Black Is The New Black
I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird
My daughter became close friends in the first grade with an African-American girl in her class. She went to a progressive multi racial elite private school so she was used to many different kinds of kids.
She had also started dancing the year before as the only white child in a black dance community. My daughter has a lot of rhythm, musicality and talent. Twenty years ago it was hard to find good hip hop, tap and Alvin Ailey type modern teachers in a westside LA kids dance school.
One day her African American school friend was coming over and I said to invite her for Passover dinner that night. My daughter said “I can’t,” and burst into tears. “Why not?,” I asked. “Because she thinks I’m black,“ she sobbed. I was trying not to laugh because obviously this was serious.
Now it wasn’t as odd as it seemed. There were many mixed race kids in this school. The little girl’s mother was very similar in coloring to Rachel Dolezal with blue eyes and had lighter skin than my olive complexion. We both came from NY and had NY accents. I was wearing my hair naturally curly at the time and was usually tan. My daughter was obsessed with dance and all her friends had been to her African-American dance school to drop her off or pick her up. (me)
I just thought it was funny when we got Kwanzaa presents that year instead of Hanukah or Christmas ones. Her school was big on Kwanzaa. She was only six so I thought she got the candles confused. They both have eight candles.
I asked how it happened and it turned out that in the beginning of the school year they were learning about slavery. My daughter went up to her friend and said, “I’m so sorry this has happened to you”. The girl said to her, “I’m so sorry it happened to you too. You are black also right?” My daughter in her six-year-old wisdom said yes and spent the next several months letting her believe that. I imagine that the minute after learning about slavery in the US for the first time, you probably would not want to have to identify as white.
I said “Well, you are going to have to tell her the truth but I think she might already know by now and not care. Honesty is important in relationships.” My daughter very nervously told her that day and she laughed and said ‘I knew that.“ She stayed for dinner. Six year old problems are pretty easy to fix.
I think my daughter was ok with being who she was after that. She went on to make many real friends in the African-American dance community where she grew up. She did identify with black modern dance and was exceptional at it and received scholarships to Alvin Ailey and Dance Theatre of Harlem.
I believe that Ms. Dolezal has a mental illness. You can champion the rights of people without having to be them. You can enjoy their culture, food, values, religion, music and dance without being them. You can be part of their community and hold them in your heart without being them.
I do agree that it is easier to be a star in the black community if you are actually black. I think that she wanted that kind of fame and recognition, some kind of narcissism perhaps. She put her family in a place to lie and ‘cover‘ for her. She clearly hated her family and wanted to be as different as she could be. The fact that her family felt the need to “out her” and not protect her would lead me to believe that there were serious problems. Maybe she had a good reason for distancing herself as far as she can go. If she wasn’t black, she would have been something else. I don’t think “transracial” is the same as transgender or transJenner as some of the transgender community calls him/her.
We need to spend more time on our inner qualities than our outer appearance. We need to focus on our intelligence, humor, imagination, honesty, integrity courage, tolerance, love and respect. And not on what color or religion or gender you happen to be or want to be. I find it hard enough to just try and be a better human being than I was the day before.
You always write incredible columns. Have a special day. Lois