For more than two weeks the world media was agog on an insignificant almost accidental story of Rachel Dolezal. Rachel Dolezal’s story reminded us in glaring sense of the racial contradictions and misgivings in the land of the brave and the home of the free, the very USA that boasts a democracy for the last 240 years. Dolezal’s story for being parented by a Chech & Swedish marriage active in Christian Missionary work and her four younger siblings which share the black denotation for description of their human agency presented for many a severe challenge. In no time the accusations against her were levelled.
On the one hand those who uphold whiteness as a pristine distinctive superior notion castigated her for her betrayal of her ‘white’ identity for a subservient black identity. For it is an insult for any born ‘ white’ to ever reject the white identity in exchange for a far lesser ‘black’ identity.
On the other side of the fence those who believe in their pure black identity notion attacked her for having played the fool with their identity. These argued that she became black without accepting the scars of blackness thus cheapening the identity of black.
As if that was not enough a third group entered the fray of dissecting and accusing RD, these I will call whites who are equally experimenting on different levels at a theoretical and practical level on the idea of non-racial identity.
The latter group however argues Dolezal’s behaviour is an indictment to blacks and therefore not authentic for it makes small the true experience blacks were subjected to. I still do not know how they fully understand this to articulate it with such almost custodianship of certainty. Those who come at Dolezal from this group, claims she really made her white privilege count.
However, Dolezal in her own words as a conscious highly educated and very active person is on record for having stated categorically her heritage is black. It became painful to see how the fact that a combination of her being born of ‘white’ parents and her current strenuous relationship with her biological parents presented for some the fertile ground to assume she left relations because of her identity choices.
These are oblivious to how most families often are separated from each other and often it has nothing to do with identity. Hence, why this had to be strung together to give credence to her cheating only the clever ones know.
No one questions the natural assumption that RD’s biological parents known as from Chech and Swedish origin respectively is presenting already a challenge for this pure white notion, it merrily accepted with no resistance that there is no mixing that could alter identity from this pure naturally white acceptance. Those who opine do not see plausible mixing already here, but conveniently hold on to the idea of a solid ‘white’ identity. We must ask why and in whose interest ?
No soon has America been dealing with the Rachel Dolezal case and the evil of racial hate manifested again, this time a young man Dylann Roof hardly 22 years old who is arrested for having in cold blood murdered church goers in their weekly prayer gathering.
What makes this interesting and lends the twist to the tale is that it was a human with the denotation of white as his identity marker that pulled the trigger on those who gathered in the Emmanual AME church in Charleston South Carolina, the victims again identified as ‘black’.
It is then here that the stories of Rachel Dolezal and Dylann Roof collide with tragedy of eternal disastrous description. The difference is the celebration of a humanity expressed in what is a ‘whiteness’ and ‘blackness’ of being.
Both Rachel Dolezal and Dylann Roof are considered white if their birth certificates are the only yardstick for assessment. However, they both embolden the plight of the American race problem. For Rachel Dolezal she has made conscious choices informed by her socialisation in a family that perhaps long ago introduced her to people less in description of ‘white’ or ‘black’.
In the case of Dylan Roof, we are learning he too was exposed to both sides of the description of humanity in denotations of ‘black’ and ‘white’ for he had friends beyond his narrow meaning of a white humanity.
They both made conscious decisions, for Rachel Dolezal it is the case of her conscious rejection of ‘whiteness’ and evidenced in an equal celebration of ‘blackness’ as her studies at Howard (essentially an African American Tertiary Institution) and her work in the NAACP confirms.
Dylann Roof too made some conscious choices, his manifesto as later unravelled attests someone who consciously made a choice for ‘whiteness’ as an endangered identity in an emerging sea of ‘blackness’. Thus his choice is for ‘whiteness’ in supremacy, seeing blackness as a threat and not only a threat but a problem.
It can be argued that Dolezal’s choice for blackness is her seeing of ‘whiteness’ as the problem of America’s incessant racial diaphragm and thus she rejects this for for a black identity.
