Book: In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World
Authors: Rachel Doležal and Storms Reback
Comments: This begins Part Three of my look at the memoir of controversial “transBlack” activist Rachel Doležal. Be sure to read Part One and Part Two if you’ve missed them. Part One dealt with the terrible childhood that caused Rachel Doležal to focus on and identity so closely with blackness as a means of escapism and as a means of finding a reference for the overwork and misery she felt. Part Two discusses how I believe, as do others, especially journalists and various police departments, that Rachel Doležal staged many of the hate crimes she claims were committed against her. Part Three is going to focus on how Rachel engaged in some amazing mental gymnastics (thank you Alex for reminding me of that phrase) and weasel words to justify herself to a public largely appalled with her actions. I will also explore how deeply unpleasant and almost unbelievably nasty Rachel really is.
Weasel Words and Interesting Justifications
One of the more infuriating yet strangely amusing elements of the Rachel Doležal case is how she adamantly insists that she never once said she was a black woman, that she simply presented information in a way that seemed honest to her and let those around her draw their conclusions. Of course, some of what Rachel wrote in this book is backpedaling, but it’s fascinating to see how her mind works.For Rachel, lies by omission, being “economical with the facts,” and being deliberately misleading means she never lied because she really is a master of lawyer-ball. She is a mistress of ambiguity and equivocation and it was very interesting to me to see her in action in her book.
In the introduction in this book, Rachel states she is indeed white and decided to live as a black woman:
White people created the color line and the taboo for crossing it as a way to maintain the stranglehold on privilege they’ve always enjoyed, but due to the painful history surrounding it, many Black people had also grown adamant about enforcing it. If they weren’t allowed to cross the color line, at least they could take ownership of their side.
As such, if you dared to cross this boundary, as I have done, and were exposed, you were out in a no-win situation: white folk would see you as a traitor and a liar and never trust you again, and Black folk might see you as an infiltrator and an imposter and never trust you again.
Well, she sort of admits it while letting us know that she engaged in something daring race-wise but prior to this admission Rachel was the sort to let her words fly in the air and take no responsibility where they landed, or she would engage in high-minded justifications for her lack of openness. Rachel was very careful in how she worded things, so careful in her word-smithing that reading her justifications in this book make it very hard for this not to read as a calculated, deliberate hoax (I’m going to try to stop using the word “fraud” with Rachel because that word makes people think she somehow profited financially from her race-hoax. She didn’t and I’ll try to use hoax instead but it doesn’t hurt to say again that Rachel never really profited financially from her ruse. She was seldom much above poverty-level at any time in her adult life. She wanted the glory and the prestige more than she wanted the money.)
Rachel on two different occasions sought out daughterly relationships with black men, who reciprocated and their families embraced Rachel and her sons into their families. These relationships were definitely filial in nature and given how terrible Larry was toward Rachel when she was young it’s not surprising she would want a decent father figure in her life. It might be jaded of me to note that both of the black men Dolezal selected to be her substitute father were men with white wives. Therefore when she called these men her father in front of people unfamiliar with their real relationships, it would be easy to believe she was half-black when standing next to a man people did not know was a sentimental father rather than a biological one. Such observers would simply believe she resembled the white wife in terms of skin color.
From time to time people I didn’t know very well would ask me if my mom or dad was Black. I’d usually say that my mom was white because to say that neither of my biological parents was black, that my chosen father was Black, and that I identified as Black would have created a long conversation that, to be honest, I didn’t feel obligated or comfortable sharing with total strangers or casual acquaintances. I had learned from my time in Mississippi that most folks, if not all of them, who asked this question didn’t want a longwinded answer. Even for people who became my good friends over time, it felt awkward and unnecessary to have to explain the very complex evolution of my identity and my unique family.
This is some masterful evasion right here. Develop a filial relationship with a black man who has a white wife (and Rachel is clear in the books that she never referred to these women as her mother – she primarily had the relationship with the black “father”). When asked about your parents, state that your mother is white, knowing you are referring to your biological mother while the questioner will assume you mean the white woman married to your spiritual black father.
And yeah, no one wanted a long-winded answer but if Rachel had simply said, “I’m white, my biological parents are white, but this man is my spiritual father and mentor and I respect him and his race very much, thanks for asking,” none of this would have happened. Except had she done that she then would have been asked to explain her outrageous hair and deliberately darkened skin.
