My first reaction, like many of you I am sure, was…
A white woman has been “living as a black woman.”
My first question, in all seriousness was “What does it mean to live as a black woman?” But soon enough, things were cleared up.
Rachel Dolezal was lying about her identity.
Not that lying about your identity is what it means to “live as a black woman.” She was just trying very hard to be a black woman. She was dishonest with people. She implied that she had an African-American father. Bruce / Caitlyn Jenner didn’t have the luxury of lying about his / her gender.
Rachel Dolezal told Matt Lauer that she has been this way since she was five, drawing self-portraits with the brown crayons instead of the peach colored crayons.
On the one hand, Rachel appears to have had a challenging and unusual childhood, so maybe that’s true. On the other hand, she has been proven to be a very unreliable narrator for her own life, so who knows what we should believe.
But here’s the thing. Rachel may be unusual. She may be unreliable. She may even be unethical. She might even be crazy…
…But I’ll claim her.
The Desire to Be Original
Rachel Dolezal’s history is extremely problematic. If she is remembered at all, it will probably be as a very good-hearted woman with an extremely conflicted inner life.
Apparently she also considers herself an artist…or she would like to consider herself an artist. She even has a Masters of Fine Arts. Recently, some of her artwork has come to light. Some drawings, some acrylic paintings, and some collage work.
I never have been a fan of collage artists, as cutting faces out of magazines sounds like something that preteen girls do to decorate their lockers, not grown men and women. But not only are her images stolen directly from the photographers of National Geographic, one painting in particular is almost a complete copy of J.M.W. Turner’s 1840 painting, The Slave Ship.
So she goes to Howard college, earns a Master’s degree, and the extent of her creativity is to copy a nineteenth century master.
It appears to me that Rachel Dolezal wishes she were an artist.
I can relate to that. There was a time when I was in college, and didn’t know who I was. And I wanted to be that kind of artist. I wanted to be original.
The Other Part of Town
Here is my hometown, there is a neighborhood my wife and I love to visit. In fact, I was just there yesterday morning. We drive in from our boring suburban neighborhood. We visit the tiny artisan bread store with the French name. We drink pour over coffee, and see at least two major local business owners on a regular basis. We eat their food. We look at their impossibly beautiful postwar houses.
Cheri and I would love to move to this neighborhood. But I think if we ever did, we would realize we would be out of our league.
These people are entrepreneurs. They are savvy about a lot of things. They own and run small businesses. They are helping create a business renaissance in Kansas City.
Cheri and I go to visit, and pretend that we belong there. We wish we did. But we just don’t feel cool enough for this neighborhood.
No Matter Who We Are…
See, everyone does this, I think.
Whatever we have, we aren’t quite happy with it.
When I was a kid, I knew I wasn’t an athlete. But I tried to pretend, in order to avoid the mocking of other kids. It didn’t work. I could not cover my complete lack of athleticism.
Cheri and I buy new clothes and drink expensive coffee and play pretend. But at home, we are just our ordinary selves.
Everyone is somewhat alienated from who they are and who they are supposed to be. I think that is the effect of human sin. It is a universal condition. Some of us are privileged enough to indulge in fantasies. Some of us take those fantasies much further than others. But most of us have a lifelong quest to accept how we have been made, and how the people we love have been made.
The biggest conflicts in my life are with myself, and all the ways I wish I was different.
I wish I could change my appearance.
I wish I was more creative.
I wish I was a better artist, a better writer, a better teacher, a better parent, a better friend.
The second biggest conflicts in my life are with my wife, and all the ways I wish she was different.
We can tinker around the edges of our identities. We can become better at being us. But in the end, we are still us. I want to teach my son to be happy with who he is, not be consumed with becoming something he is jealous of.
But to do that, I have to learn to do it myself.