Those Who Pose as Black: Rachel Dolezal Isn’t the First

Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, is pictured at her home in the eastern Washington city.  (Colin Mulvany / Spokesman-Review)
Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, is pictured at her home in the eastern Washington city. (Colin Mulvany / Spokesman-Review)

Anyone who has been near a computer, TV or any electronic gadget is probably familiar with the strange story of Rachel Dolezal, the NAACP leader in Spokane, Wash., who is being accused of faking being black.

 

But how many of us know about Mezz Mezzrow, a white jazz musician who passed himself off as black? Mezzrow’s real name was Milton Mesirow, and he was better known for his skills on the clarinet and saxophone than the color of his skin.

But his ability to blend in with the group he felt comfortable with, and one that accepted him, shows that it is never a question of black or white when race comes into play, said Allyson Hobbs, who literally wrote the book on pretending to be a different race.

Hobbs’ book, “A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life,” examines the history of African Americans who passed as white in an effort to evade the obstacles U.S. society placed in front of blacks.

What’s unusual about Dolezal’s situation is that she is accused of opting to pass as black, said Hobbs, an assistant professor of history at Stanford University.

Hobbs said she has been surprised at the venom directed at Dolezal, who according to her parents has no claim to African American ancestry. Hobbs said much of the anger is likely the result of people simply not being able to understand why someone born white would voluntarily give that up.

“Part of what we really struggle with is this notion that, if given the choice, a white person would not choose to give up their privilege of being white,” said Hobbs. “I don’t get the sense she’s using a black identity in an opportunistic way. I think a lot of people just feel like, oh my God, why would someone choose to be black?”

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SOURCE: TINA SUSMAN
The Los Angeles Times

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