Why the NAACP should stand for "National Appropriation Association for Caucasian People"
On Thursday, after it became public knowledge that Rachel Dolezal, the president of the Spokane, Washington NAACP chapter, was not the Black woman she claimed to be, but rather a white woman in what even her brother recognizes to be blackface, the internet quickly blew up with responses of outrage, confusion and humor. One Twitter user went so far as to re-assign the meaning of the NAACP’s acronym. Based on Dolezal’s performance, it seemed the organization was now better suited to be the National Appropriation Association for Caucasian People. Initially a direct response to Dolezal, after the NAACP released their statement Friday, the new name seems almost — and sadly so — fitting.
The NAACP statement said two things: 1. The organization “has held a long and proud tradition of receiving support from people of all faiths, races, colors and creeds” and “one’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership.” and 2. Rachel Dolezal “is enduring a legal issue with her family” for which they “respect her privacy.”
The statement did not comment on Dolezal falsifying her race.
It did not say that co-opting Black womanhood, culture and affliction is an act that reinforces anti-Blackness, capitalizes off convenient aspects of Black identity and perpetuates the under- and misrepresentation of Black narratives. The statement said none of this.
In failing to address the issue behind all the uproar — that Dolezal was pretending to be Black — the NAACP neglected to take advantage of a huge opportunity to condemn cultural appropriation.
The NAACP’s silence was a third bullet point in their statement, one that could easily have read: All racial backgrounds are welcomed within our ranks and we hereby officially endorse cultural appropriation so long as it is in the name of racial justice work. For an organization who claims to fight “to remove all barriers of racial discrimination” and “eliminate race prejudice,” I find their disregard of the role Dolezal plays in the silencing of Black women activists and Black women in general disturbing and inexcusable.
To celebrate Dolezal or to refuse to comment on the harmfulness of her actions is to endorse the “violent erasure” of the lived experience of Black women and the ways in which they are stigmatized, demonized and brutalized for existing in the very bodies she pretends to inhabit.
As a widely recognized dependable and ethical organization, the NAACP’s inaction has provided credibility to those who will attempt to justify Dolezal’s acts purely because she was “working in support of Black people.” But make no mistake, a true White supporter of Black lives would amplify the voices of those who can speak from experience, not (amongst other things) fake their own oppression.
Particularly given the significant NAACP history of and openness to White leadership, it seems apparent that had Dolezal’s motive been working to eliminate racial inequity, she would have done so as the White woman she is. But she didn’t, and this is something that cannot be overlooked.
Rachel Dolezal is yet another instance of White voices prevailing.
A White woman is once again telling Black people’s history. A White woman has had the authority to detail what it is to be a Black person, and will receive more attention for her work then any Black woman activist ever will. A White woman is trying on what she deems to be Black — a reinforcement of stereotypes — and telling us of our lived experience. And the NAACP statement has legitimized it.
While I do not doubt that legalities have prevented the NAACP from using some specific language in response to the “legal issue” of Dolezal’s true identity being exposed, I am also sure that there are ways in which the organization could have released a statement which did not justify the appropriation of Blackness and “pacify a social injustice.”
The NAACP needed to say that the fabrication of Black identity is harmful and inappropriate. The NAACP needed to say that cultural appropriation is impermissible and that they refuse to stand by it. The NAACP needed to say a lot of things, but instead they said nothing. They sat by, quiet, missing an opportunity to assert a voice of reason and education.
In short: Do better NAACP.
You had one job. Appropriation and erasure within your organization are still detrimental to the lives of Black people living without the privilege of taking off their Black skin when convenient and the racial discrimination that accompanies it. These things are still counterproductive to a quest for equity, and it is time you recognize that and not allow others to rationalize racism using the NAACP as their seal of honor.
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