Earlier this month I watched with shock and dismay as what has now come to be referred to as the "Pool Party Brawl" which occurred in McKinney, Texas. The video that went viral shows Officer David Eric Casebolt briefly waving his handgun at young partygoers who approached him as he tried to subdue a bikini-clad 15-year-old African-American girl, Miss Dajerria Becton. The officer ultimately immobilized her by putting her face down on the ground whilst straddling her and ultimately placing a knee on her back. Playing out before my very eyes was a collision of racism and sexism.
This week has brought another collision of sorts that is playing out in the media and involves both innate racial identity and the co-opting of a racial identity. Ms. Rachel Dolezal, the former president of the Spokane branch of the NAACP, was outed in the media by her parents and adopted siblings as someone who was passing as an African-American woman, but who, in fact, was White. Certainly, many young White people identify strongly with African Americans and African-American culture. A White person running a chapter of the NAACP is not a problem either; the history of the NAACP itself is that the majority of the original founders of the NAACP over a century ago were actually White people.
The issue at hand is that a White person who is pretending to be Black, and is running a branch of the NAACP is indeed the problem. Of more concern is Ms. Dolezal's lack of honesty and integrity, and the collateral damage she has done to the community she claims to want to be a part of.
The incident in McKinney, Texas for many people, was yet another example of the ways in which young African-American children are viewed as "older" and in the eyes of many and as less than. Watching the images of that scantily clad young African-American girl, with an older white male astride her, was startling and had deep historical connotations that hard as she may will never be the lived reality of Ms. Dolezal. Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart quotes Dolezal's brother Ezra saying, "Back in the early 1900s, what she did would be considered highly racist." Capehart goes on to say, "Blackface remains highly racist, no matter how down with the cause a white person is."
In her book "Killing Rage: Ending Racism," scholar, feminist, and social activist bell hooks states "Whether they are able to enact it as lived practice or not, many white folks active in anti-racist struggle today are able to acknowledge that all whites (as well as everyone else within white supremacist culture) have learned to overvalue "whiteness" even as they simultaneously learn to devalue blackness."
As a clinical social work practitioner for more than 35 years, the complexity of family dynamics is very seldom lost upon me and indeed what we are seeing with the Dolezals are some deeply rooted family issues. After watching the abuse and humiliation of that young African-American teenager last week, I would say to Ms. Dolezal that though she might have compassion and empathy for what it means to be Black in America, that her 15-year-old self would not have suffered the indignities as were meted out to Dajerria Becton in McKinney, Texas. No way, no how. And that is the major difference between a truly lived experience and the co-option of a people's experience.