By now you’ve probably heard the story of Rachel Dolezal, the head of the Spokane, Wash., NAACP who has been accused of misrepresenting her race.
It’s been my honor for most of my career here at the Sedalia Democrat to appear alongside local author, historian, volunteer, educator and civil rights campaigner Rhonda Chalfant. You probably enjoy her tawdry tales of old Sedville each week but you might not know that she is also the president of the local chapter of the NAACP.
Yes, you can travel just a few inches from here to read her column, and you just might notice she appears to be white.
“I know there is some criticism of my role of president of the NAACP because I am white,” admits Chalfant. “Since I am willing to serve as president, I do so to the best of my ability. Several years ago, I was honored to be named Branch President of the Year for the Missouri Conference of Branches.”
There’s no need to be confused. Dolezal isn’t the butt of jokes all over the Internet because she’s a white person who heads a branch of the NAACP, but because she’s a white person who heads a branch of the NAACP who was presenting herself as African-American. The point here is that all people can be allies and even leaders in organizations like the NAACP, but there’s no reason to slather on the spray tan and lie about your background.
“The NAACP has always been an inclusive organization. In fact, some of those who met with the Niagra movement that preceded the NAACP were white,” Chalfant said. “I have participated in two national rallies, one in Atlanta, Ga., and the other in Washington, D.C., that emphasize the importance of working together to eliminate discrimination against all minority groups and to alleviate poverty through job availability, living wage, education, and job training.”
The NAACP isn’t a shadowy organization that is working to make sure everyone in a position of power is non-white, and they’re not trying to bring about the end of Caucasian existence. They’re fighting hard against poverty, discrimination and unequal treatment. And yes, some of them are white.
“I think it is unfortunate that Rachel Dolezal felt she had to claim to be black in order to work for civil rights,” Chalfant said. “Her misrepresentation of her ethnic heritage hurt her credibility as well as the organization’s credibility. Unfortunately, people will remember her now as the person who faked her ethnicity rather than as a strong worker for civil rights.”
I think that’s the key consideration in this situation: Dolezal probably wasn’t representing herself in this way out of hatred, jealousy or malice. I imagine it’s easy to slip into that sort of facade after you’ve spent serious time and effort fighting on behalf of the African-American community. At a certain point, people might even be expecting it of you. But there’s a problem when you start believing it, and a bigger problem when you start trying to convince other people to believe it.
“What people must realize is that there is not a ‘they’ refusing to do something; there is only ‘all of us’ who need to work together to recognize and solve problems,” Chalfant said. “We must all be willing to work to make our community better instead of just grousing about the situation.”