Reverse Sarah Jane: Why Rachel Dolezal Shocked Me

Sarah Jane in Imitation of Life

So, the news cycle is going absolutely bananas with the strange quixotic journey of Rachel Dolezal, an NAACP standout, “natural hair” proponent and seeming “sistah in the struggle” who was just outed as …um…White.

Dolezal has provided conflicting information about her own racial make-up, according to news reports which depict her as dodging the question altogether, once claiming we all hail from the African continent and, in at least one case, offering herself up for DNA testing.

But the saddest aspect of this story is that when I personally read of this reverse Sarah Jane situation (S/O to “Imitation of Life”), my first reaction was…why?  We all knew why Sarah Jane in the classic “Imitation of Life” tried to pass for White.  Like the real Black people the character was based on, being White could mean access to education, freedom, money and, in extreme cases, getting to keep your life.  It wasn’t about wanting to be something you weren’t, it was about wanting to be “somebody” period in a society that constantly told you that you were less than human.

Dolezal has inherent privilege and everything that comes with it.  What would make her part with it and to such a deep degree?

I mean, she’s not that garbage rapper-turned-Billboard-topper Iggy Azalea who co-opted our culture to make money. She’s not Kylie Jenner faking our sultry pout to garner accolades.   It seems that rather than capitalizing in any monetary or attention-sloring way, the now much-mocked Dolezal was working undercover purely as an ally.

What did she stand to gain?

It’s not that I don’t love being a Black woman.  I most certainly do.  However, living in this society, it’s clear that it comes with its own burdens.  I could do this all day, but here are just a handful of the reasons why Dolezal’s choice is absolutely puzzling to me.

1. Black lives matter, except for ours.  Black women had no issue standing up for Tamar Rice, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and of course they shouldn’t.  These are our sons, uncles, brothers, nephews….they are our everything.  Yet it still seems, and we’ll see how McKinney pans out, that this overabundance of concern and support is not exactly a two-way street. Check MOTHER JONES for background on that.

2. We’re America’s most unwanted, at least if you want to believe OKCupid.  If you let some of these self-appointed dating experts and meme-makers tell it, we need to undergo bootcamp to get, and/or keep a man.  Though relationship gurus are everywhere, I personally find that the “advice” lobbed at Black women is about being less aggressive, independent, reticent to embody traditional homemaker traits, etc.  Oh, and by the way, don’t wear sleep bonnets to sleep, stay in shape and remain virginal all day, but flip that freak switch at night.  Seriously, it’s exhausting.

3. Even our hair is a political issue.  What other woman in this world has to justify the texture of her hair or deal with thoughts that it could somehow be seen as unprofessional or unkempt?  It’s the hair growing out of our skulls, not an amendment to the Constitution.  The fact that a Black artist felt compelled to stage a seeming petting zoo to help our non-Black sisters and brothers understand our kinks better speaks volumes.  And not volumes I’d like to hear spoken again.

4. We don’t merit uplifting.  One would think that seeing Black women denigrated in music videos, by professional athletes and via corny dating surveys might easily explain our need and desire for amazing, self-esteem boosting efforts like the Black Girls Rock broadcast and award ceremony.  But nawl, they wouldn’t even let us have that, snapping on our First Lady Michelle Obama for attending the event.  

5.  We have to fight to be seen as sex symbols.  True indeed, women do not need to strive to be objectified, but I think all of us, no matter what, want to be seen as appealing.  So the fact that a moronic New York Times writer fixed her fingers to type that Viola Davis didn’t meet the mainstream beauty standard, in part because of her darker skin, made me want to stuff her in her own desk.

6.  Our features and fashion trends are never pretty on us.

Kim Kardashian popularized the big butt.  Her sister, Kylie, drew attention to full lips.  Bo Derek “made” cornrows cool.  Say what now?  In this age of social media, we are not going for these shenanigans. But the fact that people have the nerve to still pull it.  Man, they even tried to cop our Bantu knots as mini-buns.  The hell?

7. We don’t merit a defense.

This particular situation is not as serious as ignoring police killings of Black women, but I will admit that I find it interesting that we don’t inspire the pop culture all-points-defense when it comes to our images in the media.  For example, let’s take a look at serial offender Snoop.  He got in trouble for roasting Iggy Azalea on social media, comparing her unfavorably to the Wayans bros in “White Chicks.”  He just this week fell under more fire for calling a camera operator “thick,” much to her chagrin and a wave of Snoop-is-so-sexist outrage.  But here’s the thing…Snoop Dogg has boasted about being a real-life pimp and he led full grown Black women onto an MTV stage on leashes.  He has a history of misogynistic foolery.  Refresh your memories here at the Toronto Star site.  Not to pick on him as he is far from alone, and there are very sexist men of all hues, but why is it a federal case when his target is a White woman?  Give that a thought or two…