Comments: Now begins part two of my look at Rachel Doležal’s memoir. You can read Part One here. There will be at least two more installments.
As I read Rachel’s memoir, I highlighted a lot of statements that at the time seemed to convey an idea of sincerity or at the very least attempted to explain earnestly why Rachel Doležal genuinely believes she is transBlack, a black woman born into a white body. Rereading those highlights was a wholly different experience than reading them the first time. Isolating some of her statements, reading them alone and with direct focus, transformed the experience of reading this book for me.
Rachel Doležal, when you look closely at her words, is telling you who she is and what she believes, and what she is telling you is at odds with the message she really wants to convey. Rachel wants to paint a picture of herself as a victim, a hero for black people and the civil rights struggle, an honest, hardworking mother who feels such kinship with black people that she worked herself to the bone to promote black issues, a white woman by birth who genuinely believes she is black. Yet as I read many of the passages I highlighted, I began to feel that sort of stomach tingle that told me I was being lied to. Several times I felt outright second-hand embarrassment at some of the things Rachel said. As I culled and reread the highlighted passages, once I sifted out the information about her childhood and her family, the information began to fall into various categories, many of which overlap, but hopefully my logic will make sense as you read. Since I’m no longer following a timeline as events unfolded, instead dividing Rachel’s interesting and very bizarre life into categories that describe her behavior, I will try to be clear as to timing and will be sure that I set up explanations for the context of quotes when needed. If anyone ever needs clarification, let me know.
It was hard to know where to begin given the variety of categories I ended up with (“Rachel Sees Blacks As an Exotic Other,” “Rachel Is a Self-Impressed Asshole,” “Rachel Doležal Will Never Get It,” among several others). I decided to just dive into the murky water with the longest category and get it out of the way because for the most part I see Rachel Doležal as a sad clown, a ridiculous human being who has ruined her life and the life of her family due to her delusions and pathological need to be at the center of attention. But there is a very dark side to what she did. Today’s discussion is focusing on the more malignant, criminal side of what Rachel has done.
I am not a big fan of most modern R&B, and hip hop has never been my bag. I’m sure that doesn’t come as a huge surprise, given that I am a middle-aged white woman from Texas. But also bear in mind that I detest most pop and cannot bear country music that does not involve people named Cash or Carter. So it all sort of evens out.
But despite not being a fan of R&B and hip hop, I rather like Erikah Badu. She and I are age peers and we both grew up in the same area, though in completely different worlds. She went to the Booker T. Washington Magnet School for arts, which is a big damn deal. The school has produced singers like Edie Brickell and Norah Jones. There was something amazing about her voice, a reminder of Lady Day that was not forced and hackneyed like so many singers whose only claim to talent is an ability to emulate Billie Holiday. I also liked her style. Her poreless skin, her interesting head wraps, the graceful way she moved her arms as she sang. Even if I had little cultural allegiance to what it is that Erikah Badu represented, she certainly seemed special in her talents.
And she writes and sings songs like this:
You need to call Tyrone. But you can’t use my phone. I love this song.
My favorite song of hers is “On and On”:
I am lyrically oriented in music. And while some of these lyrics appeal to me, I found them difficult to pin down. Like the sections where the singer is discussing being born under water with three dollars and six dimes. Somewhat puzzling was the chorus:
“If we were made in his image then call us by our names.
Most intellects do not believe in god but they fear us just the same.”
I always took this as a demand for respect – call us by own names, the real names that some black people take on when they achieve a level of spiritual and social awareness. But intriguing was the idea of “fear us.” Not fear him. This was not just Badu addressing the intellectual speciousness of some who claim atheism while still superstitiously fearing God, because she very clearly says those who may not believe in god (lower case) fear us. Interesting.
“On and On” came out in 1997, before the Internet was overrun with lyrics sites and places where people pontificate song meanings, so I never really pursued my ponderings. But I heard the song on the radio coming home last week and my questions rose again. I’m in another insomnia cycle, so at 4:00 one morning, me and my smart phone got to the bottom of my bafflement.
