I do not know what is in Rachel Dolezal's heart. From news reports, I have learned that she is estranged from some family members. In fact, her Christian fundamentalist parents "outed" her in 2015 for being a white woman passing herself off as a black civil rights leader in Spokane, Wash. Since then, she lost her job as president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP and as an instructor of Africana studies at a local university. And now, she's been disinvited from the Baltimore Book Festival after 100 people signed a petition, circulated by a white woman, against her.
Many prominent people in the African-American community claimed that Ms. Dolezal was co-opting their culture and living her life in blackface. She claims she's transracial. Wouldn't it be a better society if more people felt that way? In a time when there appears to be an increase in racism and anger between whites and blacks, it might be prudent to welcome all allies.
Many people are grappling with their perceived and actual selves. Those in the transgender community state that they can choose the gender and body that innately represents who they are inside. I do not totally understand when someone drastically alters his or her appearance and perceived identity. However, I accept people who do and fight for their rights and safety. As a woman, I am not outraged that a male Olympic champion became a woman. I did not think: Didn't he enjoy decades of male privilege? How can he co-opt my struggle?
Ms. Dolezal says she had an isolated, abusive childhood and fell in love with four black babies her family adopted, opening her eyes to racial hatred around her. She steadily drifted toward the black community.
"I didn't really feel comfortable around southern whites, because the world view in the South is just so ingrained. But I felt this huge sense of homecoming with regards to the black community," she told The Guardian newspaper. "On the white side I noticed hatred, fear and ignorance. And on the black side I noticed fear, anger and pain. I felt more at home with the anger and pain towards whites, because I had some anger and pain — toward not just my parents but also, even though I wouldn't have been able to articulate it then, towards white supremacy. I unapologetically stood on the black side. I was standing with my convictions, standing also with my siblings, standing with justice."
What is the right way to claim identity? If a child of parents of both races chooses to live their lives in one culture, is that fair or right? When President Barack Obama married a black woman and attended a black church, was he disrespecting his white mother and the grandparents who raised him? Or was he trying to find the right fit in navigating his life?
What about those who are brought up in one faith and then abandon it for another — or abandon it altogether — as adults? Is their new ideology or lack of faith fake? Should they be subject to ridicule?
Judaism has expanded from a religion and faith to people who feel they are culturally and ethnically Jewish. My father, a mathematician, described himself as a Jewish atheist. His reasoning was that whatever his ethnic heritage was from his Europe ancestors, he identified more with the Jews, who were persecuted, discriminated against and often killed in Europe, forced by hatred to migrate elsewhere. He was very proud of the Jewish people and his family history and certainly lived an exemplary life. But he did not believe in the rituals and proscribed faith.
I accept his position, and I also gladly accept that Ivanka Trump is Jewish — Orthodox no less. There is a path to conversion and she — raised a Presbyterian Christian — reportedly completed it. Now she is married to a man who was born and raised in the Orthodox Jewish faith and community, and she promises to do the same for their children. With all the hate and the rise of groups espousing a goal of a completely white, Christian country, it actually comforts me to think she is an adviser in the White House. I cannot ascertain if she is effective — or even fighting for a diverse nation — but I would rather have her there than not, possibly offsetting the views of others, say Steve Bannon.
Not all of these examples are completely analogous, nor could they be. But the totality of the issue ultimately ends at the question of who we are, what we believe and how we need or want to live our lives.
Ms. Dolezal's preference was apparently too much for the organizers of the Baltimore Book Festival, who had originally invited her to speak about her new memoir: "In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World." The group canceled her appearance Tuesday. It is frightening to see such censorship from an organization that promotes reading, writers and innovative thinking. We have always turned to literature to understand the full spectrum of humanity, including its many sins, differences and shortcomings. But apparently the public will not tolerate a woman who wants to transcend race.
Barrie Friedland is a former political strategist who has worked for William Donald Schaefer, Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin. Her email is email@example.com.