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Culture

Race Faking Changes Our Conversation On Privilege

By Elizabeth Condra·· 7 min read
rachel-dolezal-split-super-169

If you’re outside Hollywood and academia, as most self-possessed individuals are, you might be unaware of the race-faking trend that’s currently on the rise.

Now, more than ever, we’re having conversations about race and what it means to fall into particular categories, stratified — for better or worse — by the expectations and mandates of a society that’s generous to one group and unfair to others, a generalization more or less agreed upon by the majority of people in our communities and social media feeds.

But just because we’re having conversations and consuming content about race doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good or conducive to our overall understanding, individual or shared. 

Race is seen as an increasingly complex reality, so much so that it’s impossible for many of us to grasp whether we try or not. But for some, race is so malleable that it’s only skin deep. 

The Origination of Race Faking

Remember Rachel Dolezal, the “transracial” (her words not mine) individual who went viral a few years ago?

If you don’t remember, good for you. Many of us probably never thought we’d see something so simultaneously ridiculous or disturbing ever again. But we were wrong. 2020 gives and it keeps on giving.

Dolezal made the news after it was discovered that she had been passing herself off as black, when she was born a white woman and raised by a white family. At the peak of her career, which she secured through her open and public avowing of being part of the black experience, she was a chapter head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, an activist for civil rights, and a teacher in the African-American studies department at Eastern Washington University.

But after the well-deserved backlash, she doubled down. She released an autobiography and even changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo, a name with Nigerian, Guinean, and Senegalese origins. 

Rachel Dolezal, a white woman, passed herself off as a transracial professor and civil rights leader.

Dolezal shrugged off the criticism that she was taking advantage of and profiting from a race to which she biologically has no ties. “Whiteness has always felt foreign to me, for as long as I can remember. I didn't choose to feel this way or be this way, I just am. What other choice is there than to be exactly who we are?"

Putting aside the glaringly obvious (that she should likely seek professional help), replace whiteness with gender or sexuality, and it’s a comment we’ve heard a million times before. We’re all born a certain way and we’re betraying our true identities, lying to ourselves and pleasing others, if we ignore our nature. 

You have to give her credit almost. Dolezal meant to appease the mob that was attacking her by using their own language (although it didn’t have the desired effect in the end).

You have to wonder what it was all for. A 2017 examination of Dolezal, two years after her proverbial outing, found her unemployed and on food stamps. But at the height of her career, she was a revered public individual in her community. Her social currency as a white woman definitely wouldn’t have afforded her the same accolades and prestige.

Why Is This Trend So Popular?

As it turns out, there are other people out there following Dolezal’s lead.

One of them is Jessica Krug. Krug, up until her resignation in September, was an associate history professor at George Washington University. Apparently, the born-Jewish Midwesterner’s academic scholarship focused on African cultural practices and politics.

She was also passing herself off as a black woman, until her confession which she published in a blog post, saying, “People have fought together with me and have fought for me, and my continued appropriation of a Black Caribbean identity is not only, in the starkest terms, wrong — unethical, immoral, anti-Black, colonial — but it means that every step I've taken has gaslighted those whom I love.”

She also referred to herself as a “cultural leech” and alluded to possible mental health problems as the logic behind her reasoning. It should be noted that her apparent confession was only released after she was supposedly found out.

These individuals recognized an inherent privilege associated with being of a different race in their fields.

Then there’s British actor and theater director Anthony Ekundayo Lennon, who was called out for passing as mixed race. Lennon maintains that he is mixed race, but has white parents and grandparents and has never mentioned being adopted. 

Lennon justified his ruse by saying that people have always assumed he’s mixed race and he never bothered to correct them. Backlash was swift and severe, especially given that he was awarded an 18-month residency with a prestigious black theater company. 

Both Krug and Lennon were accused of taking up space and positions which should have been occupied rightfully by people of color and of appropriating black culture. Who even knows how many other figures are out there succeeding with the same ploy?

It All Makes Sense Now

It’s profoundly interesting that these instances took place in environments claiming to be racially forward, given that Hollywood and academia are noted microcosms for progressivism

But it’s even more interesting to examine the motive behind these fraudulent identities. What could a person, born into a white identity and given all the advantages and privileges therein, stand to gain from passing themselves off as someone of a different race? 

Writer and speaker Ayesha K. Faines has a theory. “I’m wondering aloud if the race-faking of Dolezal, Krug, et al. isn’t the psychosis I assumed, but rather a pragmatic decision made by mediocre white academics who recognize the potential professional and social advantages of racial ambiguity in the Black sphere.” 

Critical race theory-generated buzzwords aside, she’s right. These individuals all recognized an inherent power, influence, and status (a privilege, if you will) associated with being a different race within their respective professional fields.

In these instances, being white wasn’t an advantage but a hindrance. 

But doesn’t that contradict literally everything we’ve been told about race and white privilege? Yes. Precisely.

In these instances, being white wasn’t an advantage but a hindrance. 

In relation to other specific minorities, whites severely underperform in income and education. Immigrant populations like Ghanaians, Nigerians, and Barbadians have incomes well above the national median and are among minority groups more likely to possess post-bachelor degrees compared to white counterparts.

But income inequality and institutions of American privilege, like higher education, are supposedly only existent for the purposes of excluding minorities because of systemic racism. If this were really the case, none of these minorities would ever be able to accede to the echelon that they have.

Race fakers succeed because they’ve recognized this. 

Ascribing to an ideology that idolizes oppression and makes victimhood sacrosanct allows them to claim the privilege associated with those identities. While these individuals are not only severely misleading their peers (and themselves), they’ve found out the rules of the game and are playing them to their advantage. If white privilege were truly the origin of societal rot that we’ve been told it is, race faking in its essence would be completely incomprehensible to us.

Closing Thoughts

Race faking goes against everything we’ve been told. And it is indeed wrong and reprehensible in every sense of the word. But it provides keen insight into the minds of those who worship at the altar of race as a zero-sum game. 

We have to wonder — if these individuals hadn’t been found out, would they have continued the charade? 

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