Paul R. Lehman, A suggestion of how Rachel Dolezal can resolve her problem of a black/African American identity

May 19, 2018 at 12:26 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American history, American Racism, Bigotry in America, black inferiority, blacks, discrimination, DNA, education, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European Americans, identity, interpretations, liberty, minority, passing, race, Race in America, racism, skin color, skin complexion, Slavery, tolerance, white supremacy, whites | Leave a comment
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All the criticism, complaints, and negative comments about Rachel Dolezal need to stop because she has the right to live her life as she chooses. However, we need to clarify her position and those of her critics so an understanding of this situation can be fully realized. In a recent article by Clarence Page (The Oklahoman, 5/12/2018), the title asks the question: “Why Rachel Dolezal still tries to bend racial rules” relative to the defense of her black identity. The article is basically a review of the movie, “The Rachel Divide,” which Page describes as a “Netflix documentary on which director Laura Brownson began to work shortly after the scandal broke [and it] peels away more layers of that mystery by giving us a closer look at Dolezal’s troubled family and upbringing.” He added that “It may not answer all of the questions as to why she wanted so desperately to be black, but it offers a more complete picture of the life she was trying to escape, along with the social construct of race as the rest of us know it.”More than likely, the movie adds more confusion to Dolezal’s situation and to that of her critics because of one simple word—race.

The problem of Ms. Dolezal’s critics is that they have fallen victim to accepting the concept of race as valid and accurate and because of this acceptance they view everything through a black and white lens. The problem with Dolezal is that she also has fallen victim to accepting the concept of a black race and a white race. Confusion relative to race exists on both sides– Dolezal’s and her critics because they both accept the concept of race by color as valid. Race as Page mentioned is a social construct; i.e., a myth.

When the captured Africans were brought to America, one of the first orders of business for the masters was to take away any sense or feeling of self-worth or value. That was accomplished by taking away their personal identity and providing them with a new identity. The effect of calling the Africans blacks or negroes, which means black, was to deprive them not only of their cultural and ancestral identity but also of their history. By referring to the African captives as blacks or negroes, their history begins with their experience as slaves.

The constructing of a black and a white race by the founding fathers was the basis of what is known as the system of white (European American) supremacy, a system that has the European Americans view themselves as the most important people on the planet. American society supported the supremacy concept by having all the social institutions comply with that concept. Consequently, many Americans believe the concept of a black and a white race to be true. Two facts about the concept of race remain: one, race by color has never been defined; second, race by color cannot be defined because the colors are not consistent or definite (fixed). Therefore, the system of European American supremacy can only exist by law, or agreement, voluntary or forced. According to recent scientific findings, all human beings belong to the same family or race known as Homo Sapiens; no other race of human beings exist on the planet.

The problem, as well as the confusion regarding Dolezal and her critics, is that both sides accept the black/white race concept as legitimate. Both sides are wrong in their thinking about race. The point that needs to be underscored in this matter is that all human beings have two identities—one cultural, one ancestral. The cultural identity is the one that the individual selects, usually based on the culture and/or geographic location in which they lived or were born into. An example shows the difference as when a person who, for example,  was born and raised in Haiti immigrated to America and became a citizen. That person’s cultural identity would be American with no reference to skin color or any other physical characteristics; that person’s ancestral or ethnic identity would be Haitian. If that Haitian person married an American and a child was born to them, the child’s cultural identity would be American, with no reference to skin color; however, the child’s ancestral or ethnic identity would be Haitian and American to reflect the identities of both parents. The ancestral identity is not usually viewed as a necessary or primary part of a person’s cultural identity. For example, when a person of color comes to America, only their cultural identity is necessary such as German, English, French, Nigerian, Egyptian, and Jamaican etc.

Dolezal’s problem with her identity is based on her reference to an ancestral identity that does not exist for her since both her biological parents are Americans of European heritage. As long as she identifies herself as an American, regardless of the ethnic cultural she chooses, she should have few conflicts. However, because she wants to identify her cultural identity which is American, as an ancestral identity, which to her is black/African American, a problem is created with the critics who realize that that identity would be false.  One way to avoid the problem which Dolezal found herself in is to simply identify herself as an American woman of color. No reference to an ancestral identity is necessary and no feelings will be hurt. After all, all human beings originated in Africa and that is part of our DNA. Besides, all people are brown, just different shades of brown.

The acceptance of race as valid and correct is and has been the problem for centuries. The language we use helps to keep us ignorant of who we are and what we are—all human being belong to one race. The fact that ethnic identity is usually based on geography does not mean that a biological difference exists among people. David Reich, a Harvard University paleogeneticist whose new book called Who We Are and How We Got Here, noted that “There are not fixed traits associated with specific geographic locations, Reich says, because as often as isolation has created differences among populations, migration and mixing have blurred or erased them.”In essence, no separate homogeneous race exists.

