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Friday, June 12, 2015

Reverse Passing

I'm going to just say from the beginning that I don't see any conflict about a Caucasian female working for the NAACP, at any level.

Did we not take extra ordinary steps to level the playing field among the races in employment, public transportation, public accommodations, housing, bank lending, and a host of other social and economic of our civilization?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of his dream when he said "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." This controversy of Rachel Dolezal "pretending to be black" enough to hold a high ranking position with the NAACP has set of the usual name-calling, outrage machine and echo chamber rhetoric.

Let us examine the context of "pretending" in terms of what one feels, believes about ones self, act accordingly to, and possibly actually is. There is no law that states that a Caucasian female cannot work for a traditionally African descent organization just like there is no legal prohibition for an African person working for IBM, Yale or Harvard. If one wants to employ DNA as the determinant of racial heritage one better be prepared to be surprised at who has been frequenting the family tree.

The National Geographic Society, IBM and the Waitt Foundation have been mapping the migration of humans around the planet and have determined that the most probably starting point was Sub-Saharan Africa.  Spencer Wells, Director of the Genographic Project started out with an austere endeavor and has since made an enormous contribution to the understanding of our collective heritage. At one point it time his work suggested that fully 75% of all humans alive on the planet today share the same genetic markers that show that they too are of African descent. Even the most "white white boy" may have those DNA markers and not ever know it.

So the important question to answer is how white makes you white and how black makes you black? Native American tribes have had to determine minimum parentage factors for inclusion in tribal wealth sharing as their populations grow and the per capita share goes down. This methodology is not legal in American employment.

For years, during the slave era of America and in the decades up to about the 1960s people whose families customarily labeled themselves as black and who looked "mostly white" did their part to pass as white for economic, social and legal reasons. The personal benefits were enormous. Artistic performers could actually stay in hotels and eat at restaurants in the cities they played in. Once their deception was discovered they were cast out and relegated to their "place as a black person" as then commonly practiced. So I suppose that Rachel Dolezal will today suffer the reverse of that stigma.

If she were male passing as female, female passing as male, gay passing as straight or vice versa, Catholic passing as Protestant, or old passing as young, there would be no legitimate criticism of her behavior. She would be judged by her performance not her DNA.

Soul Man (1986)

'To achieve his dream of attending Harvard, a pampered teen poses as a young black man to receive a full scholarship.' C.Thomas Howell did this movie to less than stellar reviews but it did present the notion that there were opportunities for African-Americans that were not available to white students. When the gig was up, the poser had the opportunity to stop being black and return to his privileged life.

Black Like Me (1961)

Journalist John Howard Griffin embarked on an odyssey of discovery when he darkened his skin and traveled about the country as a black man. His book of  this title was a shocking portrayal of racism in America that most people even today would rather not think about. One of his biggest problems was finding a restroom to use in a segregated nation. Although his experience was traumatic at times, he too was able to return to his white self and go on without his "blackness."

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