Jelani Cobb on Rachel Dolezal
“On Monday, Dolezal resigned, in a statement that didn't answer questions about what she referred to as 'my personal identity,' though it did refer obliquely to 'challenging the construct of race.' That answer is clearly inadequate; many people have challenged the construct of race without lying about their lives. But there is something more worth discussing here. ... In truth, Dolezal has been dressed precisely as we all are, in a fictive garb of race whose determinations are as arbitrary as they are damaging. This doesn't mean that Dolezal wasn't lying about who she is. It means that she was lying about a lie.
”Rachel Dolezal is not black—by lineage or lifelong experience—yet I find her deceptions less troubling than the vexed criteria being used to exclude her. ... Dolezal was dishonest about an undertaking rooted in dishonesty, and no matter how absurd her fictional blackness may appear, it is worth recalling that the former lie is far more dangerous than the latter. Our means of defining ourselves are complex and contradictory—and could be nothing other than that. But if the rubric is faulty it remains vital. The great majority of Americans recognize slavery as a figment of history, interred in a receding past. But, for black people, that past remains at the surface—close at hand, indelible, a narrative as legible as skin.“
-- Jelani Cobb, ”Black Like Her," The New Yorker. Cobb's is the first article I've read that has referenced John Howard Griffin's seminal book of the 1960s, which I never read, but which was everywhere when I was growing up. And don't forget the Lois Lane version, as much as all of us have tried.