Since being thrust into the spotlight last week, Rachel Dolezal, the former Spokane, Washington chapter NAACP president, has been the subject of both abject criticism and staunch encouragement, depending on who you talked to. Both the NAACP itself and Eastern Washington University, where Dolezal taught African Studies courses, backed the activist, a white woman who had been accused of pretending to be black and violating the city of Spokane's code of ethics while filling out the "ethnicity" section of a police ombudsman commission application months earlier. While a large portion of the population railed against her actions, a few surprising Dolezal supporters also came out in defense of the Montana native.
“Is it possible that she might actually be black?” asked MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, in a sit-down with Stanford history professor Allyson Hobbs on Saturday. “Is [there] actually a different category of blackness, that is about the achievement of blackness, despite one’s parentage?” Hobbs, who wrote the book A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, a study on the epidemic of people of color attempting to pass themselves off as white during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, contended that Harris-Perry might not have been that far off base.
“Why not,” answered Hobbs, condemning the backlash against the newly-coined term “transracial” to define Dolezal’s identity. “One thing that she said that I found so fascinating was she said her identity is multilayered, and that her identity is very complicated.”
Immediately, social media blew up.
“I’m … extremely disappointed disappointed in Melissa Harris-Perry,” wrote one Twitter user, who added that the anchor was “encouraging” Dolezal’s “blatant lies.” Other responses weren’t so kind.
“She can stay silent forever,” wrote another Twitter user, citing Harris-Perry’s notable absence from the social media site, following her comments to Hobbs.
But despite the public firestorm, Harris-Perry wasn’t the only noted figure to back Dolezal — a few of Hollywood and the sports world’s biggest names cast their support behind her as well.
During Monday’s taping of The View, the co-host and actor defended Dolezal’s right to personal ethnic identification:
“If she wants to be black, she can be black,” said Goldberg. She continued:
Look, just like people say, "I feel like a man, I feel like a woman, I feel like this." She wants to be a black woman, fine. Everything that comes with that she is prepared for. Okay.
Goldberg's newest co-host and fellow actor also supported Dolezal's right to identify as a black woman. The LGBTQ activist even went so far as to toss in a lighthearted makeup tip, telling US Weekly:
I love her. Listen, we can't judge anybody. We don't know that person's life. We're only getting bits and pieces. It's reminiscent of Caitlyn Jenner and many other transgender people... Hey, do it. I know a lot of people in other cultures want to be in other cultures... straighten their hair... fill in their lips. Everyone's trying to find their way to fit in. One thing I would tell [her]? Girl, I got a better foundation for you... I know what it's like, I gotta go dark too.
The famed singer/songwriter and transgender rights activist came out of the gates early in support of Dolezal, tweeting on Saturday that Dolezal’s parents had unwisely “outed” their daughter without her permission:
WHY did Rachel Dolezal’s Parents OUT Their Daughter? It Was Cruel.I Don’t Know WHY She Chose Her PATH,But Who Doesn’t Want 2 have Blk COOL [?]
Cher also pleaded with her followers to “stop arguing” over the issue, insisting that she was able to defend her own position on the matter. “I no [sic] my heart,” she tweeted.
Hilson, an R&B singer famous for her hit “Number One,” also made supportive comments on her Twitter account following the media firestorm on Friday.
“Let's just all thank #RachelDolezal,” tweeted Hilson to her nearly 4 million followers. “Identity, pathological, & parental issues aside, she's doing more than most of us do for ourselves.”
Hilson later clarified her previous tweet, writing, “I'm not sayin she doesn't have serious ISSUES, I'm just sayin don't knock her intentions or discredit her efforts.”
Former pro-basketball star and bestselling author Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has written extensively about the African-American struggle, also threw his weight behind the Spokane-area activist, explaining that the extensive work and exhaustive research she had put into defending the black community made up for any possible scandal that her actions may have caused.
“You can’t deny that Dolezal has proven herself a fierce and unrelenting champion for African-Americans politically and culturally,” wrote Abdul-Jabbar in a Time op-ed on Sunday. “Bottom line: The black community is better off because of her efforts.”
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