I left a fantastic meeting this morning feeling energized and ready to take on the world.. and then something happened.
Rachel Dolzeal happened. IN OMAHA.
The buzz on my social media was that the woman was here in Omaha for an event that was funded and heavily attended by, at least in part by UNMC personnel. I was floored that anyone would think that inviting that woman to an event in any capacity would be a good idea. I put out a call-to-action for details on the event.
The event organizer, a Dr. Renaisa Anthony, spoke out and told us her life story before finally explaining her motivation on Facebook.
“An Intimate Dinner Discussion on Race, Inclusion, Diversity & Equity through the Eyes of Rachel Dolezal” was MY “non-traditional” approach to starting the conversation about the importance and relevance of RIDE at UNMC. As Ghandi says “we must be the change we want to see in the world.” For our purposes, we must start in our own backyard in order to achieve health equity. The private, invitation only dinner discussion hosted by me….was NOT and IS NOT about Rachel Dolezal…but about leveraging a polarizing figure that made national headlines (mostly because of RACE) in 2015…as the first platform to foster a frank and candid dialogue about topics that are not commonly discussed at a predominately White academic medical center but are easily identified as major contributors to disparate health outcomes and life experiences. The name “Rachel Dolezal” brought various leaders, faculty, students, staff and partners to the table to discuss our current RIDE environment at UNMC. To give voice to what has been silent for too long. “Rachel Dolezal”…the woman…the name…the controversy was the catalyst that brought the necessary people literally to the dinner table.”
I think this is where I’d insert that common colloquialism about ancestors turning over in their graves if we were talking face-to-face. As it is, it feels like my skin is drying up just reading all this ashiness.
But before we start the deconstruction let’s chat about this RIDE program. I love these kinds of initiatives, because they need to happen. We need to have these conversations in every industry, in every community, in boardrooms and patient rooms and restaurants and stores and police stations and city council meetings and literally everywhere in Omaha.
Omaha is not inclusive. The statistics support this. The stories support this. The segregation supports this. Common sense supports this.
I love that Dr. Anthony (an actual doctor, unlike the infamous “Dr.” Umar Johnson capin’ for homophobic misogynistic hoteps everywhere) is doing this. It can foster real change… it it’s done correctly. But as I’ve said before, you can’t build something new with the master’s tools.
That being said, let’s talk about the plethora of reasons this was a really really bad idea.
1. The term minorities is, in its etymology, diminishing. It’s literally equating non-normative people with the understanding that they are “less”–“less than” in population and subconsciously in humanity and value.
2. Giving Dolzeal a space is harmful. In Peggy McIntosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack she discusses white privilege, and one of the points that continuously rings true for my life and many other Black people I know. In the article McIntosh discusses a specific instance whites never have to deal with that I know I, and Dr. Anthony, do. “I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.” As a woman of color I recognize that my existence is a representation of my racial group, whether I want it to be or not. In those rare instances where people of color are given the space and platform to discuss their experiences in a facilitation of dialogue designed for change, we get to have our actual concerns and values heard. Dolzeal was given the platform instead, and if we continue to center white/white-passing people we will not be able to truly address the issues. Because, you know, we’re talking about white people masquerading as Black instead of the actual issues in the Black community.
As another commenter, Rebekah Caruthers of Caruthers Consulting said:
“I wish I knew of some scholars who could speak on diversity and equity as it relates to race and inclusion. It would be a bonus if they had national platforms, too. Marc Lamont Hill? Nah, no one knows him. Melissa Harris Perry? Too controversial. Julianne Malveaux? Meh, is she even published? Cornel West? He’s too shy. Wilmer Leon, Juan Gilbert, Peniel Joseph? Nada, zilch, zero. Michael Eric Dyson? Naw, he doesn’t even like hip-hop. Linda Darling-Hammond, Gloria Ladson-Billings. Nope, we need a woman. Someone with real legitimacy.
My mom died prematurely. Cultural competency at the Med Center would have made a LIFE of difference. This AIN’T a game or “spark” for social media chatter. It ain’t cute. It goes back more than 6 years–it goes back generations. Beloveds, let’s call a thing a thing. Foolish, not well though out, harmful, and a tool for mockery.
My mother’s legacy passed down to me is this: don’t let your black brilliance be used as a tool to shield generational oppression, neglect and abuse.”
3. Using Dolzeal as a marketing tactic does not absolve you from the fact you could have used any other notable person of color from Omaha to draw a crowd. For one, you’re drawing a divisive crowd on a polarizing figure who does nothing to further the conversation. She has an opinion, I’m sure, on race, inclusion, ethnicity or diversity. But is it valuable? Is it relevant? Is it constructive to people who exist in these spaces? Is her voice being valued directly and indirectly as more important by her being the centered figure in that space, over actual people of color who have to experience the negative repercussions of white supremacy? The situation reminds me of grade school classes where we talked about critical thinking. Just because something looks good doesn’t mean it’s not rotten in the inside. I mean……. what were Gabrielle Union’s rates?
Dr. Anthony is organizing several events next week for the RIDE program, starting with a lunch on UNMC’s campus. For the events open to the public, I’m looking forward to attending. But in the meantime, I need some oil to moisturize out this ashiness from life.