Last evening, my Twitter timeline erupted with the story of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who has claimed to be a black woman. There will be several thinkpieces written about this lady. Some will be good. Most will be terrible. There’ll be stories on passing, what is blackness and why are people (black women) being so mean to her. None of that is important. I want to talk about what actual black women have to deal with in regards to white/white-passing women.
I was chatting with 4 other black women about this story and we’ve all had the same experience several times: That moment the one lady who looks white sidles up to you and starts with the AAVE, “Girl, you know, I’m black, right?”
There is literally nothing to say in this moment. Our families have so many hues of skin color, so many facial features, that it’s nearly impossible to say, “Stop lyin’.”, so you nod and move on warily. My mother is was so light-skinned, my sister and I used to repeatedly ask her if she wasn’t white. Even though she looked just liked her daddy, nothing else read ‘black’. My step-grandmother was even lighter. The first 3 years of my grandfather’s marriage, I was pretty sure he married a white lady until I saw her family.
I always say that until that person invites me to a family BBQ, I put their claims of blackness on a shelf. It was interesting to hear my friends had similar rules. The same especially goes for people on the internet. Certain forums think it’s funny to post racist stuff while failing terribly at pretending to be black women.
I’m sure many black people in the extremely white places of Washington and Idaho, looked at Dolezal’s claims with a side eye, then remembered that auntie, that cousin and moved on. Thing is, unlike the women my friends and I dealt with, Dolezal used her blackface to work in black spheres. The women we’ve met were all the same. They made jokes about our skin color in front of white people, they presented white at all times until they were alone with us. Then they tried too hard with the AAVE that always came off a bit wrong. If they were in higher positions of authority, they would often single us out for public degradation or become nit-picky over the dumbest things.
I saw a handful of white people on Twitter started to posit, “What if she’s black?” without any idea how utterly stupid they sounded. Showing their ignorance of what black families look like. Those people have probably told a black person “I’m blacker than you” or “You’re whiter than me”, thinking it’s hilariously clever. Of course, white feminists started to come out of their hidey-holes to defend Dolezal, because black women were making jokes on Twitter and that’s always A Very Bad Thing. It will never surprise me these people haven’t learned that shutting up is the way to be.
What they don’t realize is how their idea of defense is harmful and hurtful to actual light-skinned/white-passing black women. There’s more to being black than a hairstyle and lingo. Nancy Giles learned that the hard way when Jay Smooth had to tell her, “I’m black.” That’s all to say, that for light-skinned/white-passing black women, Dolezal’s antics put another unfair burden on them.