There is a situation that is tearing apart the racial justice movement in Indianapolis currently. It is becoming a circus of “I told you so” and a jump off point for those with vendettas. However, as a person that is affected by this, I feel compelled to speak up. I’m referring to the recent outing of an activist for lying about their racial makeup. On Monday, I logged onto social media to see the bombardment of posts about an activist pretending to be a black person for over a decade. This is about a white person posing as a biracial person to speak as a black person in the fight against racism. This is our Rachel Dolezal.
I first want to say that I wish them no harm. I am grateful to have resources to know how to be hurt without wanting hurt to be placed upon another. Yet, I do believe people should be held accountable for their actions. There is a high likelihood that this situation is based in mental illness but am not a mental health professional and won’t speak on that. I am speaking from my position as an actual biracial nonbinary person that presents as a black female, that has worked alongside this person in the movement. I am one of the many people that this lie has affected.
Race and racism in the United States is complicated and multifaceted. It is not only personal but connected to community and history. As we are in the midst of white folks either waking up to the devastation of white supremacy or doubling down on their hold to whiteness, we see how vast it’s grasp is. To then have someone that positioned themselves to be a black leader in the fight against white supremacy turn out to actually be white… the implications are expansive.
Blackness is not a monolith
The reason they were able to “pass” is because blackness is vast. While many people want to think blackness manifests in stereotypical ways, those ways are often steeped in how whiteness views blackness. The reality is blackness comes in all shapes, colors and practices. One of the reasons why I am so grateful to be a part of the social justice movement is how accepting and truly inclusive it really is. The leaders of the movement in Indianapolis have been intentional in this factor. I have sat at tables with grassroots leaders from every expanse of life. True leaders don’t ask about racial makeup, they accept you as you are and get to work. That is what is so shocking about this person pretending to be black. They didn’t have to be to do the work. Their posturing only took away from other people that actually identify as BIPOC from speaking for themselves. In turn centering whiteness and in fact validating white supremacy in the fight for black lives. To insist that we should have known, places supremacists measures in spaces created outside of it. We worked really hard to ensure we can come together while honoring boundaries necessary to heal from the trauma associated with being BIPOC. This person violated that by being present in spaces we created for ourselves and denied themselves the beauty of being present in their own spaces, fully as they are. Thus causing folks to question the validity of blackness for biracial folks. As well as showcasing the colorism that unfortunately is rampant in the world as well.
White folks posing as black is not the same as being LGBTQIA+
It did not take very long for people to compare this situation to the plight of being trans or gay. Which is without question not true. A trans person not being out publicly is due to the harm that our society places on them. This situation is about a white person positioning themselves as black. They are not doing so to protect themselves from harm. This notion is falsely claiming it is dangerous to be white around black folks and that is another form of white supremacy. This person has a long history of posing as someone they were not in opportune moments for their own benefit. Transracial is a problematic concept that invalidates the experience of our trans and gender nonconforming communities.
White Silence & Complacency is Violence
The amount of white folks that knew about this and said nothing shouldn’t surprise me but somehow it does. This amplifies their fear associated with blackness and how silence in fact causes harm. That harm is amplified when you take into consideration the BIPOC lives that this person used for protection in incidents they brought upon themselves while speaking out for black lives. The damage that this person has caused is without bounds but those that idly said nothing are also to blame for the harm they allowed to continue to go on without speaking out.
Just the tip of the iceberg
One of the hardest aspects of this for me isn’t the loss of a relationship. It is the invalidation that comes along with it. I will not deny that this person has done a lot of work for the community. Work, I remind you, that could have been done as their white self. What is happening is the BIPOC leaders that trusted this person, now have to prove to the community that they are valid. That their organizations’ work is still meaningful. The food pantry they helped create now is being questioned on it’s merit, even though this person hasn’t been at the helm for months. Our own Black Lives Matter group is being asked to speak out about someone they trusted and could have been a vigilant accomplice instead of having their work amplified. There are white folks using this as an opportunity to not do the work because they assume white folks are not allowed to be a part of the movement against racism. Miscuing the fact that the anger is from the lies and deceit of a trusted leader.
I’m writing this because Toni Morrison once said, “… if it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” Throughout this week I’ve seen articles written by those with something to gain. I’ve read comments questioning biracial folks right to identify as black. I have watched white folks grimace and snicker. I’ve watched the communities I fought for take unnecessary sides and attack each other. I wrote this because this isn’t just a headline and soundbite for attention. This is a call for people to recognize that we each have a responsibility to be honest with ourselves and those around us. We each have a duty to think about how our actions impact the world around us and do what is best for not just ourselves but those we’re in community with. “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” Ask yourself what chains are keeping you from being your authentic self and why you’re afraid to speak up when others are being harmed.