The trailer for The Rachel Divide—the forthcoming Rachel Dolezal documentary that, as filmmaker Laura Brownson suggests, aims to challenge viewers’ position on race “regardless of how people feel about Rachel”—features a dispiriting encounter I’m not sure I was prepared to see.
In the opening scene, Dolezal’s son, a young Black boy, is tired. More aptly, he feels drained, as he later discloses to the camera crew. “I resent some of her choices and I resent some of the words she’s spoken in interviews,” he says. “She can identify whatever she wants to be ’cause it’s her business … [but] she did not choose her words carefully. It affected me. It affected my brother.” His pain is uncomfortably palpable.
I wonder if she realizes how detrimental her behavior is to her Black children’s social livelihood. I am also curious as to what her idea of ‘free’ is.
The exchange makes me think back to the time when Ijeoma Oluo traveled to Dolezal’s Spokane, Wash. home and commendably sat with her for over three hours. (Sidebar: if you haven’t read that interview, I highly suggest you do because it’s *chef’s kiss* delicious). In “The Heart of Whiteness,” which was published by The Stranger in April 2017, Oluo points to the innumerable instances during which Dolezal insisted her caricature of Black identity would “not only allow her to live in the culture that she says matches her true self, but will also help free visibly Black people from racial oppression.” With this note in mind, I can only imagine the magnitude of the anxiety a Black boy being raised by a white mom who “identifies” as Black must carry—especially in a nation where little Black boys who look just like Dolezal’s son are being hunted, harassed and gunned down on a perpetual basis. I wonder if she realizes how detrimental her behavior is to her Black children’s social livelihood. I am also curious as to what her idea of “free” is.
“In making the film, I came to a deeper understanding of the raw nerve that Rachel hits in our society, but I also learned that her motivations to identify as she does are far more complicated than most realize,” Brownson, who is white, tells Vulture. Call me cynical (I am), but I find it markedly difficult to believe anything was discovered beyond Dolezal’s self-serving agenda that becomes increasingly evident each time I have the misfortune of stumbling upon her name. I’m still reeling from that damn book. And that damn calendar. And that disgraceful “Coolest Prince in the Hood” campaign that, in whatever delusional way she imagined, was supposed to “counter” H&M’s wack-ass hoodie. She says she saw an opportunity for “protest.” I saw an opportunity for profit. To-may-to, to-mah-to, I suppose.
I can only imagine the magnitude of the anxiety a Black boy being raised by a white mom who ‘identifies’ as Black must carry.
Like Oluo, I really didn’t see myself exhausting my energy to write about Dolez—oh yeah, my bad; she changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo—ever again. But last night I went to bed brooding over The Rachel Divide (which, now that I think about it, I can only presume the title’s a play on “The Racial Divide” and omfg). It troubles me that Netflix—a widely-known streaming service with close to 118 million subscribers worldwide—is lending its platform to a woman who clearly has no genuine interest in contributing to the Black experience in any way that liberates us.
This is not to say I’ll be canceling my Netflix subscription anytime soon, because Black Mirror just announced it’s fifth season, and Marvel’s Jessica Jones returned today (just being honest). But I do think it’s absolutely worth it to question the interest of a now $100 billion+ entity, which has undeniably had a culture-shifting influence upon how we consume film and television and is (deliberately or not) willing to perpetuate and enable Dolezal’s hurtful mockery of Black women. This while Mo’Nique fights for equal pay. This while actual Black women who’ve been brutally robbed of their lives (see: Charleena Lyles, Korryn Gaines, Brandi Seals, and countless others) fail to make headlines for more than 48 hours.
I’d really like to invite Netflix to consider documenting the stories of these women. But then again, we all know how white supremacy plays a role in dictating what’s worthy of coverage. “It is white supremacy that then elevated this display of privilege into the dominating conversation on Black female identity in America,” Oluo writes toward the end of her piece. “It is white supremacy that decided that [Dolezal] was worth a book deal, national news coverage, and yes—even this interview.”
So until that changes, I’ll take a deep breath and go back to pretending Dolezal never existed. My blood pressure depends on it.