Remember That White Woman Who Got Busted For Presenting As Black? Guess What She Said on the Today Show
One of the most startling stories in political correctness history gets another chapter
A year after being outed as white, self-identified black woman and civil rights activist Rachel Dolezal has come back to The Today Show to discuss how her life has changed over the last nine months, and to promote a new book she’s writing about, you guessed it, racial identity. Besides getting recognized a lot in public and being the target of a lot of ad hominem attacks, the thing you’re wondering about is still very much a truth for Dolezal: Yes she still identifies as black.
Savannah Guthrie is the one who interviewed Dolezal last June, and in perhaps the most interesting part of the exchange asks her, “Do you feel now that you have any regrets about some of the things you said about yourself that have now been revealed to not be true?” Dolezal hesitates for a few beats before replying with, “Um, I’m not sure what you’re referring to with that, but definitely I don’t have any regrets about how I identify. I’m still me, and nothing about that has changed.”
Guthrie tactifully tries to distinguish between Dolezal’s narrative of being born black as opposed to electivley identifying as such as an adult, and while Dolezal doesn’t stonewall her, she does seem unjustifiably confused. The question of public curiosity about Dolezal’s unique racial experience is exactly why she is sitting down for this interview. In her previous conversation with Guthrie, Dolezal herself described her life story to that point not as a fabrication, but as “creative non-fiction.” And when you put creativity in non-fiction, people are naturally going to wonder which parts of the story are literally true and which parts are a bit more interpretive, so to speak.
And look, we’re not here to parse Dolezal’s right to claim trans-racial status. This is a really new public conversation and there’s way too much fact finding that needs to be done before we take our definitive stance on the viability of being trans-race. (And I, as a white, not-trans in any way writer, am wildly underqualified to comment at this time.) What makes this conversation a little awkward is less Dolezal expressing her personal truth – we’ve had a year to sit with it, after all – and more her continued surprise that anyone would misunderstand her situation.
Ultimately, the interview is worth watching, if for no other reason than this is a public spectacle without precedent. And how often can we say we are genuinely surprsied anymore? Dolezal is in the difficult position of having no other public figures to identify with, so she’s flying blind on how to handle this crazy PR machine. And in describing the challenges of telling her story, Dolezal does make a very good point about being a person that defies neat categories in a world that typically demands them of people, asking Guthrie at one point, “How do you sum up a whole life of coming into who you are in a sound bite?” That’s a very good question, and one we certainly don’t have a tidy answer for.