Wanting to Belong

We all just want to belong. Recently, a woman by the name of Rachel Dolezal has been in the news for being a “white woman, posing as a black woman.” Richard Pérez-Peña of The New York Times wrote, “In 2002, Ms. Dolezal received a master of fine arts degree from Howard University, the historically black school in Washington, D.C. She has been an instructor in Africana Studies Program at Eastern Washington University and she was, until recently, the president of her local NAACP in Spokane, Washington.”

I have a professional background in transracial adoption and was told that is why I was contacted by a reporter, Narmeen Choudhury, from News Channel 11 in New York City. Narmeen asked to interview me so that I could share my thoughts about Rachel’s interest in “posing as a black woman.” Narmeen came to my office at 3pm and the program aired at 6pm. One thing that I want to point out is that I am NOT an expert in transracial identity, as the interviewer states. I am an expert in transracial adoption.

I gave Narmeen examples of what (some) adopted children of color experience living with white families and in white communities but that is different from Rachel’s experience. A similarity is that frequently children who are a different race from their parents, don’t feel that they belong because the look different. Rachel seems to feel as though she doesn’t belong to her parents either. She has denied their existence, particularly her father’s in several interviews by identifying a black man as her father.

I told Narmeen that Rachel’s news story reminded me of a book that I read in high school called, Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin. The author, a white man, took tanning pills which darkened his skin. He wanted to know what it was like to be a black man in the southern part of the U.S. during the 1960’s. He knew he would face discrimination but he was unaware of just how difficult his life would be. Rachel Dolezal is a white woman (who identifies as black) and lives in the Northwest part of the U.S.. This is typically a very liberal part of the country but in 2015, there is still racism everywhere in this country.

In another New York Times piece, Allyson Hobbs wrote, “As a historian who has spent the last 12 years studying “passing,” I am disheartened that there is so little sympathy for Ms. Dolezal or understanding of her life circumstances.

The harsh criticism of her sounds frighteningly similar to the way African-Americans were treated when it was discovered that they had passed as white. They were vilified, accused of deception and condemned for trying to gain membership to a group to which they did not and could never belong.”

I’m curious to know what you think about the interview and about Rachel’s experience.  Let me know here. When have you wanted to belong?