Because we haven’t had enough thinkpieces on this subject, here’s another. (Yes, that’s sarcasm.)
This story took social media by storm, with each day revealing new details of Dolezal’s life: born in Montana and growing up with blonde hair, pale skin, and blue-green eyes, Dolezal reportedly increasingly identified with Black culture when her family adopted her two (Black) brothers. As a college student, Dolezal applied to Howard University as a fine arts major with a portfolio that focused on Black subjects, and was admitted on a scholarship. During her time at Howard, Dolezal identified as White, and when she graduated in 2002, she sued the school claiming racial discrimination when she was not offered a teaching position and when some of her work was removed from an exhibit to make room for other artists; the courts failed to uphold her claims.
As we approach this story, we must also question why and how this story came to be. Dolezal’s parents — estranged from Dolezal for many years — claim they are motivated only by the ethical implications of Dolezal’s racial performance. However, reports published this week say that last week’s revelation regarding Dolezal’s heritage may be an effort by Dolezal’s parents to discredit Dolezal, who has sided with the alleged victim in a sexual assault case involving Dolezal’s older biological brother. If so, anyone who chooses to write about Rachel Dolezal must acknowledge that this entire story may be part of a smear campaign designed to protect a sexual abuser from being held accountable for an alleged crime. Such smear tactics are disturbingly common countermeasures used to absolve those accused of rape and sexual assault by undermining the character of their (typically female) victims and their supporters.
Despite the circumstances of these revelations, however, we also cannot simply ignore the implications of Dolezal’s attempts at racial transformation. Dolezal’s attempts at passing enthralled the nation with equal parts fascination and disgust, in no small part because it raised for many of us weighty and confusing questions on the very construction of race: What constitutes membership in Blackness? Can a person not born into Blackness (or Whiteness or Brownness) simply choose to switch their race? If so, what would be the mechanism of this transformation? Is race-switching a one-way street?
The fight over net neutrality — which has been brewing for awhile — came to a head this year after a federal appeals court struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order of 2010 in January of this year. The appeals court ruling essentially deregulated the nation’s industry of internet providers, but gave the FCC the option to write new regulations. Within weeks, the FCC had voted to open themselves up to a 4-month comment period, and then to develop new rules governing the internet.
These events have been seen by net neutrality advocates as a momentous opportunity to establish federal regulations over the distribution of the internet that ensures it is equally accessible to all users.
But, last week, the nation’s largest coalition of civil rights organizations — the National Minority Organizations collective — submitted a joint letter to the FCC in support of deregulation of major internet providers, and apparently against the option favoured by the net neutrality movement.