Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Rachel Dolezal/Jeb Bush Commonality

Am I the only one who thinks Rachel Dolezal and Jeb Bush have more than a little in common? Dolezal is the former NAACP leader who was recently exposed as claiming to be black, but is actually 100% caucasian. Bush is the son and brother of presidents who is currently running for president himself who has been known to identify as Hispanic, though he is 100% Anglo. He even admits to having checked “Hispanic” as his race on a voter registration form at one time. Both of them have immersed themselves in the cultures with which they identify and both married people from those cultures. 

I had a patient at the methadone clinic in San Francisco who did pretty much the same thing Dolezal did. She was a blonde caucasian woman who was married to a black man and totally involved in the black community. I heard her answer one day, when asked where her husband was, "He go he mama house." The people to whom she was speaking were not using that idiom. It was startling to hear it. I always think of her odd Ebonics phrase when I hear about people like Jeb Bush or Rachel Dolezal. It's an odd, but not uncommon phenomenon. "He go he mama house" syndrome. 

This adoption of another’s ethnicity may be more common than you might think. Pew Research says: 

     “…researchers, who included university and government population scientists, analyzed census forms for 168 million Americans, and found that more than 10 million of them checked different race or Hispanic-origin boxes in the 2010 census than they had in the 2000 count. Smaller-scale studies have shown that people sometimes change the way they describe their race or Hispanic identity, but the new research is the first to use data from the census of all Americans to look at how these selections may vary on a wide scale”

That's roughly one-sixteenth of the population. One sixteenth! According to Pew, University of Minnesota sociologist Caroline A. Libeler said that millions of Americans change their race. Who knew?

I think both Dolezal and Bush became so deeply involved in the ethnicity they identified with that they began to believe they were a natural part of it. Dolezal attended a black college and married a black man. She has lived and worked in and with the black community for a long time. Bush has lived and worked in both Venezuela and South Florida and he married a Mexican woman he met on a school exchange trip to Mexico. He has been described as “one of the most prominent members of the Hispanic community” in Miami newspaper profiles.

Rachel Dolezal is an outcast and Jeb Bush is believed to be the front runner among Republican candidates for president of the United States. So, why is Dolezal an anathema and Bush a golden boy? Why is one a fraud and the other a favorite? Are our judging criteria skewed in some odd way? Is it rich white male privilege? Do we favor one culture over another? Both did good work for their causes. Both seem sincere in their identifying with another culture. 

Some things are harder to understand than people changing their ethnicity. 

Sources:; NPR

No comments:

Post a Comment