What I Learned From Rachel Dolezal

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Wed, Jun 17 - 3:00 pm EST | 3 years ago by
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Yesterday, I learned that I am actually an intolerant person. And that’s OK. Because in reality, tolerance is overrated, isn’t it? Demanding tolerance in and of itself is quite realistically the act of demanding the right to determine another person’s thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. Yesterday, I also learned that I am a hypocrite. And you know what? That is also OK. Because in reality, I have the right to pick and choose what it is that I do, or don’t, believe in, agree with, or feel a certain way about.

That’s one of the beautiful things about being an individual. You get to decide what you think about things. You don’t have to be consistent, because your thoughts don’t affect anyone but you. So yes, I’m a hypocrite. The big thing is that I acknowledge and accept this about myself. Many others who have found themselves in my exact position the past few days are not quite as open about such things.

No one wants to be called intolerant, or a bigot, or a hypocrite… but why are such words always so negatively laced? Let’s talk about why I’m a hypocrite.

I fully support Caitlyn Jenner‘s decision to live her life as a woman. Was she born biologically male? She sure was. But she isn’t hurting anyone. While I personally feel more supportive of those who make the transition without millions of dollars, a Vanity Fair cover shoot, a loving family, and a massive fan base, I still support her decision.

I do not feel the same for everyone, however.

Recently in the headlines everywhere, we heard the story of Rachel Dolezal, who has become so popular that my phone automatically updated to suggest her last name whenever I type the word “Rachel.” Dolezal was a “black woman” who was outed by her parents as being white. She was the President of the Spokane NAACP who resigned following the outing and resulting massive social media firestorm. And now, to the surprise of exactly no one, Dolezal is on her media interview tour, milking her 15 minutes of controversy.

Rachel Dolezal interview
Source: MSNBC

In an interview Tuesday with Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC, Dolezal said that she does in fact identify as black, despite being biologically white. She describes drawing herself with “the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon” at ages as young as five, and growing up with the “black is beautiful” mindset and wanting to celebrate that. Dolezal told Harris-Perry that she lives her life “really owning what it means to experience and live in blackness…” but that from a young age she was “socially conditioned” to not own that because she was “limited to the biological identity trust upon” her.

Let’s pretend for a minute Dolezal is neither con artist nor raging psychopath, and that she actually really believes this. How is Rachel Dolezal any different from Caitlyn With-A-C Jenner?

Every attempt I have seen made by people asking what the difference between transgender and “transracial” is results in, essentially, a “my feelings” rebuttal. If we’re being completely honest here, there is no major difference between choosing your gender identity and choosing your racial identity. Many claim that race is very much so determined by cultural upbringing – but the same could really be said about gender as well. Growing up male is different than growing up female, because males and females are different. History of oppression? Talk to any hardcore feminist, they’ll tell you of both the historical and the “current” oppression of women.

I see the question “Has she even thought about how this affects the black community?” Well, how does it? Who is really walking away from this hurt? Has any actual, direct, identifiable harm been done to anyone, anywhere? If anything, Dolezal has done more to unite the races than anyone before her, because we’re all talking about how crazy she is… together. What did Dolezal really do? She changed her appearance, advocated for a race that was not biologically her own, and lied about her past.

We are a society that accepts tanning, hair dye, breast implants, and even surgically redesigned vaginas as part of a person’s right to choose their appearance – and yet few people are accepting Dolezal’s choice and, dare I say agency, when determining how she wants to look and live. She’s advocating for black people while living as a black woman? Even without living the way she does, is this actually a real complaint? I’ll agree on lying about her past, but she sure isn’t the first to have done such a thing. Much like someone who is transgender lives their life as the gender then have transitioned to, Dolezal lived her life as the race she transitioned to. She caused no direct harm to anyone.

And yet I refuse to accept it. And that’s OK, because I don’t have to accept it. I don’t have to accept her any more than she has to accept me for my tattoos, or my unfortunately pale skin, or the fact that I’m a single mother. Our lives are affected zero by our opinions of one another.

The people who are trying to say there is a real difference between transgender and “transracial” people are the ones who want to judge her without jeopardizing their politically correct social justice mask. To them I say: wave that hypocrite flag. Own it. There’s nothing wrong with being a hypocrite as long as you realize you are.

One thing I will give Rachel Dolezal is that she made me reflect on myself and the ways in which I’ve always responded to a variety of different bigots. Is personal intolerance really so bad? Am I an awful person for not accepting her for who she is? Why is acceptance a thing to be demanded? Why does anyone have the right to dictate another person’s thoughts and beliefs? Why is there one definitive “right” way to view the world, and the people living within it?

We all want acceptance, but none of us will ever be accepted, or respected, by everyone in the world. None of us will ever accept, or respect, everyone in the world. Am I a hypocrite? You bet. I’m exercising my right to believe what I want to believe, accept what I want to accept, and think what I want to think. And, for one last time, that’s OK.

Liz Finnegan is a soulless ginger with no political leanings. Pun enthusiast. Self-proclaimed “World’s Okayest Person.” Retro gaming contributor for The Escapist.

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