Rachel also talked a good game about her race in terms of wanting to shield her sons from questioning. Franklin, who is half-white and Rachel’s biological son, is much lighter in color than Izaiah, her adopted brother and later adopted son, which often led to intrusive questions about their parentage. I frankly don’t blame Rachel for handling such questions with weasel words and lawyer ball, but these passages show how masterful she was at misdirection. Here’s an example:
When people asked me if they had different dads, I’d say, “Yes, Izaiah looks like his dad and Franklin looks like me,” another true statement that could only be construed as a lie by people making certain assumptions. It was a clever way of telling the truth without spelling out all the details. I thought of it as “creative nonfiction.”
Well, it’s not a lie only if people make assumptions – people followed where Rachel deliberately led them. But maybe in this instance we can cut her some slack because I can’t imagine how I would handle it if someone asked me such intrusive questions. Perhaps a stiff smile and a, “I prefer not to discuss such family matters,” would have been better but still it was crass to have asked her in the first place.
Her desire to shelter Izaiah from intrusive questioning also fueled her subterfuge, she claims. Once he came to live with her permanently, Izaiah wanted to cast off his strange and unhappy past and outright asked if he could call Rachel his mother.
Like most teenagers, he wanted to blend in. He was Black. He wanted to be a part of a Black family. He told me that I was the only one who’d always been there for him, that he felt like I was his real mom, and that he wanted to start calling me that. He didn’t want to have to tell kids at his new school about Larry and Ruthanne, the adoptions, the religious fanaticism, and the abuse.
This too is not too weasel-y and the fact is that Rachel was his legal guardian and had been a part of raising this child from the day of his adoption when he was a small baby. That may have been a mouthful to try to share with others, especially if Izaiah himself wanted to approach the relationship this way.
After Izaiah asked to Rachel to please let him call her his mother, Rachel took this and ran with it.
After that conversation, I never wore my hair straight or unaltered in public and I consciously maintained some warmth of color in my skin, whether through sunbathing or bronzer sprays. I’d already been identified by the media and other people as Black or biracial countless times, so it wasn’t that hard for me to go one step further and fully commit to a look that made visual sense to people who knew me as Izaiah’s mom.
Rachel had been passing for black off and on for years before Izaiah made this request. It’s very self-serving for Rachel to base the reasons for permanentlychanging her appearance once and for all off of Izaiah’s request.
The above weasel words and self-serving explanations are all tinged with a bit of humanity because Rachel insists she was avoiding difficult conversations about people she loved and cared about. What follows next cannot be summed up so generously.
Here’s why Rachel didn’t immediately admit she was white when initially confronted:
I knew at some point in my life I would have to reconcile my self-identification with the various notions people have about race, particularly that it’s biological. I was aware that my view wasn’t embraced by the mainstream. I was also conscious of the fact that being born to white parents but identifying as Black would at first glance sound crazy to some people and be downright offensive to others. Not wanting to offend anyone, and not believing that an interview with a reporter in North Idaho would adequately contribute anything toward educating the masses about the origins and evolution of the idea of race and our common human ancestry in Africa, I opted to say nothing [when called by a reporter asking about her race].
Yep, the only way Rachel could discuss her race was to engage in a full-scale educational seminar on the origins of race that would have totally gone over the heads of those dumbass folks in Idaho. So she lied.
Oh dear lord, I can’t help it, I laughed out loud at this next circuitous justification. I just don’t even know what this woman believes anymore – I will discuss whether or not even Rachel knows what she believes herself to be in a future entry. But I can say that when Rachel wrote out this justification for this book she knew she was a white girl fumbling for answers to explain why she didn’t just come clean when Jeff Humphrey, the man behind the viral video that ended Rachel’s ruse, asked her if she was African American. This book was her chance to explain herself and this is what she chose to say about the moment that ruined her life:
Beyond this, in my scholarly circles, “African American” specially referred to Americans whose ancestors were taken from Africa and enslaved in the United States. When used as a catchall term for Black Americans, however, it often caused confusion. For example, there were significant cultural differences between someone who was born in, say, Kenya and voluntarily emigrated to the United States and a Black American who was a descendant of slaves, but both might be called African Americans. For this reason, I preferred “Black,” a much broader term that denotes a connection to the Pan-African Diaspora. “Pan,” of course, denotes inclusion and unity, which I found apt, as I’d always considered myself part of this movement.
