When I first heard about Rachel Dolezal, now former President of the Spokane, Washington NAACP chapter, I didn’t know what to think about her perceived appearance changes from that of a white woman to successfully posing as a black one, until outed by her parents. As I read further about her, I realize the law played a significant part in her changes. Rachel Dolezal, for those who haven’t kept abreast, has been masquerading, my words, as a black woman, for the past several years after leaving Howard University where she obtained a Master’s degree. On the other hand, she tells Matt Lauer on the Today Show that she identified as being black since as early as grade school.
Law suit records filed by Ms. Dolezal in 2002 shows she considered herself to be white. While at Howard University as a graduate student, she filed a law suit against Howard for alleged discrimination against her as a white woman. In 2005, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled against her case for alleged discrimination on her allegations in the way she was passed over for a teaching assistant position, instructor position and for failing to receive financial aid, due to being white. The case upon its dismissal resulted in the court ordering her to pay several thousand dollars in the costs that Howard University incurred in the lawsuit. Sometime after the lawsuit, Rachel Dolezal began changing her appearance to perpetrate being a black woman. She had no problems with going to a historically black institution as a white person. She had no problems with wanting to teach there as a white person. The only problem arose was when she was allegedly denied opportunities she deemed were denied to her on account of her race—being white. Then she decided a switch was in order—posing as a black woman.
When I read her lawsuit and then her subsequent decision to perpetrate being black, I realize Rachel Dolezal is an opportunist. When the opportunity arises, she is whatever race will advance her career. I believe she is sincere in working on social justice causes affecting African Americans. I doubt her sincerity in identifying herself as black—her words not mine. If her lawsuit against Howard had been successful, I believe Ms. Dolezal would have never made a switch. As a lawyer, I understand that the law will make you sometimes do crazy things. But deciding to change your appearance from white to black based on the law, I must admit is a new one to me. Despite Ms. Dolezal’s statements, I believe that her outcome in the lawsuit against Howard University was a turning point for her in regards to race and her changed appearance .
The most ironic part of all is that Ms. Dolezal would likely have been a much greater help to the cause and issues facing African Americans if she had not disguised herself as a black woman As a white woman, she could have accomplished even greater heights in the discussion on race and race issues in addressing white Americans. But I don’t think she fully wanted to do that as much as she wanted to advance her own career path. And there is nothing wrong with advancing one’s career. She unsuccessfully sued to advance her career. And she later changed her appearance to advance her career. When someone goes to the extremes that Rachel Dolezal did in furtherance of their career, the word opportunistic is what comes to my mind.
Whatever genuineness she may have had in advancing issues facing blacks was significantly tarnished when I heard of her two timing both sides of the aisle, whenever appropriate. When it was appropriate to be white and sue Howard University for tens of thousands of dollars, she was a white woman. When she lost her case, she decided to accomplish her career goals by reinventing herself disguised as a black woman along with black husband, make believe black father and son. Now that her mother has outed her as a white woman, I only wonder what’s her next move. Unfortunately for Ms. Dolezal, she did not realize her support of issues vastly affecting African Americans would have been just as valid and perhaps more so in her own white skin.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor. She appears on Al Jazeera America, MSNBC, BET, C-Span, PBS, CCTV- America, Fox 5 (WTTG) and TV One among others, speaking on legal news and issues.