Identity and showing up

Nicolas Guillen

There is big brouhaha going on about Rachel Dolezal. The New York Times, in an article today about her, states that

“She has professed an affinity for black people since she was a teenager, when her parents adopted four black children. She chose a college where she could immerse herself in racial issues. She married a black man and built a reputation as an advocate for civil rights.”
So far so good, but apparently Dolezal,
“president of her local NAACP chapter and a university instructor in African-American studies, has claimed for years that her heritage is partly black. And that, her parents say, is a lie.”

The article goes on to say that she energized her local NAACP chapter in a largely white area… So clearly she has done good work, she has volunteered for causes. She has identified herself as a person of mixed heritage, black, white and Native American.

The NAACP was founded by blacks and whites. From its webpage, we learn that

The NAACP was formed partly in response to the continuing horrific practice of lynching and the 1908 race riot in Springfield, the capital of Illinois and resting place of President Abraham Lincoln. Appalled at the violence that was committed against blacks, a group of white liberals that included Mary White Ovington and Oswald Garrison Villard, both the descendants of abolitionists, William English Walling and Dr. Henry Moscowitz issued a call for a meeting to discuss racial justice. Some 60 people, seven of whom were African American (including W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Mary Church Terrell), signed the call, which was released on the centennial of Lincoln’s birth.

Other early members included Joel and Arthur Spingarn, Josephine Ruffin, Mary Talbert, Inez Milholland, Jane Addams, Florence Kelley, Sophonisba Breckinridge, John Haynes Holmes, Mary McLeod Bethune, George Henry White, Charles Edward Russell, John Dewey, William Dean Howells, Lillian Wald, Charles Darrow, Lincoln Steffens, Ray Stannard Baker, Fanny Garrison Villard, and Walter Sachs.

So, I ask, in a spirit of inquiry, what is so wrong? Most people DON’T volunteer or do anything for anyone else. I am sorry but I don’t get what the problem is. Dolezal may have misrepresented her origins; she may not even appreciate her origins. She wanted to be black and Native American and she has acted like the best example of any race, in my opinion. Let her please pretend to be a latina and help us with the deportations of our children and the raping of our communities.

In our capitalist, white supremacist, misogynist and racist world, under Jim Crow, which in a sense was also alive and well in the Caribbean, particularly in my own native land of Cuba, there was a one-drop rule which prevented people with a smidgeon of black blood from enjoying the privileges of “whiteness.” It subjected anyone who was ‘suspect’ to unequal treatment, discrimination, and ultimate violence or even death. In Cuba people who appeared black could not sit at restaurants or be served at hotels or even go to many beaches UNLESS they were wearing the uniform of a servant, a nanny or maid or chauffeur. The important thing was to ‘marry white’ so you could eventually ‘pass.’ Nat King Cole after performing for 3 days at the Tropicana, was refused a drink at the bar, because the Tropicana did not serve blacks.

So you ironed your hair and used bleaches and learned to speak ‘white.’ In the history and geography books, it was stated that Cuba was 95% white, despite the fact that by the 1840’s the Spanish empire had already imported and subjugated into slavery more black slaves than any other place in the Americas, to replace all the native populations they had massacred. Clearly, they didn’t ‘count’ so the history and geography books deliberately misstated their presence in the island (as well as the presence of the Chinese; by 1906 there were over 100,000 Chinese emigrants in a total population of a few million).

Our wonderful poet Nicolás Guillén wrote beautifully, and often, sarcastically, about the pretend land of trying to pass as white, and in a famous poem, “Y tu abuela, ¿dónde está?” refers to the bride or husband whose black grandmother is back in the kitchen pretending to be a servant so her grandson or daughter can have ‘a good life.” Then and now, people wanted to identify as white, not as black, because there were no perks if you were black, but many if you were white.

I wrote an article years ago about my experiences in the US as a latina, finding myself discriminated against and mistreated because of my mother’s surname. I could have ‘passed,’ had I just used my father’s name of Brandon, but in my culture we use both the mother’s and the father’s surnames, and I refused to abandon my culture, my traditions or my language. I still refuse. You might say that among my causes as an activist is the cause of language. We speak English here by a fluke; there was a debate many years ago as to which language would become “the official” language. But because I was told in elementary school in Florida that I would never amount to much because I came from a third world country with a second-rate language and culture, I became adamant about never giving up who I was, which was first and foremost, a native of the island of Cuba or Cubanacán, as it was called by its first settlers.

Possibly Dolezal has problems with her parents or her identity; the fact that they have come out at this time in her life is very troublesome, but HER RECORD as an activist for black and human rights issues appears to be quite solid. I have been involved in activism my entire life. I am always praying that, even if I did all sorts of advance publicity, phone calls, knocked on doors, wrote awesome articles, people will show up, because usually, PEOPLE DON’T SHOW UP. When we did the two million too many march and civil disobedience last year in San Francisco, very few people showed up. People should have been lining the streets.

People should have gone back and occupied our streets, massively, about the killing by police that is happening every 28 to 36 hours in this country, about the fact that we have been torturing people wholesale, about the fact that we make treaties with other countries and ALWAYS break them. A few “cats” show up, EVEN THOUGH most of us are exhausted because there are so many places where we MUST show up and do our thing. When I was arrested years ago pre-Iraq war, we had maybe 50 people who showed up. Right now, we are letting people from the Tea Party take over whatever little freedoms are left in this country. We are letting the pro-Israel block massacre Palestinians. We are letting them take our homes, our jobs, our benefits, and NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE SHOW UP. As Niemoller famously said,

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

So maybe she lied, maybe she effed up, maybe she is having a crisis about who and what she is about, but SHE HAS SHOWN UP. So people, please stop posting on Facebook, please stop playing video games, for justice’s sake, please please please GET INVOLVED.

I am now done, thank you very much.

Occupy Health Rally

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