Passing for black? Now that’s a twist
Cable News Network (CNN)
Lisa Respers France, Senior producer, CNN Digital
(CNN)—”In this day and age who in the world willingly wants to be black?”
I jokingly said that to my husband when news about Rachel Dolezal broke.
Dolezal, 37, is president of the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the NAACP whose racial identity is being questioned, now that her parents have produced what they say is her birth certificate. It appears to show that she is white.
They said their daughter, who reportedly earned a master’s degree from the historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C., and is a professor of Africana Studies at Eastern Washington University, began to “disguise herself” as black after the family adopted four African-American children.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a proud black woman who grew up in a family that is incredibly diverse and has such a heritage of hues that my parents were once questioned in a store as to where they “got that white baby from,” as they carted around my fair-skinned and light-eyed infant nephew.
But with all the heated debate over race relations and the treatment of minorities by law enforcement, which has resulted in unrest and more than a few black mothers burying their sons and daughters, I was both flabbergasted and intrigued by any claim that a white woman would willingly pass as black.
Race isn’t necessarily skin color
The concept of “passing” is something many African-Americans are familiar with. Some members of my own family were so light-skinned, with European features, that they willingly chose to live as white rather than deal with the discrimination of being black in America.
My mother, Patricia, who is fair and has greenish-gray eyes, tells the story of when her grandmother arrived at the bank where my mother worked after it closed. My biracial great-grandmother, Rose Evans, knocked on the window as my mother stood next to her white co-worker, counting out their drawer.
“There’s a woman trying to get your attention,” the co-worker told my mother.
When my mother responded “I know. That’s just my grandmother,” the co-worker continued: “No. There’s a white woman trying to get your attention.” “No. That’s my grandmother,” my mother repeated as her co-worker turned bright red with embarrassment.
The truth of the matter is that when it comes to race, you just can’t tell from looking…
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