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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Musicians Respond to the Strange Case of Rachel Dolezal

Posted By on Wed, Jun 17, 2015 at 9:27 AM

click to enlarge NBC NEWS
  • NBC News
Unless you ignore every single source of media readily available to you, you will have already heard about the strange case of Rachel Dolezal: the Caucasian leader of Washington State's NAACP who has been pretending to be African-American for her entire career. Last week, Dolezal was "outed" by her estranged parents, who publicly announced that the activist's heritage was actually Czech, Swedish and German — or, as Jon Stewart later put it: "really fucking white." Dolezal has since resigned, but the situation has continued to spiral because of both her refusal to apologize and the fact that she continues to identify as "black." 

As is to be expected, the media (both social and otherwise) has not stopped talking about this bizarre incident ever since. And while it has prompted some truly important and fascinating discussions about race and racial constructs, it was only a matter of time before musicians started chiming in. Hell, even the academic activists dragged Iggy Azalea into the discussion, with bell hooks asking: "Is Rachel Dolezal the new Iggy Azalea of #‎blackactivism?" and Aboriginal activist Nakkiah Lui Tweeting: "@IGGYAZALEA meet #RachelDolezal, I think you'll find you have a lot in common." 

When it comes to musicians' perspective on Dolezal, the response has been a mixed bag. 

In the mature-white-lady corner, we first had Cher send out a cringe-inducing: 
click image CHER / TWITTER
  • Cher / Twitter
Followed two days later, by a call for calm, and a note that "Most of us can’t know the feeling of anger & Betrayal in the blk Community." No shit, Cherlock. 

Then Bette Midler made an attempt at humor that was uncharacteristically unfunny:
click image BETTE MIDLER / TWITTER
  • Bette Midler / Twitter
And it wasn't just white people causing offense. Keri Hilson ended up in a full-blown public discussion, after Tweeting:
click image KERI HILSON / TWITTER
  • Keri Hilson / Twitter
Hilson followed up with comments including: "It is really weird tho. She took it pretty far with slave whips & what not. Levels. Deep." As well as: "I'm not sayin she doesn't have serious ISSUES, I'm just saying don't knock her intentions or discredit her efforts. @NAACP stands by her work." And, our personal favorite: "I will laugh. Unless it is certifiably determined that she has mental illness".

Thankfully, Killer Mike went on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore and went on a series of glorious and hilarious tangents.
click to enlarge screen_shot_2015-06-17_at_12.01.26_am.png
On Dolezal's skin tone: “That’s a mall tan. I live in a white suburb now and I see 50-year-old moms who wear True Religion jeans and they’re all just basketball orange…"
On Dolezal's choice of city: "I couldn't be mad at her 'til I found out she was in Spokane. Ain't no oppression happening in Spokane! They have to import the black people for the NAACP out there!"
And on giving white people "passes": "When they said ‘Are you African American, she said ‘Well, I don’t consider myself African American, I consider myself black.’ And I thought to myself ‘Well, black people have given a lot of white people passes. We gave Bill Clinton a pass, we gave Colonel Sanders a pass, we gave Tiger Woods a super pass…"

And, of course, a discussion about race wouldn't be a discussion about race without Azealia Banks saying something kind of meaningful, but mostly bitchy:
click image AZEALIA BANKS / TWITTER
  • Azealia Banks / Twitter
Truthfully, it was all down to Talib Kweli — who gave Rolling Stone extensive commentary on Dolezal's actions — to make real sense of the issues at stake. Here are some particularly important excerpts:

"She's said she identifies as black. Cool story, but that's not a real thing – because at any time, she could go back. That is a privilege that people of color do not have... It's very disrespectful to the people of color that she claims to identify with to say something like that. When you say something like that, you are not identifying with us, at all, in any way, shape, or form…

"Every quote-unquote positive thing she did to help people – these are all things that she could have done without pretending she was a black woman. The fraud of it would be hilarious, and that would be the end of it, if it wasn't for the fact that she was using her privilege to occupy spaces that rightfully should have gone to women of color. I don’t see any good in that. I see a self-serving attitude…

"I've seen people asking, 'Well, why can Caitlyn Jenner identify as a woman?' I'm no expert, but it seems to me that there's scientific evidence that shows that people can be born with a gender identity that they don't identify with. That's a real thing. I trust science. But I haven't seen any scientific evidence – and I looked – that says you can be born one race and identify as another…"

Kweli summed it all up most powerfully with this:
"You're not a friend or an ally to the movement. You're an enemy. Maybe you're not as dangerous an enemy as killer cops, but you're not down with us at all.”
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