Oh yes, dear reader, Rachel was so accustomed to dealing with scholarly descriptions of African Americans versus recently immigrated Africans to America and considering the role of the Pan-African Diaspora when considering what is black that she absolutely got confused when a white man asked her if she was indeed a black woman residing in the USA. I’m laughing as I type this. Why did Storms Reback, her coauthor, not call her out on this absolutely crystal-clear disingenuity? Maybe he did and she wouldn’t listen. As we will see next, Rachel is very smug in how she looks at herself compared to the rest of us.
Seriously, though, if it ever comes up for the rest of us: if someone asks if we are African American, they want to know if we are black. That’s all. If you don’t want to answer, don’t spawn a million memes by saying you don’t understand the question. Just flip the bird and walk away. That’s my advice.
Rachel Doležal, as my beloved father-in-law would say, has a personality that can turn ass hairs into fish hooks. Sorry to be so crass but sometimes just referring to the human butt over and over again is the best way to sum up certain people. There were moments in this book when I thought she absolutely had to be kidding, that no one could be this unpleasant and this self-absorbed with zero awareness of either trait but here we are. Here are some samples of her outrageously condescending, self-centered, know-it-all-ism.
Just in case you wondered, Rachel knows more about being black than blacks. Here Rachel is talking to Izaiah about his new school in Idaho.
“I thought you had two girls in your class who are biracial.”
He sighed. “It’s not the same. They don’t know they’re black.”
I understood what he meant. Most of the Black kids you came across in Idaho were usually either biracial – often being raised by a white mom with an absent Black dad – or had been adopted by white parents. While they may have appeared Black, culturally they were being raised with a white mindset. These kids tended not to know any Black history, were ill-informed about Black culture, and weren’t offended by racial slurs, including the N-word.
How did Izaiah, raised in a white town with white parents know he was black? His older white sister pretending to be black, was she his role model? This a problem that comes up with Rachel’s narrative of being black because there are many ways to be black just as there are many ways to be white, Asian, gay, straight and on and on. Who the hell is Rachel to define blackness by the amount of black history a kid knows or how someone decides to process racially-charged insults? Well, she’s Rachel Doležal, transBlack heroine and if you are black she still knows more than you about blackness, got it?
This next bit is so obnoxious I can’t even. Some may say I simply cannot:
If every step toward Blackness was a step away from whiteness, I was running full steam ahead. I was a Black-Is-Beautiful, Black liberation movement, fully conscious, woke soul sista.
I actually felt second-hand embarrassment reading this. What sort of white woman in blackface says such a thing? In a book defending herself, no less? There is no irony here, dear reader. I rented an irony detector and everything and there is none to be found. She meant this and she is so ridiculous I cannot stand it.
Here she is showing her ass about the white folk in Mississippi:
I would sometimes check OTHER when that was an available option, as a way of clarifying the difference between me and the distinctive breed of white people who lived in the Deep South.
Well isn’t she something special? And thank heavens all those black people in Mississippi knew she wasn’t some run of the mill Deep South white person. She was OTHER! (Remember how Rachel didn’t think whites in Idaho could handle the depth of her racial discourse? Are there any whites capable of understanding the amazing complexity of Rachel Doležal? We know there are none in Mississippi or Idaho.)
This next section actually made me angry on behalf of the reporter Rachel trashes. Jeff Humphrey is the reporter who confronted Rachel, the one who got the infamous “I don’t understand the question” response when he asked her if she was African American. She savages him in a way that is absolutely grotesque given that she is the one who lied, obfuscated and actively engaged in wastes of police time. The entire section in this book where she retells what she was thinking when Jeff confronted her in that interview is pure asshole but parts of it were worse than others.
