Reviews and Commentaries
First, here are a few noteworthy reviews and commentaries: The Rachel Dolezal Documentary Isn’t Going To Change Anyone’s Mind by Kovie Biakolo of BuzzFeed; ‘Rachel Divide’ Director Says Dolezal ‘Has Remained Resolute by Audie Cornish of NPR; “The Rachel Divide” Review: A Disturbing Portraint of Dolezal’s Racial Fraudulence by Doreen St. Félix of The New Yorker; Four takeaways from ‘The Rachel Divide,’ Netflix’s new documentary about Rachel Dolezal by Tre’vell Anderson of the LA Times; Netflix’s Rachel Dolezal Documentary Comes DOwn Hard on Its Subject by Chris Lee of Vulture;
There are few stories that conflate so many social and psychological issues in one. The Rachel Divide is one of the most amazing, in that regard. These complications make it really difficult to articulate any reflections, much less any ethics, without either missing, conflating, or exacerbating the painful tensions that are intrinsically interwoven into the narrative. I confess my inadequacy in this post, and ask for a gracious understanding.
Doležal is both hero and villain, perpetrator and victim, advocate and nemesis, all in one. What she isn’t is both black and white. Equality of values does not equal equality of identity. Common virtues and ethics does not erase distinctions, and it does not give us permission to simply fabricate, co-opt, or “appropriate” another person’s/people’s experiences, a kind of “phenomenological-colonisation.” Of the “trans-” categories that exist in our cultural discourse, “trans-racial” is not one.
But what makes that statement true (or false)? What constitutes “race,” and “color” in the first place? Are the same categories that we use to speak about each other the same categories we can use to speak about ourselves, and vice versa? And to what degree? And, who decides?
And what about Doležal’s childhood, family upbringing, alleged abused, and psychological trauma? Can that be easily “accepted as the reason” or “dismissed as irrelevant?” Is her personal struggle and pain of no value in understanding her story?
As has been written elsewhere, this story really isn’t about Rachel, which is why it is an important one to consider, both for keeping in check our biases and cultural presuppositions, and for better understanding what we do believe is true about our racial and cultural identities.
Don’t just watch. Voyeurism is selfish. Talk. Converse. Listen. Understand.
Here’s the book: Rachel Doležal. In Full Color. BenBella Books, 2018.