Dad to Rachel Dolezal: Raising Black Kids Doesn’t Make You Black

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The writer, Calvin Hennick, with his family. (Photo: Calvin Hennick)

Rachel Dolezal, professional pretend black lady extraordinaire, has a novel rationale for how she obtained her supposed blackness. She got it, she says, from her kids.

“I have really gone there with the experience, in terms of being the mother of two black sons, and really owning what it means to experience and live blackness,” she told MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry. Dolezal and her ex husband have a son, Franklin, and she has legal guardianship over her adopted brother, Izaiah.

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On the Today show, she told Matt Lauer, “I’ve actually had to go there with the experience … the point at which that really solidified was when I got full custody of Izaiah, and he said, ‘You’re my real mom.’ He’s in high school, and for that to be something that is plausible, I certainly can’t be seen as white and be Izaiah’s mom.”


Dolezal with her four adopted siblings at her wedding in 2000. They couple divorced in 2004, but have a son, Franklin. (Photo: Dolezal Family Handout)

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Are we really doing this? Does this really need to be explained?

All right, here we go: THAT ISN’T HOW THIS WORKS!

I’m the father of two biracial kids. That doesn’t make me biracial. Just like my children won’t suddenly become Asian or Hispanic if they parent Asian or Hispanic children. Our parents pass their heritage on to us. It doesn’t work the other way around.

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I’ve never misrepresented my way to the presidency of an NAACP chapter, but I’ll put my bona fides up against Dolezal’s:

My wife is from Haiti, and I speak a little Creole. That doesn’t make me black.

I lived in Harlem for a year. That doesn’t make me black.

I taught middle school in the South Bronx. That doesn’t make me black.

I play basketball with the black teenagers at the high school near my house, and they, bizarrely, sometimes call me the N-word.

Guess what? Still not black!


Dolezal how she looks today (L) and as a teenager. (Photo: Dolezal Family)

Look, I get that race is a complex thing, and that it’s more deeply rooted in sociology than biology. Take my kids. Under the “one-drop rule,” they would have been considered fully “black” throughout most of our country’s history. But things have changed, and I think it’s likely that they’ll identify themselves primarily as biracial (when they get old enough to think about such things). Their identities may even shift depending on context. If my son plays basketball while wearing a hoodie or with his curls picked out into an Afro, for example, observers may consider him black. But if they see him at the mall in the winter when his skin is light, they may think he’s Italian or Puerto Rican. I can’t say for sure whether he or my daughter will feel mostly black, white, both, or neither.

It’s all fluid and messy and dependent on feelings of identification and association, and so there’s a part of me that’s tempted to say: I’m not the race police, and if Rachel Dolezal wants to be black, then let her be black.

But another, much more persuasive part of me says: Come on, white lady, knock it off already.

The whole situation seems mostly silly to me, almost trivial, but I understand why some people are so offended. They think – and I tend to agree – that Dolezal, even if she is sincere, is still cashing in on the pain and oppression of others, taking away jobs from and crowding out the voices of actual black women, and doing so only when it’s convenient for her.

My own racial identity isn’t informed by the color of my children’s skin, but rather by the historical weight I have not had to bear. My ancestors were not enslaved. My grandparents were not denied the right to vote. My parents weren’t told they couldn’t live in certain neighborhoods. And I myself do not have to worry about an increased likelihood of being arrested, killed, or unemployed based on my race.

That’s why I’m not black. And it’s why Rachel Dolezal – by any sane definition – isn’t, either.

Our kids have nothing to do with it.

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