What is important here is that they both identified whiteness as the anchor tenant for their adopted divergent stances in their respective prisms of race definition. The only congruent aspect of both their distinct poles of stances is a communality of white identity.
We therefore can assert when Dylann Roof shot the people in the prayer meeting at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston South Carolina he really shot Rachel Dolezal. We can now categorically say yes a few days ago Dylann Roof shot and killed Rachel Dolezal; he consciously attempted destroying her and thus her heritage.
He took it upon himself to fix what he considers the problem of America if not the world. This problem for the white supremacists is necessarily draped in a dark skin, which bespeaks the fear of an onslaught the terror looming with explicit intend of unleashing the virus that would cause the extinction of an endangered “white” identity. That problem is exemplified in a black identity.
Dylan Roof thus rejects Rachel DOlezal’s identity and equally feels entitled to annihilate her being only because he can. He feels duty bound to be the saviour of ‘whiteness’, a ‘whiteness’ this young mind never had dissected, questioned or critically engaged yet appropriated as non-negotiable a cast in stone construct and out of such appropriation he earned a confirmed right to exact the maximum penalty of pain. However it can also be argued that Dylann Roof could so easily have been a Rachel Dolezal, for he too was confronted by the two conflicting worlds her travelled in and out. On the one hand a world which he recognises friends beyond the racial bar, friends who equally recognise him yet his other world from where he pulled the trigger he sees the very friends really as the enemies of his identity.
In the terrorist-racist Dylan Roof’s mind who Rachel Dolezal is constitutes the problem for America. A ‘black’ identity thus for those who worship an identity of ‘white’ is the antithesis of a true humanity only valued in white identity. The challenge of this primordial dualism does not befall the young saviour of whiteness to comprehend neither to grasp. For he is a Spartan in his mind.
Roof’ has more than just a combination of Apartheid and Colonial controlled Rhodesian connection as his proudly displayed flags across his chests attested a desire for this blighted history of Apartheid South African rule and English Colonialism rule over Zimbabwe confirms. When he has these flags proudly displayed on his chest it is to say ‘whiteness’ has already suffered a blow and lost control as these nations now present, thus if left unattended the stars and stripes of the USA flag runs the risk to be made extinct by the same ‘black’ problem of America if it is not dealt with.
Yes, Dylann Roof shares more than just an old Apartheid flag with SA but his last name in Afrikaans (my mother tongue) “roof” means to “to steal”, to “take away” and also “to deny”. Therefore, Dylann Roof – stole from Charleston South Carolina some of its finest confirming the human agent as bigger than a colour coded description. He stole those of dignity, those conscious of their common created state of collective humanity the same America’s Declaration of Independence in 1776 as articulated by its founders of democracy penned, …. we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
For Roof, those who gathered in the prayer meeting have no equal identity in creation, they are not endowed by a common Creator with certain inalienable rights. Chiefly these rights cannot be life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – they constitute a problem for those who are according to Roof epistemology the real human agent and those are denoted as “white”. Thus they must die in their less human state of blackness for they are the deadly virus of threat to the true identity of a supreme white identity.
What does it say of the American society and dream of equality if an uninformed young man can walk into a church and kill informed older ones who toil for that equality even spent the night in prayer for that? It says after more than 239 years of this Declaration of Independence America has failed to let the non- racial reality count.
Dylann Roof thus entered a church building but not just any church building, he entered an institution as a frontier against racist, prejudice and injustice meted out in another epoch where the South of the USA was eternally defined as the epicentre of racial prejudice against those with an exacted black denotation for their human agency. He rips apart scab from a struggling healing wound of pain and anguish that generations of people of the South of black description had to contend with as exacted punishment for their otherness.
Dylann Roof enters the zone that RD lived and found her essential humanity, where she inhaled that which constitutes her uncontested humanity, the same for which she made conscious and costly decisions. Dylan Roof did not enter this space and comfort of a Rachel Dolezal dwelling violently, he entered camouflaged in simplicity as one seeking penitence and prayerful reflection, but with unknown to his victim vituperative evil intentions. How happy may those have been to welcome him, for his presence meant for them their prayers of a non-racial South are answered.
