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Racializing Rachel

Racialization is the process whereby things are given "racial" character. Your actions, your attitude, the way you look and the clothes you wear are all things that can be "racialized." It is the simple idea that we see "race." Until the year 2015, we had never really contemplated how deeply our society was "racialized."

That year, an extraordinary case to expose this "racialization" took place when Rachel Dolezal was "outted" as not being "black." Rachel was an instructor at Eastern Washington University where she taught Africana Studies. Rachel knew then what many of us are just now finding out about the fallacy of "race" and she began articulating the fact that "race" is not biologically real but instead a contrived concept; a concept born out of the colonial mentality that birthed the very institution of chattel slavery and instituted a "racial" hierarchy. "Race" and "racialization," or more clearly stated, the idea that "race" should be considered in all things, still prevails. This causes us problems now and it really caused Rachel problems in 2015.

Rachel was, at the time, the President of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, historically, the preeminent civil rights organization in the country. Would a highly "racialized" society allow someone who did not believe in "race" and did not subscribe to the binary, black/white concept of identity be capable of leadership in the NAACP? Rachel received lavish praise from then Regional President George Hankerson with these words, "The storm of vitriol Rachel received in the national spotlight was as cruel as it was undeserved. Her deep compassion for others shines through every chapter of her life and has clearly motivated her truly outstanding advocacy work.” Nevertheless, the general public, "racialized" in thought rejected her compassion, kindness and work, simply because she is not "racial" in her thinking.

In the ultimate of ironies and quite in line with the contradictions that the concept of "race" proposes, we are forced with a huge dilemma. On one side you have a highly "racialized" society who ardently believes that there are "black" people and "white" people and on the other side you have some people, like Rachel and me, who don't believe in the concept of "race" and live their lives as such. In Rachel's case, the clash of those two seemingly incompatible worlds happened when the person who didn't believe in "race" found herself atop the country's premier civil rights organization, an organization birthed to fight the societal ills of skin color-based prejudice.

So the question becomes this, Do we want a "racialized" society with segregated cultures based on skin tone or do we want a society where every individual is free to select and participate in the culture of their own choosing without regard to the shades of their skin. Do we want the product of "racialization," "races," or do we want to live as one race? Do we want segregation and separation or integration and unification?

One journalist deriding Rachel's idea of being able to choose her own culture insinuates that though she is right and "race" is not real, we have too much "historical baggage." That sounds like the old, "we've always done it this way" line. Immediately I am reminded of the line in the recently-released Harriet movie where she states, "I'm NOT going to NOT do something because it's hard."

That's where we are with "race." Our society "racialized" Rachel because she publicly challenged "race" and one can expect much the same for anyone who challenges it. And challenge it we must, for as it was quoted in the recent academy-award winning Greenbook, "genius is not enough, it takes courage to change people's hearts." "Race" must be challenged and it must be challenged today.

Thanks to Rachel, many years after she was "outted," we are still having the discussion. It may not happen in our lifetime, but surely we will have to thank her along with the many social and genetic scientists who are telling us "race" is not real. It is their contributions that will hasten the day when we will see that of which Dr King dreamed, when people would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

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