As I pen the history of my own family "Dreams of Moore" a tale of four generations of African American women dating from 1880 to the present. I feel an intimate anger toward the actions of Rachel Dolezal. The attack she made by limiting blackness to a look, commandeered the struggles of a race, and made a mockery of a history.
Our family's women include my great great grandmother Maebelle who escaped from the clutches of a culture of enslavement. Hattie, my great grandmother who dealt with a transition to freedom, in a Mississippi adjusting to life without bondage. Dessie and Sharon, my grandmother and mother, who represented the great migration with moves to New York big city life in the 1960s, and Los Angeles in the 1980s respectively. These women's lives were the great tale of America's social experiment. Struggling with changes in racism, feminism, family structures and more. Their dreams of a brighter future were the projection of possibility. Rachel Dolezal took these, and other stories as her own by claiming to be African American. Her actions were disrespectful to a race of people that overcame so much over the course of our great nation's history.
As I said in the piece, "The Failure to Erase Racism"
If race were a paintbrush, racism and its penalty is the great American painting that resulted from its use. A penalty that created Baltimore through racial covenants, designed Ferguson through segregation combined with white flight, and set out a nationwide system of criminal justice ... Yet, despite the truth of its result, many now want to recreate the colors of race to include hues and possibilities, which are more mirages than reality ... From the start race as a social construct was built out of, and for the purpose of upholding American slavery. It was used both as a justification for white slave owners for their immoral institution, and also as an easy way to make whiteness a commodity for non-land owning white Americans. This construct developed at the cost of black lives across the United States. The design was fortified over hundreds of years. As chattel slavery encased itself at the heart of the American economy, so did American racism ... It is race that ensnared generations of blacks in a spiral of failure upon which America built so much of its financial success, and it is the consequence of racism that now is the corroded artery choking American cities from Ferguson to Baltimore and beyond. It is here that we see the reason for Affirmative Action, Fair Housing Laws and Voting Rights protections.
American blackness has been left defined by appearance, rather than history for far too long. The black experience in the United States is so much richer than just our outward appearance. Rife with stories of heroes that helped slaves escape bondage, stood up to civil injustice and created music that changed the world's view of black culture's possibility. Beyond being colored is a history of whips, chains, and generational subjugation. This past has lasting effects on black families. For too long this result has been the untold American story. The story that connects the creation of the modern urban ghetto, with the lack of answers after southern plantation life was brought to an end. We now exist in a place where we don't often enough see women like my own mother, Sharon Moore coming of age in a Los Angeles infested with gangs and crack cocaine, through her great grandmother Maebelle's life and limited resource as she found her way in a South no longer bound by plantation life. A visual with which we understand Sharon's modern struggles as more than just personal choice. But, also as the reality of what happens when long standing cultural issues are unresolved. A legacy of tragedy of sorts. Black America as a a group deals with this unsettled truth's impact family to family, neighborhood to neighborhood.
My pastor at First AME church in Los Angeles gave a sermon this week and spoke to how we, "limit our capacity by not dealing with our past." It is ineffective to move forward into the future without direction. Rachel Dolezal's actions are now bringing an awareness to deal with a dereliction of our past. Not just by her, but by all of us for not digging deeper.
As black America jokes about Dolezal on Twitter with #AskRachel, a moment of reckoning with one's own part in this historical abandonment is being lost. Black America must learn itself in context of history, and then it can better insulate against this type of appropriation. Many technological tools are at our disposal that were not available at any point prior to begin the process. From Ancestry.com to 23andme DNA testing. It is through the use of these tools that we increase our capacity beyond this lifetime, and reach into our past to find purpose. As we do this great work our dreams will become our own again, and the truth will be more than enough light to see the path forward.
"Know what sparks the light in you. Then use that light to illuminate the world." Oprah Winfrey