By his own admission as related to police he hesitated at first, the primary reason for his hesitance was nothing but the love hospitality and kindness with which he was received as he entered the gathering of believers. Yes, a love that despite centuries of abuse stubbornly refuses to be contaminated by the same venom that is pillaged upon their being. A love some have defined the weakness of the black identity, their capacity to forgive those who had always served them with respite and agony. It is this love that Rachel Dolezal defines as her heritage her upbringing for she knew no other siblings but those she lived with who actualised this love and infused in her now contested identity.
When Dylann Roof causes blood to flow in the place of love, he not only marred a church history that revolts the very acts of his racist mind, but he without flinching reminded America how far the divide is for those who have shown a truculence to move to the centre of a humanity defined less by pigmentation or melanin distribution or lack thereof. Notice Dylann Roof knows where to find those whom he see as the problem, he does not take his fight to the hoods of Charleston, where potentially he would have met his match, no he carefully chooses his victims in a most defenseless place, the four walls of a church.
When Dylan Roof entered through the doors of the Emmanuel AME church he entered in whiteness intend on making blackness distinct, he knew where to find the problem of America if not the world, right here in a church.
Perhaps Dylan Roof should have killed whiteness, in embracing his friends as equals and let that count, the same with no bullet is needed but a conscious decision to value others less from a supremacist notion. Maybe he should have allowed the experienced love to overwhelm him and confirm to him the sameness of identity.
When whiteness stood up and decided to blast away nine lives he didn’t just blow away nine lives but destroyed at least 4 generations of people who died at the hand of a sick-terrorist-hate infested young mind. In the aftermath and a pending bail hearing I again hear blackness speak when they notwithstanding the agony of having lost loved ones opt to forgive Dylan Roof. (Perhaps the agony of the black identity his quickness to forgive whites for the evil they do, is it that unbeknown to them they have accepted their lot as that which must be violated?)
America’s problem of race no different to our South African problem of race, is not the fact that there exist no Declaration of Independence or a very egalitarian Constitution that articulates a pathway to a non- racial society. It is the harsh reality that both these nations are confronted with the stark reality to have to give content to this non-racial identity of dream so often marred by the ugliness of its absence.
Perhaps it is here that I want to postulate for blackness to die, it’s reason for existence called whiteness must first go. The anchor tenant of the racial dilemma in the USA and RSA is the worship in history, present and future of a ‘white’ identity evidenced in white privilege informed by a white supremacy mind. For there is only a black identity because there is a white identity, the one feeds of the other and thus demands the demise of the other. Perhaps if more people with the denotation of black can reject this appropriated dictum of description, they too would kill whiteness which only lives and coalesce in the presence of a blackness of acceptance.
Our insistence on holding on to either of the two evils is our looming nightmare that ensures another Dylann Roof who knows when and where.
Our obsession with denigrating a Rachel Dolezal from behind our entrenched picket fences symbolizes the lethal weapons of whiteness and that of a retaliatory blackness in an enmeshed proverbial atom of destruction of humanity.
It is cause for great concern, if the USA after more than almost two and half centuries of democracy in this season dismally fail to let its Statute on an equal humanity count – it does not bode well for us at the foot of Africa who are trying to shed the shackles of our colonialism of a special kind.
Ours is to consciously demand, Democratic South African State in post-apartheid sense to identify its client for the 1910 State with the 1913 Land Act did so. The 1948 Apartheid State did the same until Act 30 of 1950 (c) defined people as Coloured.
However, we must consciously forge ahead and challenge the frontier of identity construction and ask again and again for the new identifiers that will assist our reconfiguring of what constitutes identity in a non-racial society the journey we embarked upon gallantly at the dawn of democracy two decades ago.
Clyde N.S. Ramalaine