As per usual, I identify with the parents. It is a very bitter pill to swallow to have an adult child completely repudiate her past and, in so doing, negate her origins, her upbringing, her parents, whatever roots she must have had as a child. The countless dinners, holidays, school events, late homework nights, prom dates, college applications, the work of raising a child, pretty much tossed because it didn’t fit Rachel Dolezal‘s new identity. Her parents no longer fit with her history because if her impersonation was to ring true, her parents had to become a lie.
Her parents and the rest of her family watched from afar as Ms. Dolezal changed her appearance, immersed herself in black culture and allowed people to believe she was black. She seemed at home with this, secure enough to lead a black organization and to tell others about her experience as a pretend black woman. It makes me wonder, though, how deep her respect for black lives and black history could be if she figured that she could be such a competent impersonator. Isn’t there more to being black than what can be learned from books or from friends? It seems to me that her act minimized the very culture with which she was so enamored, as in it’s really easy to be who you are, dear black person. No, it’s not. It can’t be.
So there’s that, too, to consider from her parents’ point of view. Their daughter’s persistent, daily lie used them as props, the injustice suffered at their hands part of her fabricated street cred. If I was her mother, I’d wonder when I’d auditioned for a part is such a nightmare of a movie. I’d wonder what I’d done, not just to earn her hatred or scorn, but to be cast as an accomplice in Ms. Dolezal’s oppression. I’d wonder where the outer limits of love were and whether I’d gotten there already unaware that I’d passed some terrible line of demarcation without having the sense any longer of knowing how far gone things had become.
If I was her mother, I would have traversed the lines of hurt and anger and landed in the field of wanting to protect my honor and my family’s honor but it would have taken a long time because reclaiming the truth would necessarily make my daughter’s life a lie. In this case only one party could be honest at a time. It would take a good long while for me to quit ignoring the unpleasantness of having a daughter successfully living a fantasy life built on the repudiation of her parents and family. As long as I could keep it – the craziness of it – at arms’ length of my own reputation and integrity, I’d look the other way.
But eventually, I’d crack.
It would be the unrelenting gall of it that would push me over the brink. The steady drip of lies, lies on lies, photos of lies, rewards for lies, accolades for lies, a river of lies flowing from Spokane to my doorstep, bringing along fallen trees and debris, a lifetime of identity, effort and commitment flooding me and mine even as we tried to ignore and not care. It is impossible not to care when you are overrun with gall. And when the source of the river of gall is your own children, there is no describing the outrage. Enough to call the national press, I bet.
What happens next is always the question I ask people when they are in terrible straits. What happens next? We don’t know, life unfolds, of course. But don’t overlook the possibility of truth-telling and reconciliation. Relationships have packed in them thousands of little miracles. One of them could bloom. There’s no way of knowing. But now that the truth is out, all kinds of things can flower.
This piece in the Boston Globe is the best thing I’ve read about this very strange situation.