If anyone remembers the title of the book which I’ve used as the title of this post, it was a work of non-fiction by journalist John Howard Griffin. The book details a six week period of Griffin’s life as he traveled by Greyhound buses and hitchhiked through the racially segregated states of Louisianna, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. At the time, 1959, race relations in America were particularly strained and Griffin wanted to chronicle the hardships black people faced. The book was more a journalistic study, but to make it accurate Griffin had his skin darkened by a doctor and passed as a black man.
I read the book in high school, and unfortunately books in high school went unremembered because we had to read them. Though, apparently I do remember the book, if not the entire content. But I was reminded of that book with the recent news that has been popping up lately about former NAACP Chapter President in Spokane, Washington, Rachel Dolezal. It was revealed that Dolezal, who has been passing as black, is actually white. Unlike Griffin, she wasn’t doing it to do a series of journalistic articles to study the hardships of black people (and even Griffin doesn’t get a pass with that, really). For Dolezal, it was personal gain, though some would argue that her attempt at bringing about change as the head of a civil rights organization is a good thing.
Sure, that’s good an all, but if you’re white, then stay white. Don’t try and pass as something you’re not.
Out of the story, there’s a lot of calls that Dolezal is “transracial”, an attempt to compare Dolezal’s life to that of Laverne Cox or Janet Mock. Both of whom are trans-women. But the case of transgender is completely different than transracial. Transracial already happens to have a root in adoptions, especially those children who are black who are adopted by white parents.
At best, Dolezal is dodging questions, and some might say out right lying about her past. As she claims she is black, or identifies herself as black. I might want to identify as a potato, but seriously no amount of imagination is going to turn me into a spud.
The one really damaging thing this has done is focus attention away from the number of black youth killed by police in the United States. Though it might be said that this is another example of the continued appropriation and degradation of an entire culture. Let’s face it, the majority of white people like parts of black culture, and can do so safely in the comfort of their white lives. But when it comes to interacting with black people, that changes completely.
Is the United States, and to an equal extent Canada, living in a post racial society? No it isn’t. Especially when there’s a huge number of innocent black youth being killed and white people attempting to claim a heritage that isn’t their own. In a way, Dolezal’s story can be compared to Griffin’s. Both have tried to claim they were black, both have lived as black people for a good number of years, and both used this to propel their own personal gains. All under the guise of civil rights and investigative journalism.