I have taken a very shallow dip into a very large and deep pool so my discussion and analysis may be incorrect, and I welcome anyone with a deeper knowledge to correct me if they read anything wrong here. The Nation of Gods and Earths began when a man named Clarence 13X, who had studied with Malcolm X, left the Nation of Islam because he held differing opinions about the nature of Islamic godhead. I think it is a mistake to consider Nation of Gods and Earths to be an offshoot of the Nation of Islam, though some may consider them a sect. From what I managed to glean from various sites, Nation of Gods and Earths is far less dogmatic than Nation of Islam, asserting that Nation of Gods and Earths is less a religion than a natural way of life. Allah is God, or possibly god, but each follower is in his or her own sense a god as well.
The term Five Percenters comes from the idea in Nation of Gods and Earths that in the black community, 10% of the people know the truth of the world and how it works but hide this truth for their own personal gain, 85% have no idea how the world works and through their ignorance are manipulated by the 10%, and 5%, the members of Nation of Gods and Earths, know the truth and share their knowledge. Some of the truth that the Five Percenters share stems from Afrocentrism, the notion that all life began from black people. The descendents of these creators of the world are gods themselves. Southern Baptist refugee that I am, this reminded me of Thomas in the Bible, insisting that the light of Jesus is within us all, and that the only true path to salvation is to find the god that has always been within us.
But to me the most interesting Judeo-Christian corollary found in Nation of Gods and Earths are Supreme Mathematics and Supreme Alphabet. Supreme Mathematics, not unlike the Kabballah, teaches that within numbers there are specific concepts and essential universal truths (and realize this is a gross generalization of both concepts). For example, in Supreme Mathematics, the number seven equates the concept of god. That puts Erikah Badu’s decision to name her first son Seven into a whole different perspective and not just one of those wacky names that celebrities often give their kids. Her son’s name conveys both the notion of Supreme Mathematics as truth as well as Badu’s belief that her son, like all black people, is a god. In all those lists of strange names celebrities give their children, Seven really shouldn’t be lumped in there with Apple, Pilot Inspektor and Audio Science.
And though I hope I make it clear I have only the most basic idea of what it is the Five Percenters believe, the tiny bit I was able to grok made “On and On” much clearer to me.
Obviously “Most intellects do not believe in god but they fear us just the same,” makes a lot more sense. Badu’s belief that black men and women embody the creator concept of their forebears, that they are gods themselves, shines through here. Those who do not believe in god may fear god, and if blacks are gods, then they fear her and those who believe as she does.
I’m still not wholly clear on the lines “I was born under water with three dollars and six dimes. Yeah you may laugh but you did not do your math.”
Obviously she is mentioning Supreme Mathematics here, because “you did not do your math.” And water, outside of the Five Percenters, is a universal symbol of life, from amniotic fluid, to baptism, to just the ancient notion of water as a force of life. But what about the 3 dollars and 6 dimes?
My first idea is that this is a representation of the number 360. 360 degrees implies a circle, a perfect circle, again leading me to the idea of perfection of man and man as god. It also implies experience, a perfect orbit of the Earth around the sun, a 360 degree trip. This section also includes Badu singing the lines, “Na qua 2..3. Damn, y’all feel that? Oh… Qua 2..3. The world keeps turning.” No idea what the Na qua section means because attempts to find out lead me down a rabbit hole, but the idea that the world keeps turning fits in well with the notion of 360 degrees and orbits. (See the comments for this entry – I myself and others misheard the lyrics as the lyric is “Like one two three, damn, y’all feel that, oh one two three.” Which adds a lot to the discussion as feeling the impact of numbers recited feels very Supreme Mathematical. Thanks to those who corrected me!)
But in Supreme Mathematics the number three means understanding, a deep understanding of all knowledge. The number six means equality, but from what I could read, that equality is the equality that the Five Percenters give other people as they explain their beliefs, not the American belief that all people are created equal. Only through knowledge of their role in the world can black people become equal, according to the beliefs of Five Percenters. So it may be the passage of dollars and dimes means a rebirth wherein Badu discovered the Nation of Gods and Earths and came to a perfect understanding and now wants to encourage equality through education.