You see, Jeff Humphrey is the son of Don Harris, a reporter who was killed in Guyana on an airstrip alongside Congressman Leo Ryan. They were attempting to leave after Congressman Ryan had investigated The People’s Temple, their assassination ordered by cult leader Jim Jones. Rachel feels no depth is too low to sink in her attempts to misdirect people away from her bad acts. I refuse to quote it but she actually says in the book that Humphrey will never measure up to his father, that he is a bad reporter compared to his father. But she goes on:
…I was surprised at just how unsympathetic Humphrey’s line of questioning during the interview was. From the outset, his body language and attitude indicated he was unmoved by my plight, and he only grew more insensitive the deeper into the interview we got. First he told me the noose my sons had found on our property when we were living in Idaho was actually a rope meant for hanging a deer carcass. He made this implausible scenario – that someone would butcher a deer on someone else’s property using what was clearly a noose – sound perfectly normal. Then he suggested that a “key holder” – presumably someone who had a key to the NAACP’s P.O. box – had planted the first package sent by War Pig, a notion I found equally absurd. Then he took it a step too far…
Why on earth did Rachel expect a reporter to be moved by her plight, especially an investigative reporter who was outing her race hoax? What sort of entitlement does she have going on that she expects even adversaries to show her excessive deference, to feel sympathy for the race crimes she suffered, incidents that they likely know were staged because they investigated her claims and found them lacking? Also, her point about the noose is misleading, as discussed in Part Two. Rachel moved frequently and the police could not determine how long the rope had been in the car port, possibly having been looped around the frame and dislodged during windy weather. And he wasn’t suggesting anything about the noose or the War Pig parcels – he was asking her questions about the situations or repeating what the police had found in order to get her to comment.
Watch the video – the way she describes this situation makes it sound like Humphrey was hectoring her (and the video shows her at her stumbling, mentally unclear worst). Most irritating about the above quote is that Rachel engaged in a long con disguising her identity and lying by omission and misdirection, and staging false flag attacks against herself but Humphrey is the one who is going too far. What sort of smug entitlement must a serial liar who staged hate crimes against herself possess in order to feel like she gets to decide when lines are crossed, when steps have gone too far when confronting her?
What step too far did Humphrey take? He asks her what she says to those who think she may have planted the first box, and she becomes indignant in a manner that is almost sociopathic.
I was momentarily stunned speechless. There’s a long history of Black Americans being vilified by the press, hate crimes aimed at them going unsolved, and, in some cases, guilt being placed on the victims instead of the perpetrators. In this moment, as Humphrey essentially accused me of perpetrating hate crimes against myself, all these injustices came to mind. His cavalier attitude and contemptible insinuations angered me.
She goes off on a rage against anyone who could possibly think she would ever put her sons through such a thing, as if dishonest or mentally unwell people of all races haven’t engaged in similar behaviors. It is uncommon for this to happen but it does happen and Humphrey was not out of line to ask if she had perpetrated hate crimes against herself. All evidence pointed to it being true. It takes a special kind of asshole to be able to summon such indignation and defiance when they know full well the jig is up, that ruses have been uncovered.
Also in the interview with Humphrey she states without explanation that Albert Wilkerson, a black man who was her current spiritual father, was her father. Humphrey then asks outright if she was African American. She was angered beyond reason at Humphrey for daring to confront her.
I wanted to slap the smug grin right off his face.
I have to think many people have thought the same about Rachel herself.
But in the end, her rage did her no good. She lost everything she held dear – her positions in the community, her jobs, her sense of herself as a woke black woman come to the rescue. She didn’t lose her asshole attitude though. Rachel lied about her race in her application to be a member of OPOC (Office of Police Ombudsman Committee)? More on that later but she checked boxes that indicated she was a mixed-race woman.
I also received a letter form the City of Spokane telling me I was being sued for checking BLACK on the application I filled out to get the OPOC position, but that was the last I ever heard about the lawsuit. Maybe the city’s legal team figured out that, thanks to scientific evidence that says modern humans evolved from Africa, all of us could feasibly check BLACK on forms such as theirs, which defined the category as “having origins in the continent of Africa.”
Only someone as smug as Rachel Doležal could engage in this sort of reductive reasoning and think it holds up – despite the course of evolution that caused human beings to branch off into different groups that developed different appearances that would later be considered races, we are all African on checkmark boxes on applications. Rachel seems to think she was technically correct for checking black and stupid Spokane was too dumb to realize it until the lawyers figured it all out. Again, I could detect no sarcasm or wacky humor in the above statement. Rachel smugly believes she had every right to call herself black because millions of years ago what evolved into human life began in Africa.
There are so many other examples of her flagrant smuggery coupled with nastiness that I could write a book about my reactions to them. And that is a signal to stop here because at this point I may well have a novel’s word count reacting to Rachel’s book. Check back Wednesday and I will continue discussing the many ways Rachel Doležal told a story about herself far more negative than the one she intended to tell.