For Your Consideration: It’s Never Black and White

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Our newest column – by Janice Taylor – is her personal viewpoint of current issues and the City of SeaTac. It does not necessarily reflect the views of The SeaTac Blog nor its staff. We are seeking additional regular columnists to reflect different opinions and views of SeaTac residents. Those interested can e-mail us at [email protected].

by Janice Taylor

By now, pretty much the entire world has heard the saga of Rachel Dolezal, former head of Spokane’s NAACP, the white woman who had passed herself as black until outed by her birth parents last week. Reactions ranged from outrage and indignation to comparison to Caitlyn Jenner to “so what”. Something Ms. Dolezal has accomplished in her ignominy is upping the discussion on race, diversity and personal identity. We’ll touch on that in a bit. Let’s talk integrity first.

Now let me state a fact up front: Ms. Dolezal did lie on job applications. She did misrepresent herself to employers, co-workers and the community at large. In our “polite and correct” society, this is considered wrong. Yet it’s done all the time, and most people have done it at least once in their lives. I’d like you, dear readers, to sit back and recall those braggadocio sessions of your own–perhaps embellishing some accomplishment or rose-coloring experiences to reflect a little better with others. Every high school grad applying to mid and top-level colleges knows the drill—what life experiences can be utilized, what extra-curricular activities can be milked for a better chance at acceptance. Résumé writing websites and experts actually preach elaboration of job accomplishments and enhancement with select key words to get passed the anonymous HR front line and secure an interview. Those same experts coach on how to “properly” respond to questions, even what to wear to better land the job. But that’s not really lying, is it?

Jordan Belfort, the real-life Wolf of Wall Street commented that losing integrity and ethics doesn’t happen over-night, it’s a slow decline. In thinking that way, it’s not really hard to understand Ms. Dolezal’s transition from a blue-eyed, blond to the black (her word) activist she became. When she applied to historically black Howard University, interviewers were surprised that she was white. Obviously something on her application caught their attention, and it wasn’t her “white” experiences. Now, Howard University is not the most racially diverse, with (as of 2013) 92.7% of its undergraduate student body identifying as “Black/African American” and 1.1% “White”. Given Ms. Dolezal’s affinity for African art and social justice, the pressure to fit in must have been high, and she did what she felt she had to do.

What’s that saying—When in Rome? Braids can be bought, as can culturally-appropriate clothing, and immersing oneself into a society leads to adapting mannerisms. Ms. Dolezal adjusted herself to fit the ideal of her desired career path. Which leads to her ultimate position with the NAACP and upping the discussion.

Would Ms. Dolezal have received consideration for that position had she declared her “whiteness?” Certain groups prize their “diversity”, and I’ve found this especially true with education, government and non-profit entities. And in their efforts to claim that banner, are these groups actually practicing another form of discrimination? I know questions of race, sex, age, religion, etc., are not legally allowed on job applications, but we’ve all seen the “voluntary” disclosure sections. If that “voluntary” disclosure isn’t supposed to mean anything, why is it there at all? (When I was unemployed in 2009, I was so tempted to check “Mixed” just to get someone to look at my resume!) One of the condemnations of Ms. Dolezal claims she took jobs away from qualified black applicants. But guess what? She WAS the qualified black applicant. Her resume and interview skills landed her the position, but her self-declared racial identity probably set it all up. (While the Spokane NAACP membership is quite diverse, its leadership group, judging from the picture on their website, is all “black.”)

By all accounts I’ve seen, Ms. Dolezal was passionate about her advocacy and did a good job at it. During an MSNBC interview today, she summed up her accomplishments this way, “It is my hope that by securing a beautiful office for the organization in the heart of downtown, bringing the local branch into financial compliance, catalyzing committees to do strategic work in the five Game Changer issues, launching community forums, putting the membership on a fast climb, and helping many individuals find the legal, financial and practical support needed to fight race-based discrimination, I have positioned the Spokane NAACP to buttress this transition (her resignation).” Truth or résumé enhancement, you make the call, but no one complained about her work.

Do Ms. Dolezal’s means justify the ends? That’s hard to say. History has seen numerous chameleons and imposters both good and bad. One of my favorite good examples is the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, who posed as a stanch party man for years before he blew the lid off Communism. Could Ms. Dolezal be as effective while identifying as “white”? Again, hard to say. It has been done, as illustrated in this article in The Christian Science Monitor:

So how does all this affect us living in the Highline area? Well, we are a very diverse community with many newcomers to our country. Some of Ms. Dolezal’s critics alleged her “white, middle-class” upbringing excludes her from truly understanding minority experiences. I think that is false. While we do not have to usurp another’s life, we can engage our community neighbors and learn what their lives are like while maintaining our identities. If we can establish some common ground, we will have a basis for further exploration. And that, dear readers, is the beginning of action for change.


3 Responses to “For Your Consideration: It’s Never Black and White”
  1. Vicki. Lockwood says:

    Great catalyst for thoughtful consideration of this situation. Thank you Janice.

  2. Earl Gipson says:

    I am a 57 year old but identify as a 30 year old. Biology told me I was wrong as I almost blacked out a couple of weeks ago while splitting firewood most of the day in the sun.

    You may say I am critical of Ms. Dolezal, but actually I am not. She was able to do the job successfully for years without reproach no matter how she identified herself and her application after all these years of service is irrelevant. If I found my best employee was a previous prison inmate after years of honest/dedicated service would I fire them? Hell no. I might ask them to correct their application but most likely I might lose/shred it somehow “accidentally.” There is always forgiveness and our past is just that.

    We keep wanting to be colorblind, yet keep exacerbating the issue non the less. Her parents and siblings should have kept mum, enjoyed her success, and their personal laundry/emotional stuff is none of my or anyone else’s business.

    Yes, life is getting a little weird and unusual for us but it has been that way for each generational cycle as we age and we should just let this go. She can be a Martian as long as she performs the job she was hired to. She has done that.

  3. Pam F says:

    I love your bright blue brain logo. 🙂

    Looking forward to your next column.