What this all means is that no one person or group has a monopoly on race regardless of skin color. So, if Dolezal wants to identify herself as an American woman of color, she has every right to do so, because references to an identity on a cultural basis are purely voluntary. Biologically, skin color is just that, skin color.

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Paul R. Lehman, Passing was a way of fooling a flawed racial system

September 28, 2014 at 5:29 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American history, American Racism, blacks, democracy, DNA, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, Human Genome, identity, justice, liberty, minority, Oklahoma, passing, Prejudice, skin color, skin complexion, Slavery, U. S. Census, whites | Leave a comment
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One of the negative and lasting components of slavery and the creation of a black and white race is the value placed on being identified as white or part white. During slavery, a slave identified as being part white sold for a higher price than slaves who were considered Negro or black. Because race was based on skin complexion, fooling the system was easily accomplished by slaves who could present themselves as white. After slavery, that practice became know as “passing.”If a person moved away from his or her environment where his or her ancestry was common knowledge, then one could live his or her entire life using the white identity. However, the fear of being discovered by someone who knew the person passing was always present. Many stories, true and fictional, have been written recounting the experiences of individuals passing.
When we examine the stories of people involved in passing, we realize that the risk of being caught often resulted in death, but the rewards were opportunities for liberties and freedoms enjoyed by the majority society. The key to the entire system, however, was based on race by color, which was ineffective and faulty because it is an illusion, and lacking any empirical proof. After the Civil War the nation not only continued the system of race by color, but also introduced more illogical, unreasonable and irrational aspects to its existence. For example, Oklahoma, along with other states, created laws that stated in effect that any person of African ancestry was to be considered Negro or Colored. If we were to give some thought to that law, we would discover that the law evidently viewed Africa as a country, not a continent. Also, how would one discover the ancestry of another as African since eighty percent of the world’s population has dark skin? Today, because of DNA, we would have to include all human beings as having African ancestry. So, we know the system was flawed from the beginning.
The problem we face today is one that creates a variety of discussions because many people never challenged the system of race by color, but accepted it along with the supposed values that being white represented. Fortunately, our society is changing in ways that will soon make the concept of race by color irrelevant. The so-called “One Drop Rule” or African ancestry rule was based on illusion, not fact, so to continue to embrace it would be just as fool-hearty. None-the-less, many Americans identify themselves as being mixed-race, or bi-racial, or some other term used to discern the inclusion of white blood in their ancestry because they believe it adds to their social value. How ridiculous is that? If the creation of a white race was false at the beginning, regardless of how one mixes it, it will always be false.
A person’s race has nothing to do with his or her skin color; all people belong to the human race. The primary reason for African Americans being called blacks, Negro, and colored was to keep them from knowing and using their cultural and/or geographical identity by their slave masters. On the other hand, European Americans used their white identity as a symbol of power and privilege associated with the Anglo-Saxons. Rather than use their cultural or geographical identities, many Irish, Jews, Italians, Poles, Slavs and many others as well, changed their names and moved to locations where they “passed” as European American (Anglo-Saxons) to avoid discrimination. Ironically, once these so-called lesser Americans became accepted as whites, they adopted the same attitude of bigotry and biases as the majority society especially relative to African Americans. That way they could conceal their real ethnic identity.
Race is the primary point on which this discussion rest. If one accepts the term and how it has been employed historically, then one is doomed to confusion and frustration, because any argument involving race becomes curricular. That is, if one starts with a false premise, the result must also be false, and so it is with race. Many people of mixed cultural and geographic ancestry face difficulty in deciding how to identify themselves, and so they use terms like biracial or mixed race. These terms simply underscore the acceptance of the illusion of multiple biological races from which they choose to belong. Had they used the terms ethnic group or ethnically mixed, then their identity would reflect cultures and or geographical certainties once they disclosed them. What happens when someone of mixed ethnicity identifies him or herself by one ethnic identity, that selection should be made on the basis of the individual’s choice or preference; to make that choice because of what society or some irrational rule or law based on race by color suggest is illogical.
If someone makes the choice of ethnic identity based on what society suggests, like the one drop rule, then that person is doing a disservice to one or more aspects of his or her ancestry and of the parent representing the part left out. That choice is no longer necessary in our society. People do not have to identify themselves as black or white; they can, however, identify themselves as African American or European American, but even that is not mandatory. Just ask the Census Bureau.
Many African American people of note have been accused of avoiding their ethnic identity by passing for European American. The term passing has relevance only when one has accepted the false concept of multiple biological races. The desire to identify with a particular group is a normal tribal reaction because group identity provides a sense of comfort, protection, and unity, something most people want. But, since we are all human beings, no part of our ancestry makes us more or less than any other human being. Since we are all members of the same human family, we should begin to celebrate our likenesses rather than any superficial differences we might have.
America is changing and involved in a struggle relative to our social identity. However, the more we learn about ourselves, the better able we are to live in the present and prepare for a future that respects the value of each individual.

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