Rachel Dolezal In Vanity Fair: “I’m Not African-American, But I Would Say I’m Black”

Rachel Dolezal will not go silently into that good night. Even though it’s clear that she’s a confused woman and a frustrating presence, there’s still something about the story that fascinates. Perhaps the month she’s had out of the spotlight has given her time to reflect. Perhaps she’s had several talks with herself about the whats and the hows and the whys of her cover being blown. Maybe she’s taken this time to actually think about what she’s saying and what it could mean. One would think that this would be the case. But, as her latest exclusive with Allison Samuels of Vanity Fair reveals, all Dolezal has done since mid-June is double down on her identity. She still claims she’s a Black woman. She’s not backing down.

To Samuels’ credit, she holds off on castigating and lets Dolezal simply speak for herself. Could Samuels have pushed her more? Sure. But sometimes in situations like this, it’s better to let the crazy fly unfettered. Throughout the interview, Dolezal makes constant and insistent references to her unshakeable feeling of “blackness,” but refuses to qualify these statements with examples about what she believes “blackness” to actually mean:

“It’s not a costume … I don’t know spiritually and metaphysically how this goes, but I do know that from my earliest memories I have awareness and connection with the black experience, and that’s never left me.”

To sum up the Black experience — or any minority experience — in a sound bite is impossible, to be fair. But if you’re a white woman who has chosen to defend your earnest blackface as something that’s an inextricable part of your identity, then it might behoove you to figure out something of actual substance to say. Dolezal’s excuse is that she’s tired of having to explain herself — a curious statement from someone who has done very little explaining beyond broad statements intended to smooth over glaring inconsistencies.

“It’s taken my entire life to negotiate how to identify, and I’ve done a lot of research and a lot of studying,” she says. “I could have a long conversation, an academic conversation about that. I don’t know. I just feel like I didn’t mislead anybody; I didn’t deceive anybody. If people feel misled or deceived, then sorry that they feel that way, but I believe that’s more due to their definition and construct of race in their own minds than it is to my integrity or honesty, because I wouldn’t say I’m African American, but I would say I’m black, and there’s a difference in those terms.”

That last sentence is the closest admission of guilt we’ll probably ever get from Dolezal. She knows that she’s not an African-American woman. She was born white. She will never, ever be able to explain away the biology, but she will spend the rest of her life struggling to explain what “blackness” as an identity means to her.

If you choose to engage with Dolezal’s story, to wrap your head around the questions about race her mere presence prompts, know that you’re engaging with someone who’s living a strange fiction that she’s written for and about herself. Until the inevitable publication of her tell-all book — which she referred to in the interview as if it was a given that a book deal was in store — these vague non-answers are all we have to work with. Proceed with caution.

[Vanity Fair]

[Photo: Thomas Richardson]