Wednesday, 5 April 2017

In Full Color - Rachel Dolezal

In Full Color
Rachel Dolezal

In June 2015, the media “outed” Rachel Doležal as a white woman who had knowingly been “passing” as Black. When asked if she were African American during an interview about the hate crimes directed at her and her family, she hesitated before ending the interview and walking away. Some interpreted her reluctance to respond and hasty departure as dishonesty, while others assumed she lacked a reasonable explanation for the almost unprecedented way she identified herself.

What determines your race? Is it your DNA? The community in which you were raised? The way others see you or the way you see yourself?

With In Full Color, Rachel Doležal describes the path that led her from being a child of white evangelical parents to an NAACP chapter president and respected educator and activist who identifies as Black. Along the way, she recounts the deep emotional bond she formed with her four adopted Black siblings, the sense of belonging she felt while living in Black communities in Jackson, Mississippi, and Washington, DC, and the experiences that have shaped her along the way.

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Please Pass The Books Review:

Since the news first broke of a Spokane white woman purposefully positioning herself as black, Rachel Dolezal has been the person we all love to hate. Like most others, I followed the story closely and absorbed arguments on both sides. I don't feel qualified to try and rationalize her actions or make any type of defense for her, and as a (mostly) white woman who has had the benefit of privilege in my life, neither do I feel truly able to comprehend the degree of anger, frustration, and hurt her actions have brought to POC. What I do feel—and what I've always felt for her—is confusion and embarrassment. My embarrassment comes chiefly in the form of empathy, only in the way that her revealing was forced into the limelight. It's the same embarrassment I'd feel if any of my old, dirty family secrets were splashed across the front of a newspaper (especially if they were really, really dirty—which some, sadly, are). I feel this way because I'm a sympathetic woman, but that sympathy also extends to the raw and legitimate testimony of POC who rally against her. Their disdain is valid and I refuse to trivialize credible resentment toward her.

But what I am qualified to do is review a book based on its literary merit, and that is what I intend to do here.

The book begins with a thorough review of Dolezal's upbringing, which is heartbreaking. She makes clear that an identity crisis was brewing from the day she was born, a day in which her birth nearly killed her mother. The abuses that followed to herself and her siblings at the hands of their parents made me physically ill. The writing is tight, clean, and direct, with Dolezal narrating in a straightforward manner. As she grows and leaps deeper into a pool of disorientation, she appears to find strength in her passions: African art, history, and civil rights issues. There are some moments in the book where she's definitely patting her own back for her accomplishments, but given where she's come from—from a literary perspective—it doesn’t come off as terribly egotistical. On the contrary, if she was anyone else it would be a wonderful story of perseverance and hope. But it's not anyone else. It's Rachel Dolezal, and the name alone makes it incredibly difficult to move past.

I wouldn’t recommend In Full Color to those who weren't thoroughly interested in psychology, or to those who don't enjoy reading for the sake of an interesting story. I am perfectly comfortable reading the biographies of people I disapprove of personally, and as far as biographies go this is an uncomfortably fascinating one.


Thanks to the publisher for providing an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest opinion, which this certainly is.

Rachel Doležal holds an MFA from Howard University. Her scholarly research focus is the intersection of race, gender, and class in the contemporary Black diaspora, with a specific emphasis on Black women in visual culture. She is a licensed Intercultural Competency & Diversity Trainer, dedicated to racial and social justice activism. She has worked as an instructor at North Idaho College and Eastern Washington University, where she also served as Advisor for the schools’ Black Student Unions, as well as Whitworth University, and has guest lectured at Spokane Community College, University of Idaho, Gonzaga University, and Washington State University.

Doležal began her activism in Mississippi, where she advocated for equal rights and partnered with community developers, tutoring grade-school children in Black history and art and pioneering African American history courses at a predominantly white university. She is the former Director of Education at the Human Rights Education Institute in Idaho and has served as a consultant for human rights education and inclusivity in regional public schools. She recently led the Office of Police Ombudsman Commission to promote police accountability and justice in law enforcement in Spokane, Washington, and was the President of the Spokane Chapter of the NAACP. She is the devoted mother of three sons.

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