Mixed Race Identity and the Case of Rachel Dolezal

Rachel DolezalOn Friday it was Loving Day, the celebration of the 1967 civil rights victory for the legalization of interracial marriage. From those unions come mixed race children. I am one of those children – the embodiment of Martin Luther King’s Dream.

With a mixed heritage comes two issues: appearance and culture, which affect one another.

It’s harder to adopt a culture if you’re not acknowledged or accepted by those who practice it.

My skin tone is Mediterranean and without sun is very pale. My naturally untamed dark brown hair is a dead giveaway to my mixed status; if I should straighten it, few would know. While my maternal uncle rejected me based on my skin colour, his mother (and my grandmother), on the other hand, was pleased. I would be accepted by a predominantly white British society and therefore would have more opportunities to prosper. This lighter skin tone has, I believe, restricted my access to those of Afro-Caribbean descent since they cannot identify my association with them, and has therefore limited that part of my cultural development.

Culturally speaking, I’m more British than Afro-Caribbean. My divorced maternal grandmother was far too busy working her butt off to support five children to pass Barbadian culture on to them. British customs are therefore the ones I’m most familiar and comfortable. Time and time again people have wrongly assumed my mother’s culture was associated with her skin tone. In that respect she’s culturally the whitest black person I know. However, my mother’s best friend for forty years is Jamaican, as is my half-sister’s mother’s family, and in their presence I feel happy and at home. I still crave knowledge and understanding of Barbados and its people, and hopefully one day I will visit the island, though I hold no hope of it being the same place it once was when my grandparents emigrated in the 1950s.

When looking at mixed race individuals with darker skin tones it becomes clear that they either identify themselves or are identified by others as black or non-white. Many call Barack Obama the first black American president, which isn’t true. He’s the first mixed race president. Skin tone and nationality largely dictates which culture will be assimilated, or at least which culture society assumes you’ll assimilate.

The problem with Rachel Dolezal is not that she has assimilated African American culture but that she lied, and not just about her race but about who she is, her personal history and supposed episodes of victimization. That’s not something easily forgiven or ignored. Neither is ‘blackface’ socially acceptable (although it looks more like orangeface – the product of fake tan).

I don’t believe Rachel Dolezal suffers with body dysmorphic disorder or that her identity issues are similar to that of the trangendered. She’s not ‘transracial’, she has a personality disorder – histrionic, narcissistic or a combination of both. She was perfectly capable of achieving what she has as a white person. Being white wouldn’t have restricted her opportunities at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), so there was no need to lie about her racial identity.

Brazil celebrates Mixed Race Day on June 27th.

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