I’m not sure how much coverage the story of Rachel Dolezal is enjoying around the world, particularly in the US, but it’s something the UK media have jumped on. The background to the story is that a leader of the NAACP in Spokane, Washington has been mis-representing her race for nigh on seven years. While claiming to be black, it appears she’s the white daughter of white parents. The curious thing is that I’ve not read, so far, of any outright lies told in the way she got the job with the NAACP. Neither am I hearing of the sort of job she has undertaken for the last seven years either. Which is a shame, because I imagine after seven years in her role it can only be assumed she’s been doing OK. There have also been claims that she told this person or that person that she was mixed-race, but so far that’s all circumstantial and doesn’t really impact on what sort of job she’s been doing. TV channel KXLY appear to have confronted her in a TV interview, however, where she apparently did lie, outright, to camera about her racial background.
Clearly, also, some sort of re-invention has been going on. But isn’t that something we all do? On a regular basis? Obviously, none of us go so far as reinventing ourselves as a person of a different race, Ms. Dolezal and Michael Jackson apart, but we all reinvent ourselves in small ways.
A painfully shy, awkward and geeky teenager -me- reinvented herself as a confident naturist. A small reinvention, something that occurred on a fairly normal journey through life. We’ve all had circumstances where reinvention simply happened, without us apparently having much control over the process. Life gets you like that from time to time. Hairstyles, hair colour, fashion changes, piercings, tattoos…each and all represent the way in which we present ourselves, and re-present ourselves to the world.
For some, it’s maybe adopting their middle name as the name they prefer to be known by. We grow up under our parents’ influence, maybe with an unfashionable name. I’m loathe to write a name here, as all the xxxx’s will then write and say ‘hey, what’s wrong with being called xxxx?’ You know what I mean. A designer-stubbled, bespoke suit wearing millionaire playboy can be called Scott, or Adam, or something equally manly that matches the lifestyle. Being a playboy called Cyril (sorry to all the Cyrils out there) doesn’t quite tie in, doesn’t sound ‘right’. Of course, not many leading physicists would be called Scott or Adam. They might more reasonably be assumed to have something more important to say in the world of Physics by being called Cyril. Yes, a wild generalisation, but I assume you know the point I’m trying to make here.
Pops stars are called Rihanna. Or Madonna. They aren’t called Doris (sorry to all the Doris’s out there). If we’re born as Doris, we’re probably going to adopt something more outlandish for our chosen musical career. Amelia Kelly doesn’t have quite the same ‘edgy’ quality as Iggy Azalea, does it? Oddly, Iggy Azalea has previously claimed to have some aboriginal blood (a big tick in the ‘cool roots’ column) while then going on to apparently entirely mis-represent aboriginal people. She also went on to say that ‘my family has been in Australia a long time, over 100 years, so everyone has a little Aboriginal blood in them’. Wow! A full hundred years? About five generations? And she knows that there has to be aboriginal blood because her family has an eye condition only aborigines get. Views being laughed at by many other Australians. I’d never knowingly heard any of her music, but just reading up on her makes me think that there’s more than a little re-invention going on there too.
So I put the ‘not having heard any of her music’ situation to rights, understood about one word in 50 in her ‘controversial’ (yawn!) and ‘edgy’ (yawn!) song ‘Pu$$y’. I looked the words up…
Iggy Iggy pussy illy
Wetter than the Amazon
Taste this kitty
Silly Billy poppin’ pilly’s
Smoke it like a swisher
Lick this philly
Mold em ah! Soak em ah!
Hook em like crack, after shock
Molten ah! Lava drop
Nope. Still don’t understand it. Looks like I’ll have to wait until ‘Google Translate’ comes up with a ‘Bollocks’ option alongside Creole and Esperanto. And if there’s a more worthy case of some caucasian girl with a black fixation, judging by the video, I’ve yet to see it. She’s a bad case of ‘wigga‘.
However, the main point is, we all reinvent in small ways.
Second Life offers us the opportunity to reinvent in huge ways, changing race and gender at the click of a button. The likelihood is that a sizeable proportion of SL’s population do exactly this. The SL community pages were discussing this five years ago (and probably prior to that). It’s not unique to SL. Many men, apparently, recreate themselves as women online in general computing work.
We’re all certainly reinventing ourselves in SL. A few pounds shed here and there. A few inches added (you know what I’m saying, fellas). Receding hair turned into luxurious manes. ‘Fat’ legs given the all-important, apparently, thigh gap. Saggy boobs made perkier. And so on and so on. Yes, we all subtly reinvent in RL and reinvent further in SL.
The Guardian reports on the Dolezal situation, and quotes a professor of psychology and Africana studies at Pitzer College, Halford Fairchild, who says ‘Rachel Dolezal is black because she identifies as black’. I get what he’s saying, but it still doesn’t identify the causes of someone going to such extreme lengths to reinvent when such a sham is likely to be discovered. I can see why some white person stuck in Nowheresville, middle America, may see black urban hip hop culture as glamorous, or dangerous, or exciting, and wish to replicate that. In RL, with the clothes and the music, and in SL by effectively changing race. It doesn’t seem that odd or strange, really.
It will be interesting to see how Ms Dolezal moves forward from here. Perhaps people will determine she’s doing a good job. Perhaps proven lies on her CV will be her undoing. Perhaps we might hear someone focus on whether, in her seven years in office, she has actually achieved the goals of the organisation she represents, and overseen the advancement of ‘coloured’ people. (Odd how the word ‘coloured’ now seems curiously dated).
My expectations are that Ms Dolezal will be pushed from office, regardless of her achievements.
My expectations are that people will continue to swap sex & change race in SL. Perhaps we need to consider the words of the professor, above, and suggest that if avatars identify with a certain skin tone or gender, that makes them that skin tone or gender. Is it such a bad thing anyway? Perhaps if we were to live inside the avatar head of someone of a different skin tone, or gender, we might begin to get a small understanding, via SL, of how it is to be black, or female, or male, or white. After seven years of living a black mindset, I think it’s possible that Ms Dolezal is well placed to understand the plight of ‘coloured’ people in America. Perhaps more so, as she will also understand white privilege when growing up, something no one else in the NAACP will understand to her level.
Perhaps if there are hordes of SL women out there being run my men at the keyboard, perhaps they, too, now have an understanding of the pressures placed upon women, with SL replicating RL to a degree. ‘Nice boobs, love!’ It would be interesting to see if males, who have operated female avatars, have rethought their approach to women having experienced the female perspective, albeit only from within SL.