Posted by: rudyruddell | June 13, 2015

African-American Poser Fascinates Me

Allegedly, a white NAACP leader in Spokane has lied about her ethnicity, apparently in order to become an insider in the fight for African American civil rights. This fascinates me because it cuts against the grain of my cultural expectations. I have heard of similar stories. John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me tells the true story about a white man who made himself look black and then traveled into the deep South to learn what it feels like to be harassed and treated like a second-class citizen, but he did this as a temporary measure to perform a social experiment. He never intended to live as an African American the rest of his life. Rachael Dolezal, the alleged black pretender, did not seem to have any plans to unveil her true racial identity.

As a high school teacher, I also see white students who exhibit African American cultural attributes such as clothing and vernacular, but that is nothing like what Dolezal has done. She cannot easily shed her persona whenever she feels like it. So why did she do it? This is a question for sociologists, historians and psychologists to answer. In my cursory Google search, I found no other examples of black posers, just pages and pages of Dolezal hits. So, I reached inside myself for answers and I found something.

I found a part of me that wants to be a part of the African American culture. I first discovered it in the mid-2000s when I ran into an African American acquaintance from my Cal years and we struck up a conversation. I had kindled a black friendship and I liked it. I started coming over to his house for visits. Ultimately, I wore out my welcome and they stopped answering my phone calls.

I think I identify with black people because I too have faced discrimination, although minor in comparison to what many African Americans and LGBT experience. As a child, my family changed residences a lot and I found making new friends at every new school to be challenging. I was bullied a few times, but my dad just told me to talk my way out of bully taunts. I finally ended up settling in Holtville, California for grades 3-12. Holtville was a town of 3500 in Imperial County near the Mexican border. By the way, there was exactly one black family residing in Holtville in the late 60’s and early 70s. More to the point, there was a man in Holtville named Dwight Ricker. Kids called him “Deee-white.” He was considered to be crazy because he told tall tales about his WW2 adventures. My fellow students started calling me Deee-white and taunting me. Sometimes I would hear that name being called out in the distance by strange voices. I imagine my feelings about hearing “Hey, Deee-white” by an anonymous voice in the distance would be something akin to hearing to “Hey nigga” or “Hey, faggot” that African Americans and gays often hear. I think that this is why I identify with both African Americans and gays.

Suppose my experience as “Deee-white” was so traumatic that I pretended to be Dwight Richter. I would have donned a cowboy hat and some cowboy boots and walk around telling tall war stories. I would also have talked about how mean it was to make fun of people like me. Suppose people liked the way I acted because I made them laugh and suddenly I had more friends than I ever had before. Suppose that little Dee-white poser had become happier than he had ever been before because now he had more friends than ever before. Would it not be possible that that boy would permanently adopt the Dee-white persona and keep that happiness? Could there be a similar story that explains Dolezal?

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Responses

  1. The first thing that comes to mind is probably somewhat obvious.

    From a societal evolutionary standpoint, I’m surprised that there isn’t more people assuming the “assumed role” of a marginalized ethnic group as a personal personality attribute in order to accomplish on some level the following goal:

    To somehow compensate for assumed “white guilt” over historical and current treatment of descendants of forced slavery victims.

    It is a curious reaction to a current and historically dubious treatment of a marginalized group of exploited people.

    Not surprising that indentured slavery is hardly ever mentioned as a serious issue as if the narrative has been silenced into permanent obscurity even though the conditions continue to exist for exploitation that mimic slavery exploitation.

    But, because we don’t all live on corporate “plantations” and we’re given the illusion of “autonomy” under a capitalist economic system, this doesn’t mean that the idea of permanent exploitation doesn’t exist.

    Take bankruptcy immune student loans.

    Wealth inequality doesn’t happen by accident, it’s a design of an economic system where a plethora of available labor depresses the wages of a given skill-set labor pool, the few who have no ethical or “moral” qualms about exploiting the labor of other human beings in order to concentrate created wealth into the fewest of hands while keeping the labor force poor by comparison and therefore desperate to feed or pay off their numerous debts to other corporate entities.

    It’s a never-ending squirrel-cage of birth—->death economic bondage.

  2. I think a person knowingly taking on the societal chains of a marginalized ethnic group as a key component of their personality either as an online persona or as close to assuming a role without physically changing the color of one’s skin at birth is a fascinating study in human adaptation to societal pressures, empathy, expectations or simply another means to reject the “white privilege” afforded an individual by means of genetic birth as a caucasian.


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