There is so much more to this than just the little bit I have read and then applied to a song I like. I found a book called The Five Percenters: Islam, Hip-hop and the Gods of New York by Michael Mohammed Knight that I will read probably sooner rather than later. There’s likely an ocean of information out there on this sect.
I just found it deeply interesting that running to ground some interesting lyrics led me to an entire religious sect to which some very famous musicians belong (Ghostface Killah, Badu, Rakim and Busta Rhymes, among others). But then, I had no idea Opus Dei existed until Dan Brown wrote about them. Us Protestants who grew up in the American South were seldom let in on much that was Catholic – we were told even less that was Muslim in nature. This is one of many reasons why I snert in the face of people who reject popular culture as being without merit. You can learn from anything if you are so inclined. Had it not been for a popular song, I’d still be in the dark about the Five Percenters.
So that is this week’s Media dump, a whole religious sect that flew under my white radar for many years that I discovered through a song. I’ve got some other interesting dumps in February, including an odd book zine out of Australia and hopefully Friday I will have up a Jim Goad discussion. If not, look for it Monday.
(And because these days writing about anything is seen as an open endorsement, please be clear that I write about all kinds of things that I don’t believe in. I am an atheist who finds religion interesting. And if you want to discuss this sect in a negative manner, stick to the actual beliefs of the sect that you can verify via research you can share or stick to what I have written. I am so sick of Islam-bashing that if you act the fool and I don’t ban you, I will be very unkind to you, and I hate being unkind. So stay on topic, all you Islamaphobes who came here for Breivik and stayed for my many, obvious charms, namely that I don’t ban you at first sight.)
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: God help me, but just bear with me for a moment. Back when I stumbled across the information about Johnny Gosch and the whole Franklin Scandal, I did a search and somehow ended up on the site of a woman called Eleanor White – I can no longer recall the exact link that got me there, but believe me, I got there. Anyway, Eleanor is a person who believes in gang stalking, meaning that organized groups of government entities and private citizens stalk her, breaking into her home, wearing out her clothes, breaking her furniture, leaving mounds of dirt on her kitchen floor, tapping her phone calls, harassing her at work, following her every move and using advanced technology to read her mind. The site had some unintentionally hilarious moments, like when White or someone else posted pictures of some very ratty long johns worn through at the crotch as proof that someone was breaking into their home and wearing out their clothes.
But ultimately, there was nothing funny about any of it because no matter whether or not you believe these people’s claims, the fact remains that they think this is happening to them and some are terrified. Regardless, the first link on the Alphabetical Site list White had on her site was to a review of Gloria Naylor’s 1996. So I had to get a copy. It took me a while to make myself read it. And I don’t even really want to discuss it here because I know that the end result will be a lot of e-mails if not comments from people who genuinely think they are victims of gang or multiple stalkers and will accuse me of being part of the vast conspiracy of people loosening the buttons on their coats, taking their new tires and replacing them with bald radials in order to make them miserable, or beaming thought rays into their brains to inspire suicide. But I read it and by my own messed up, self-imposed rules, discuss it I must.
Comments: I am a grad school dropout. I finished one semester and realized I was just not cut out for it. I was 26 and didn’t want anybody telling me what to read anymore because I just wanted to be left alone with my true crime, my conspiracy theories, my Loch Ness monster photo analyses and my Fay Weldons. I flat out didn’t have the mental discipline it took to get my Master’s, which was no surprise really because as an undergrad, I would stay up until the wee hours after studying to read the books I wanted to read, sometimes faking my way through classes because I couldn’t bring myself to read Beowulf or Mrs. Dalloway. But in that one semester of grad school, I took an African-American women’s writers class and studied Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor. We read The Women of Brewster Place and Mama Day, the latter being not a great novel, but not a bad one either. And the former, in addition to winning a National Book Award in 1983, was a favorite of Oprah, who starred as one of the characters in the mini-series based on the book.
I wonder if Oprah has read 1996. I wonder what she thinks about this book, about what has happened to Gloria Naylor. Something in me tells me she hasn’t read this book. Nor have most Naylor fans who may stumble across this discussion. I am using large quotes from this book in order to discuss it thoroughly and if it seems like I am ridiculing Naylor or anyone else who believes in mind control or gang stalking, I’m not. But if I don’t use her words and react to them with candor, it will be impossible to show why this book is so shocking and so odd.
