Knowing people's true identities is getting a little tricky these days.
For decades we thought Bruce Jenner, the Olympic Wheaties guy, was a man. Now, we find out he's a woman.
Then there's Rachel Dolezal, the former NAACP President in Spokane, Wash. Turns out she's a white female who morphed into a black woman all the way down to the bronze skin and coiled hair. Is it just me? Or is the world getting a tad bit confusing?
I find Dolezal's case particularly interesting because it raises so many questions about everything from racial privilege to reverse discrimination, sparking a wide range of opinions on social media. Some of my Facebook friends see Dolezal as an impostor who tried to co-opt the African-American experience masked in blackface. Others have defended her right to be "transracial" if she chooses, and praised her work in the civil rights arena. A few blamed her parents for revealing her little secret. And some have used the revelation as an opportunity to assess what it really means to be black in America.
Well, I'm still thinking the whole thing through. But I have reached at least one conclusion, which has to do with deception.
Based on my religious convictions, I personally believe that people were born the way God intended them to be, whether it's race or gender. But we live in a free society and people have the right to be whomever they choose. Yet, I think a certain level of transparency is required so other people know exactly with whom they're dealing.
So if a man becomes a woman, for example, the people that person dates have a right to know she's transgender so they can make informed decisions. Likewise, if you're a civil rights leader speaking on behalf of a community that assumes you're black based on a manufactured identity then that community has a right to know that, too. It's like the tag on a jacket that says "man-made material." At least you know what you're getting.
The problem that I have with the Dolezal story is not that she was a white woman heading a predominately black civil rights organization or that she taught classes on African-American culture at Eastern Washington University. The NAACP was founded by both black and white leaders and has had white members for more than 100 years. A person can teach a university class on any topic as long as they have the proper credentials.
It's not even that Dolezal has chosen to identify as a black woman. I actually find it a little flattering. It's not every day that you see white people wanting to be black in a Eurocentric society. It's usually the other way around.
What bothers me is that Dolezal allegedly lied about having black ancestry on at least one application, about being the mother of her black adopted brother and about having a black father, according to media reports. It seems she deliberately went out of her way to concoct a false scenario, essentially living a lie.
Maybe Dolezal felt she had to do so to be accepted in the black community, which is unfortunate if true. Yet, that doesn't excuse what appears to be blatant deception.
The Dolezal family feud continues to unfold. According to recent reports, Dolezal's only biological brother faces trial for allegedly molesting a black child that their parents adopted. Sounds like there are some serious family issues, and we'll just have to wait to see the outcome.
In the meantime, there's no getting around the obvious. We sure live in a wacky world.
Alva James-Johnson, 706-571-8521. Reach her on Facebook at AlvaJamesJohnsonLedger.