When the Rachel Dolezal story came to my attention, one of my first thoughts was, “I know people like that.” I bet you do, too. There probably aren’t many white people claiming to be black, but there are plenty of white Americans who claim Native American blood, and we all know people who have invented colorful and interesting pasts.
There was a time when, if one of your white settler ancestors had intermarried with a Native American, it was a family secret, never to be talked about. These days, it gives you cred, and you go out of your way to tell everyone about it. Compared to what Rachel Dolezal told everyone about her ancestry, claiming Native American heritage is comparatively easy, and a lot of people do it. Keep in mind, too, that some blond-haired, blue-eyed people really are part Cherokee.
The other thing, lying about past achievements, seems less benign to me. Brad, one of my best friends in high school, dropped off the map halfway through our senior year. He’d found a girlfriend, and I assumed he was spending all his spare time with her. In any case, I didn’t see him again until I was partway through my freshman year in college.
I bumped into Brad at a restaurant, and he was with a different girl. He seemed nervous and distracted, and once his new girlfriend started talking I realized why: he’d fed her a fabricated past, a ludicrously false one at that. According to her, her new lover Brad had cut a couple of albums with a folksinging trio, flown crop-dusters in his spare time, and was currently mulling over which of two offers to accept: a full scholarship to Harvard or a slot at the Navy’s prestigious underwater demolition team school, the predecessor to the SEALs. He knew I knew it was all bullshit, and that’s why he was so twitchy about running into me again. He had the exact same look in his eyes Rachel Dolezal does in the video where she’s asked if she’s really African-American.
I didn’t pop his girlfriend’s bubble. I didn’t say anything, and in fact I couldn’t get away fast enough, no doubt to Brad’s relief. I never saw him again after that, and didn’t want to.
Over the years I’ve run into lots of Brads. We all tell lies, but most of us back down right away. Brads, on the other hand, always double down. How do people like that get through life? At some point, doesn’t the whole card castle collapse on them?
It’s easy to falsely claim a distant Native American ancestor. You don’t have to maintain the lie or invent corroborating details; it’s just something that happened a long time ago and no one expects documentary proof. Pretending to be a former Navy SEAL — claiming to have achieved things you never did — requires you to be on your toes all the time.
There was a lot of confused talk about trans-genderism and trans-racialism in the wake of Rachel Dolezal’s outing. What about the Brads? Shall we call what they do trans-achievementism?
I feel bad writing about Rachel Dolezal. Is it really an important story? Does it really need to be all over the news? No, of course not, she’s just one person in a vast sea of people, and whatever impact she has on others’ lives is comparatively tiny (I feel the same way about trans-gender people, who should be left alone). But damn it, Rachel’s story is just so interesting! How can anyone resist talking about it?
The Brads, though? I don’t mind saying I hate them all and hope they get their comeuppance. I’m trans-achievementismphobic.
© 2015, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.