Monday, June 15, 2015

The One Thing That Burns Me Most About #RachelDolezal

Rachel Dolezal recently and a growing up
There are so many themes and story lines that have passed through my mind since the Rachel Dolezal controversy broke last week.


Deception by omission.


Mental illness.




But the one that scorches me the most is the fact that Ms. Dolezal's charade erases me.

Yes, the fact that Rachel Dolezal assumed the "life" of a Black American woman and "profited" from opportunities to use a platform to tell the her "story" erases mine - the actual Black American woman.

This is particularly hard for me to process as I have really been intentional the last year or so to bust the popular and accepted American narrative of the Black Women in America. You may or may not recall that I have been honored by two different Chicago suburban media companies in the last year for my contributions to business and my community. At both award ceremonies, I specifically spoke about the honor to be recognized with other talented women and how excited I was to get the chance to share my story as I did not see many stories like mine told growing up or into my early career life. I also challenged both homogenous audiences to lift up stories that were different than their own. I asked them to reflect on ways to make sure all American stories get told. In both cases, I touched a nerve and incited less than positive responses from people in the audience who could not resist the chance to challenge my point of view.

At the event last November, one woman, a fellow entrepreneur no less, took the liberty to point out to me that the lack of storytelling affected "all women." When I asserted that I understood that but that that America is particularly egregious in not telling the stories of women of color, she bristled and again, tried to correct me, in front of my child. Really? I stood firm in my position and politely brushed her off to speak to a true well wisher.

In May, a well suited man from my county asked me after my speech to give him - in 25 words or less an "example" of what I meant by it "being difficult to be different in McHenry County." When I did in less than 10 words, he challenged me with, "well that has not been my experience," to which I replied - "they were asking me about mine, sorry you can't see your story in my story, sir." He forced a smile and congratulated me on the award "anyhow." He literally said that.

Erasure is something Black American women face daily. We must battle just to exist because our very existence is unwelcome to many. Further, when we have the chance to get recognized for something and even more courage to tell our communities how we really feel, it is overwhelmingly well received because it is new and fresh story. For both those people who tried to erase me at the very ceremony created to honor me, there were dozens of people who applauded my bold declaration. Private messages and a line of people at both events thanked me again and again for telling my story but also thanked me for the reminder to them to make space for different stories in the Great American Narrative.

I don't begrudge Ms. Dolezal's positions or activism. It is welcome. But we need White women allies in the arena with us - not replacing us. We need the Rachel Dolezal's of the America to be fully who they are lifting our true stories to the forefront and not tainting them with fabrications. I applaud her trying to change the narrative for Black women in America but I rebuke her method of doing so.

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