Gloria Naylor purchased a dream home on St. Helena Island in South Carolina. She set out to spend her summers there, relaxing away from New York and gardening. All was idyllic except for Eunice Simon’s cats. Her neighbor’s cats routinely dug and defecated in her garden. Visiting with Simon did Naylor no good and relations between the two degenerated. Things came to a head when Naylor put out poison to kill tree rats and ended up killing one of Simon’s cats instead. Yes, as in every book I read these days, there is a dead cat in 1996. Things spiral completely out of control when Naylor loses it in a supermarket and snipes at Eunice, “You bitch.” Simon hears “Jew Bitch” and it’s katy bar the door.
At this point, the book slides completely into speculation on Naylor’s part, a retelling of what she thinks must have happened (and bear in mind, Eunice Simon is a pseudonym, as are most of the names in this book, so trying to research what happened to Naylor is impossible). According to Naylor, Simon’s brother is highly placed in the National Security Agency, and though he is tired of his oversensitive sister, he finds that Naylor has tenuous social ties to Black Muslims and begins to make her life hell on those grounds. Using the anti-Jew sentiment that Eunice misheard in the supermarket combined with anti-Semitism perceived as the aim behind Black Muslim groups, Dick Simon from the NSA not only launches an investigative campaign against Naylor, but he also calls in the local ADL to assist stalking and tailing her.
Naylor’s garden is killed off by stalkers. Her home is broken into. She is followed everywhere she goes. Her computer is hacked. Three students recruited by the NSA to torment her – she calls them The Boys – terrorize her at all hours. A friend who visits her is threatened. She returns to New York and the organized stalking continues. Every few minutes, cars stop and open and slam close their doors outside her apartment. Neighbors let the NSA set up a computer and satellite in their home so that thought rays can be beamed into Naylor’s brain. These thoughts they send her are meant to cause her to try to kill herself. When Naylor fights back against the thought rays via inner strength, the NSA ups the ante and begins to read her thoughts and respond to them in real time via typed words on a computer, a sort of intercranial instant message conversation. Untold amounts of money and man hours are spent on tailing and antagonizing Naylor, who accidentally killed a cat and spoke admiringly of the Million Man March.
I am not going to dither here as others have who have read this book, refusing to comment on the factual truth of the events as Naylor perceives them. Outside of sites on organized and gang stalking, you will find scholars weasel out of dealing with the horror of the content by stating the largely irrelevant: that whether or not you believe Naylor was a victim of organized citizen and government stalking, isn’t this an interesting look at race relations in America, a sober reminder of the potential for a tyrannical police state or a fascinating combination of narrative fiction and speculation? That’s some bullshit right there, folks.
I won’t waffle because it is a condescending move not to state facts plainly because I don’t want to look like I am calling a renowned writer crazy. Yes, race relations are still terrible in this country. Yes, the government is intrusive. And maybe Naylor set off a Jewish neighbor with some ties to the NSA and Naylor was investigated a bit rigorously as a result. But nothing else here that Naylor describes as a fictional narrative of true events is even plausible. There are those who think that the fallout of her dispute with her neighbor caused Naylor to become mentally ill. I have no idea. But this book is full of delusions.
When a person says they are stalked, I can believe them. When a person says they were investigated rigorously by the government, I can believe it. Believe me, I can believe it. We all have stories to tell in this post 1984, post 9/11 age. But when a person tells me that the government has been reading their mind with a computer and a type of satellite, typing in responses to their thoughts in an abusive argument, not only can I not believe it, but it brings into doubt even the rational, reasonable accusations the person made. Given the paranoiac belief that Jews are fueling the attacks against her, reliance that Naylor has genuine understanding of what happened to her is crucial to being able to tolerate this book as much more than an anti-Jewish polemic in which a misunderstood insult in a grocery store can launch the entire force of the Anti-Defamation League in a campaign of terror. But then again, I also think only a True Believer in the utter corruption and complete, almost God-like competence of our government will be able to believe the whole of 1996.
This is gonna be one of my longer discussions so read the rest under the jump.