It is not immediately clear why Rachel Dolezal, a white woman from Montana, has spent the past eight years of her life pretending to be black. Oddly enough, Dolezal is president of the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the NAACP, an organization that has never barred white membership. Dolezal's father, Larry, told BuzzFeed News that his daughter "has over the past 20 years assimilated herself into the African-American community through her various advocacy and social justice work, and so that may be part of the answer."
As the subject of Rachel Dolezal flooded news and social media channels this morning, Power 105 radio host Charlamagne Tha God suggested via Twitter that Rachel Dolezal's identifying as black is no different from Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner's identifying as a woman. This is, of course, a controversial comparison, and one that's cropped up in other discussions of Rachel Dolezal's supposed blackness. We reached out to Charlamagne and offered him the opportunity to clarify his sense of an issue that is, admittedly, challenging.
Interview by Justin Charity (@brothernumpsa)
CHARITY: You've already talked about this on The Breakfast Club this morning?
What’s the consensus among you, Angela Yee, and DJ Envy?
The general consensus is that people are upset because she lied. I gave her Donkey of the Day for lying and sending hate mail to her own house. If you’re mad at her for lying about her brother and her parents, I get it. I totally understand you being mad at her. But if you’re mad at her just because she’s having an identity issue, but you’re one of the people accepting what Caitlyn Jenner or any other transgender person does—which I don’t have a problem with, I just like to note people’s hypocrisy—you should be more understanding of what this young lady Rachel is going through. I don’t understand how someone can tell you, “I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body,” but if I tell you, “I’m a black person in a white person’s body,” why is one easier to believe than the other one?
I was reading your tweets to that effect, and people’s disagreement with your tweets. The difference, I think, is that our blackness—you and me, for instance—our blackness is about what we look like, sure, but it’s also about ethnicity and the cultures we were raised in, and about how other people treat and relate to us based on biases about what we look like. Whereas the biological distinctions between men and women are different.
That makes absolutely no sense. There’s biological distinctions with being black, white, a woman, a man. You know what the issue is here? It’s that this is a black vs. white issue. If [Dolezal] had come out and said she was trying to be Asian, it wouldn’t even be a discussion. “Oh, white woman wanna be an Asian lady, OK. She’s crazy.” But if I say Caitlyn Jenner is crazy for wanting to be a woman, they would call me transphobic. Immediately! “Oh, he’s transphobic.” So who is anyone to say that Rachel is crazy for wanting to be a black woman? I’m not even defending Rachel. I’m defending everybody’s right to be whatever is they want to be, whatever they identify with. I don’t understand how the rules of acceptance change on a case-by-case basis. They shouldn’t.
Are you saying that there’s not really a difference between Rachel Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner, and that’s okay? Or that there’s no difference between them, and they’re both crazy?
I’m saying that Caitlyn Jenner was born a man. Now he says he’s a woman, and we accept him as such. This young lady was born a white woman. She now says she’s a black woman. Why shouldn’t we accept her the same way we accepted Caitlyn? And don’t insult women by making it seem like women and men are the same species. We’re not. [Men] can never really, truly know what it feels like to be a woman. If Bruce Jenner is saying that he knows what it is to be a woman, I have no choice but to believe him. I don’t know women. Women are very hard creatures for me to understand. I love all women. But they’re just hard creatures for me to understand. Anyone who’s ever been in a relationship knows what I’m talking about.
Who am I to tell Bruce Jenner who he is now? Who am I to tell Rachel who she’s not? If you can look at Rachel and say, “You’re crazy, you’ll never be a black woman,” why can’t you look at Bruce Jenner and say, “You’re crazy, you’ll never be a woman, period”? It’s not the politically correct thing to say, that’s why.
I understand the comparison you’re making. But a key difference here is that Caitlyn Jenner would insist that she was, in fact, born a woman, and that she was pressured to pretend for however many years that she was a man. Whereas it’s not quite clear what it would even mean for Rachel Dolezal to think that she was “born black” and was “pretending” to be white until 2007.
Stop trying to tell people when it’s their time for them to be themselves. You can’t do that. You can’t tell somebody when it’s time for them to be themselves. We live in a judgmental society. Go on Twitter and look at the things that are being said about Rachel. If people were saying those things about a transgender person, we’d all be [deemed] transphobic. Let that girl be who she wants to be! Truth of the matter is that you can’t agree with one and not agree with the other.
