddy – and feels this made her family dislike her? In the caption for that baby picture, Rachel herself notes how much darker she is than her brother. Then she says this about the pictures her parents shared of her on television after the story broke, that they shared…:
…photos of me when I was a little girl, which, strangely, appeared to have been altered to take on a bluish-white skin tone.
Dear reader, Rachel is a white girl. She was born to white parents. In photos of her as a little girl sitting on her mother’s lap her eyes are bright blue and her hair is white blonde and she looks like a clone of her mother. The photo of the two of them could have been used as WWII propaganda to show the Nazi belief in the superiority of the Aryan people, that is how white the two of them are.
So why is it so important that she demonstrate that she looked dark as a baby? Why does she think anyone would need to doctor pictures of a pale, blue-eyed, freckle-faced, blonde-haired little girl to make her look even whiter?
Christ, I do wonder if, on some level, Rachel really believes she has the genetic appearance of a light-skinned black woman. She admits to tanning and using bronzer, she admits she styles her hair to mimic traditional black styles, but her insistence that she was a dark baby and that her pictures as a child were doctored to make her look whiter are… confusing given that Rachel on the surface level states that she knows she is the product of white parents. If she has shed the notion that race is not biological but instead believes race is a social construct, what difference did the color of her hair at birth make? Why was the true hue of her very white skin as a child important if she is transBlack? Only she knows but it makes understanding her all the harder.
She is deliberately obtuse when she wants to be about the issue of race, invoking names she should know better than to use in a discussion of how race is determined. Here she is discussing why she found it hard to answer Jeff Humphrey when he asked her outright about her race:
To most people, the answer to the reporter’s question was binary – yes or no – but race has never been so easily defined. In a letter to Thomas Gray in 1815, Thomas Jefferson struggled to determine “what constituted a mulatto,” calling it “a Mathematical problem of the same class with those on mixtures of different liquors or different metals.”
Yes, he may have said this in a letter but he also had a sexually coercive relationship with his deceased wife’s half-sister, who was herself a “mulatto” and held in slavery at Monticello, and went on record as stating that he considered blacks to have less intelligence than whites. He stated that blacks had a fixed nature – an immutable inability to improve their lots in life – that made the slavery they were held in more acceptable. He’s an important man in the history of this country, his views on race were complex, but in the end he was subject to the customs and beliefs of his time and felt blacks were inferior and sired children with a woman he personally held in bondage.
So why would a woman who thinks she is transBlack invoke Jefferson in an attempt to discuss the difficulty of defining race? The man is a hero to liberal whites who know he had negative opinions about holding men in slavery (and to staunch neo-conservatives who are way into traditionalism) but less so to those who know about his sordid personal life and own use of slaves. How is it that a woman this “woke” would be this dense? You wanna bring up an example of an American president to explain why race is hard to define, why not use cutting edge research on the social construct of race and how it played out in the Obama administration. Perfect example – the perception of his race changed with how much people agreed with his policies. My own late mother chided him for not recognizing his white roots and playing up his blackness – I have no idea why she felt that way but she was not alone. Obama’s race depended upon who you spoke with – he was either an Uncle Tom or a Muslim Radical. But Doležal uses Jefferson, white hero and Founding Father, to demonstrate how mutable race can be to define. That is a very white thing to do.
Ultimately, I think the best way to look at Rachel Doležal is to realize she is a complete mess. She sees herself as a victim, which she was when she was a child, but that vision of herself is the chief enduring element of her personality and she has married blackness to it in such a manner that she may not even understand herself why she thinks she is black. Rather, she simply knows she is a victim and has chosen blackness as a means to demonstrate it.
That I identify as one race while the world insists I’m another underscores the psychological harm the concept of race inflicts. Being denied the right to one’s self-determination is a struggle I share with millions of other people.
Racism does cause psychological harm and racism can deny those of certain races the right to self-determination. These are not problems Rachel Doležal was born with. They are problems she chose because the image of herself as a victim, even more than her image of herself as a savior to blacks, is her primary image and the way she achieves this image is through her assumption of blackness and the problems being black in the United States cause. She may say that she has no say in the matter, that her soul is black, that her spiritual calling is blackness and none of that will change the fact that she was born to white parents and raised as a white child and is willingly submitting herself to that which “millions of other people” find unbearable at times and wants sympathy for her brave decision. She willingly changed who she is to achieve a platform of believability so that she could play out her victim status.
She is confused, and her philosophy of transBlackness doesn’t really hold up under close analysis and as she explains herself, without meaning to, she shows us how white she really is.
Tomorrow this long dark week of the Rachel ends, and we will be discussing how dangerous Rachel Doležal was/is to blacks and young people in general and how it is she will never, ever, never get why her idea of transBlackness is offensive and why it is she is not respected in the black community. Believe it or not, it will be very short compared to the five parts that came before it.