Tuesday June 16, 2015

Rachel Dolezal: The politics of race not-so-black-and-white

Rachel Dolezal presented herself as African-American for years, but her family has spoken out to say she's Caucasian.  What constitutes race and is there any flexibility in how we define it?

Rachel Dolezal presented herself as African-American for years, but her family has spoken out to say she's Caucasian. What constitutes race and is there any flexibility in how we define it? (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review/Associated Press/Family Photo)

Listen 22:00

"We're just confirming the truth. We are her birth parents. And we do not understand why she feel it's necessary to misrepresent her ethnicity."  -  Rachel Dolezal's father,  Larry Dolezal

Rachel Dolezal grabbed headlines in the past few days, and yesterday stepped down as president of the  N.A.A.C.P. chapter in Spokane, Washington. All because Ms. Dolezal appears to have spent years posing as black.

She was deeply involved in the African-American community, as an academic and civil rights activist. But last week her parents, both Caucasian, spoke with the media about what they called her deception.

Rachel Dolezal Family Photo

A family photo shows Rachel Dolezal's family at her wedding in Jackson, Mississippi on May 21, 2000. (Courtesy of the Dolezal Family via The Spokesman-Review)

And the story has got people talking right across North America. Because the case of Ms. Dolezal brings up some pressing questions today -- about what constitutes race, and whether there is flexbility in how we define it, and ourselves. 

  • Phyllis Fletcher is the managing editor of the Northwest News Network, a collaboration of public radio stations in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. She was in Seattle. 
  • Nikki Khanna is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Vermont, and the author of the book "Biracial in America: Forming and Performing Racial Identity." She was in Burlington, Vermont. 
  • Huda Hassan is a Canadian-Somali writer who focuses on issues of race and culture. She has written for Vice, Gawker and The Huffington Post and she was in our Toronto studio.   
     

This segment was produced by The Current's Sujata Berry, Acey Rowe, Marc Apollonio and Gord Westmacott.
 

RELATED LINKS

Rachel Dolezal: I've failed race tests, too - Phyllis Fletcher, Northwest News

Rachel Dolezal a lesson in how racism works - Boston Globe