Earlier this year, I named the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) one of my Giving Tuesday Top 5 organizations for their tireless advocacy around racial justice and women’s rights. NAPAWF has been at the forefront of many key issues relevant to the the AANHPI community, chief among them reproductive rights. For years, NAPAWF has engaged in a state-by-state fight to protect our reprodictive rights (which is of particular importance for the AANHPI community) in part by challenging conservative efforts to rollback abortion access with overtly race-baiting bans on abortions if doctors find that the procedure is sought for reasons such as fetal sex. Despite the lack of any evidence that women are seeking such abortions in any significant numbers, these restrictions are passed on the basis of stereotyping of Black, Asian and immigrant parents as immoral and sexist. Further, these racist laws have received scant commentary or criticism from mainstream media or center-aisle Democrats.
Two years ago, NAPAWF joined forces with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to file a lawsuit challenging one particularly vile and racist abortion ban in Arizona, which is noteworthy for its unusually explicit fear-mongering of Black and Asian women during debate that preceded passage of this as the first bill to ban race-selective abortion in addition to sex-selective abortion.
If you spend any time thinking about race or identity politics, you have by now heard of Rachel Dolezal, the (former) president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP who for several years passed as a (multiracial, light-skinned) Black woman until her parents revealed early last week that they are both White.
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.
It was at some point after Dolezal graduated and before she moved to Spokane that she began altering her appearance — darkening her skin and wearing her hair in braids — to (intentionally or unintentionally) lead the casual observer to assume she was multiracially Black. Perhaps initially, Dolezal simply chose not to correct those who made assumptions about her racial identity based on her appearance, but by the last few years, Dolezal was taking increasingly elaborate steps to maintain the subterfuge: she applied to a City commission position (which she received) while self-identifying as White, Black and Native, she wrote numerous social media posts subtly crafted to self-identify with Blackness, she presented her younger adopted brother as her own son, she identified an unknown older dark-skinned Black man as her father and fabricated a story about him forced to flee the Deep South, and she gave an hour-long interview with a graduate student (available in five parts on YouTube) where she recounts an apparently entirely made-up story of her life as a multiracial Black child discovering her Blackness at an early age.
Today, she told the Today show, “I identify as Black”.
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.
Since 2001, Reappropriate has been the web's foremost Asian American activism, identity, feminism, and pop culture blog!