Opinion

“Rachel Dolezal: can you choose your ethnic origins?” – Gelsica Santiago Da Gloria

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Race Activist Rachel Dolezal recently caused controversy by claiming that race is “a social construct,” saying she identified as black in spite of her white origins and that ethnicity is not biological.

By Gelsica Santiago Da Gloria


Is our identity defined by our imposed colour or by our own personal perception? Is it wrong to be white but claim to be black?

I believe that you are what you choose to be whether educationally speaking, career wise and so on. If you think you are – then you certainly are! Of course if you chose to be black and you are caucasian, it is an illusion to think that you are going to be black by colour the next day, but you cannot choose the colour of your skin and, quite frankly, why would you?

Maybe Rachel identifies herself as black due to her life experiences; she might have found qualities as well as comfort within being black that she didn’t when she identified herself as white. Therefore she incessantly claims to be black.  I do not condemn this, what I condemn is how she is utilising a mask to voice her identity; it is morally wrong to change your whole identity just to fit in with a particular culture.

I haven’t deciphered why Dolezal is doing this, is she being serious about this new identity?  Nonetheless, I have made judgements based on what I have read in the media:  firstly, if her own parents are public shaming her to the whole globe, saying that she “is disconnected from reality”, and that she changed her identity proving it with pictures etc., that can only mean one thing: her parents are worried about her mental health and wellbeing, otherwise why would they do this to their own daughter?

Secondly, considering that she is actually white, and assuming that she really identifies herself as black, did she really need to change her hair and skin colour in order to fit in with the black culture? Are there no white Africans out there? Thirdly, as many people recently have been declaring there is ‘white privilege’ especially in America (or shall I say it’s more obvious in the US) supposing that this is true, why would a white woman be willing to lose that privilege? As my International Leadership for Events lecturer said, “Things are harder when you are a woman, especially black.” All these theories that I have, make me think that Rachel Dolezal, is either in a major crisis with her own identity or she is simply brave.

I have to be honest, I do not particularly feel sympathy for her; I would have felt sympathy and respect for her if she had maintained her real identity, her name and “pale skin, freckles and fair hair”. That would be more authentic! A white woman race activist, who identifies as black but she is not ashamed of her skin tone, would be fantastic. Perhaps, Rachel should internalise that one certainly does not need to have black features to identify oneself as black. I can now conclude that instead of empowering us (yes I am Portuguese and black) she is making out as if being black is to be part of a clique; if you are not willing to mask yourself you’re out.

Though, I believe that you cannot choose the colour of your skin, you can certainly  decide what culture you identify with. Regardless of your colour and background, all you have to do is accept yourself without creating a whole new fake identity.  If I had a meeting with Rachel Dolezal I would say to her: Accept who and what  you are and where you come from, because everyone’s origins are beautiful. Identify with what you want, your mind is free, but please be proud of your true DNA, because you simply were born in that way. Fight with your own face, do not let the mask you have created get the credits for the person you really are.

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