“In the end, there will be nothing to steal but our blackness” Ntokozo Qwabe, RMF and FMF activist

It is the potent witchcraft of white privilege that allowed a white woman to feel so entitled that she stole blackness when it took her fancy.

Last week, Rachel Dolezal, a white American woman, who masqueraded as black, came to South Africa to speak on race and to market her book ‘In Full Colour: Finding My Place in a Black and White World’. But there was no welcome mat in South Africa for Dolezal, who had to be escorted to her flagship event by police, in a visit that was marked by outrage, petition and paltry audience support.

Despite widespread condemnation from black people the world over, Rachel Dolezal continues to bastardise and commoditise blackness, without any measure of remorse or self-reflection. History will remember Dolezal as a super-sized caricature of white privilege.

But the story of Rachel Dolezal is bigger than the tragi-fantasy tale of a lone white woman who pretends to be black. It is the never-ending tale of white supremacy, told through the ages which today sees the oppressive normalisation of white centrality and relevance in our daily oration.

I couldn’t escape Rachel Dolezal because I can’t escape white supremacy. And it is white supremacy that told an unhappy and outcast white woman that black identity was hers for the taking.

The above quote is from an exquisitely poignant piece entitled ‘The Heart of Whiteness: Ijeoma Oluo Interviews Rachel Dolezal, the White Woman Who Identifies as Black’.

Ijeoma Oluo is everything Rachel Dolezal is not and can never be. She is an authentic voice, an authentic African-American voice, but particularly an authentic voice for the African-American woman.

For ten years, Dolezal pretended to be black and even headed up the Spokane chapter of the NAACP. Her disregard for the authentic black voice is so complete that she felt she could speak on behalf of black women in America. Surely there can be no greater insult to a black woman? When her deception was unmasked she labelled black people who questioned her as ‘uneducated and unmotivated to rise to her level of ‘wokeness’.

So Dolezal pretends to be black, refuses to apologise for the hurt caused and tells black people how they must respond to her story! We should not be surprised, for Dolezal simply adheres perfectly to the signature script of whiteness, a narrative heavily littered with an illegitimate instructive inflexion, as whites continue to ordain themselves as the “perpetual teacher” to black people.

I can’t even begin to imagine the pain Rachel Dolazel – aka Nkechi Amare Diallo as she calls herself these days – has caused black people, especially black women. Unlike Rachel, I don’t pretend to comprehend or understand. But I do know that arrogance and self-righteousness are the steadfast companions of white privilege. I am not exempt. Just last week, I climbed, without invitation, into a conversation black activists were having on Dolezal. I was told to shut up. I did.

In June 2016, I wrote an opinion piece in The Daily Vox entitled ‘Silence is a language white people need to learn to speak’. The piece dealt with the amplification of the white narrative, and the underscore of endemic, ingrained racism upon which is both festers and breeds. I wrote about the almost obsessive-compulsive tendency for whites to be heard and how ‘the earnest white left-wing academic, the angry liberal cartoonist, the hobbyist white activist, and the everyday white South African who nurses racism daily, are one’. For as long as white is the colour of privilege, the white voice is an oppressive voice with no relevance or resonance in blackness.

If Rachel Dolezal was the truly woke and highly conscious activist she claims to be she would have endeavoured to disrupt whiteness, not blackness.

But as Ijeoma Oluo says ‘Dolezal is simply a white woman who cannot help but centre herself in all that she does—including her fight for racial justice. And if racial justice doesn’t centre her, she will redefine race itself in order to make that happen’.

And if anyone believed there was an ounce of authenticity to Dolezal, let me conclude with an extract from the ‘The Heart of Whiteness: Ijeoma Oluo Interviews Rachel Dolezal, the White Woman Who Identifies as Black’ by Ijeoma Oluo, which was published on 19 April 2017:

“Before I left Dolezal, I remembered that my editors had told me to make sure the photographer got a few pictures of us together. We were both sitting at the kitchen table, which provided an ideal photo opportunity.

The natural light from the sliding door by the kitchen was great for photography, but with our current seating arrangement, that light was falling on me and leaving her in the shadow. It is standard practice to have the interviewee sit in the best light, so I asked her to switch seats. The photographer thanked me for the suggestion, and I stood to allow Dolezal to take the chair I had been in.

Dolezal looked at me with a smirk and said accusingly: “Then you’ll look darker and I’ll look lighter because the light’s on me. I get it.”

I realised that like all other black people who had challenged Dolezal, I had been written off as a bitter, petty black woman. She was concerned that the wrong lighting would make her look white.

She could not see that there was no amount of lighting that would make her look whiter than that interaction had. Perhaps that itself was the secret to the power of the Dolezal phenomenon—the overwhelming whiteness of it all”.

Kim Heller is a founding member of The Enwhitenment Project, a media and political strategist and a strong advocate for radical economic transformation and restitution in South Africa.

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