I’m fine admitting that I don’t know what is going on. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. I’ve never heard of such things. I’ve heard of gender transitions. But I’ve never seen anything taken to this level. Bruce Jenner was 65 years old, has kids, and now wants to be a women. I’ve seen that. But I’ve never seen a white woman who wants to be a black woman. How can I come to a proper understanding of it, or know the rules to it? Everyone needs to stop pretending as if they know what’s going on. They don’t! Stop it! The rules of acceptance have to be the same all across the board. If they’re not, you’re a fucking hypocrite. Anything you can say about Caitlyn Jenner, you can say about Rachel.
Somebody told me that race is a social construct, and that gender is a social construct. That makes absolutely no sense. You’re born what you’re born as. What you identify with is what you identify with, and if you choose to live you’re life as what you identify with, more power to you.
I agree with you that bits of this are lowkey confusing, and that people are fronting as if they fully understand things that aren’t really clear-cut. Even people who want to be on “the right side” of all this don’t know what they’re supposed to think about Rachel Dolezal. This woman has believed since 2007, at least, that’s she’s black, despite her having been raised in a white household by white biological parents. 2007 wasn’t even a fun year to be black.
2015 isn’t necessarily a fun year to be black!
Right. So why would someone do this?
The same reason that Bruce Jenner pretended to be a man all those years.
I don’t know! That’s what I’m trying to tell you! The same reason Bruce Jenner decided at 65 years old to come out, same thing applies to Rachel. It’s the same thing. The only reason this shit is an issue is because it’s a black vs. white narrative. I know how the media works, I’ve seen it a hundred-million times before. If that girl had picked a neutral [race], it wouldn’t even be an issue.
Black people have every right to be upset and say, “She don’t know our struggle, she don’t know what it feels like to be black.” You know what question I was asking women when Caitlyn Jenner came out? I was like, “Y’all aren’t offended when you hear a man say that he knows what it feels like to be a woman?” I was asking girls that. I thought girls would’ve been upset. So I understand why people are upset [at Rachel].
But listen, I’m not gonna sit around and act like I know what’s going on. 'Cause bruh, I don’t. And neither do you. What they have taught me in 2015 is that I don’t have to understand, but I have to accept it. Being that I have to accept it, the rules have to be the same across the board. Period. If that girl says she’s a black woman living in a white person’s body, who am I to tell her she’s not?
We got start being more honest with ourselves, and stop trying to be so politically correct in saying what we think people want to hear. Tell the truth about how we feel: this is some crazy shit! I never seen no shit like this. It’s okay! It’s fine to say that! Saying that doesn’t make you transphobic, it doesn’t make you homophobic, transracial-phobic—none of that!
I’ve got friends of all walks of life. I’ve had this discussion play out about one of my homosexual homeboys, whenever someone says, “Being gay is a choice.” If my homeboy who’s gay tells me, “No, I was born gay,” who do you think I’m gonna believe? I’m gonna believe my homeboy who’s actually gay! I’m not gonna believe the guy who’s on the outside looking in, just jumping to conclusions and making assumptions about something he has no clue about. I’m gonna believe that man who’s actually gay. And who am I to tell him he’s lying?
I feel the same way when it comes to all of this stuff. I don’t have the right to tell Caitlyn Jenner that she doesn’t know how it feels to feel to be a woman. I don’t know what that man feels.
I just want us to admit that we’re all confused. It’s okay to admit that we don’t know what the hell is going on. It’s fine. We’re all trying to make sense of this together. Let’s do it in a respectful way. We need the actual transgender community to have a conversation. I don’t even know if “transracial” is a real thing. I ain’t never heard of that shit. I’ve heard of wiggers. But I’ve never heard of a white person actually saying that she’s African-American.
It’s kind of like passing. I’m thinking of it as the reverse of light-skinned blacks passing as white in the South. Which, that makes sense given the privileges of being white rather than black. But if you’re white, why would you want to seriously identify as black. That’s what’s so confusing about Rachel.
What you just said is the same argument folks would have about homosexuals back in the day. Why would you “choose” to be homosexual knowing all of the ridicule and judgment that gays would face? Correct me if I’m wrong.