Thursday, June 25, 2015

Zoe vs. Rachel Dolezal

When I heard about Rachel Dolezal---the lady who was born a white woman but claims to be a black woman---my feelings ran the gamut from "This is tragically comic" all the way to "This is comically tragic." I still can't decide which.
All I know is it's like Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "Girlfriend be trippin'."

Caravaggio made narcissism an art form first.

Okay, he probably didn't say that. But his "dream" probably also didn't include Rachel Dolezal's particular interpretation of racial solidarity. When King spoke of being "seared in the flames of withering injustice," chances are he was not talking about a tanning booth.
Smarter people than I can unpack Rachel Dolezal's psychology and motivations, people who can maybe use the word "unpack," and also phrases like "sociological underpinnings" and "transracial misconceptions" without a trace of self-consciousness. (Can anyone do this, black or white?)
Anyway, I'll leave this to others and instead take the primary-colored back road littered with slide-whistles that I usually take when faced with the sort of controversy that stuns and horrifies me in equal measure, the road of mockery. And so I'll just say this:
Rachel Dolezal has nothing on a four-year-old when it comes to playing pretend.
For throwing herself into an identity she was not born to and putting up a convincing and consistent facade, Zoe has it all over Ms. Dolezal, whose name, by the way, spell-check keeps "correcting," with an almost audible sigh, to "Doleful."
With both Dolezal and Zoe, I can't tell how much of their performance is due to cynical calculation and how much is due to being in the sun too long. (Or the tanning booth.)
However, Zoe takes her inappropriate appropriation in a different direction. Forget white or black, Zoe's not even a member of the human race.
She's a dog. A small brown terrier, from what I can gather. First name: Bummy; last name: Butt.
Bummy Butt walks on all fours, barks, pants, and sits on her haunches. Zoe is more of a method actor than Robert Downey Jr.'s Kirk Lazarus from Tropic Thunder. When I tell her to get her shoes on in the morning, she affects great sadness as she shows me her claws, poor tools for fastening velcro.
She does bring me her sneakers in her mouth, though. The whole thing is very convincing, as well as useful, since human Zoe has never fetched anything I've asked her to. As a dog she's much more obedient.

Apricot has alternately claimed to be a Clydesdale, Triple
Crown Winner American Pharoah, and Catherine the Great.
For this she received the INAPPROPRIATE stamp. Repeatedly.

But claiming canine kinship is not Zoe's only dissociative drama. She also anthropomorphizes her hands.
I know she's in the midst of this uncanny identity shift when she crooks her index fingers. The left hand is named Fast and the right is Bounce. "Because he's really really fast." (The mind quakes.)
One hand is good and one is bad. I can't tell which is which by their actions, but I do know they are sworn enemies. They race each other all the time but, unsurprisingly, one never gets more than an arm's length ahead of the other.
In addition, Bounce has allergies. On trips to the park, Fast enjoys pulling leaves off bushes and throwing them in Bounce's "face" causing Bounce to sneeze quite violently. Very detailed. Very intense. Very Doleful. (That one I left.)

Members of all races unite in rolling their eyes.

Of course, a big difference between my four-year-old and Rachel Dolezal is age, and a child playing pretend is just that: playing. When I'm not engaging in rash judgments for that merciless goddess Humor, I do (honest!) take pains not to judge another's experience, since I can't know what's in their heart. And it's true. We don't know what it's like to walk a mile in Rachel Dolezal's shoes. It's just that in her case, the shoes she's wearing aren't actually hers.
I don't pretend to know how offensive Rachel Dolezal's false representations may be to African Americans. It seems to me, and quite a few others, she could have done the good she did without lying about her heritage.
But as continuing history continues to prove, race relations in the U.S. have many miles left to go. Bigotry will exist as long as there are those of us who give in to our basest impulses to find belonging the emotionally cheapest way possible: by excluding those we deem other.
In the end, no matter what shoes we put on, we won't get very far without the, albeit murky, light of truth.
Zoe: 98; Universe: 0


  1. jocelyn @ the home tomeJune 25, 2015 at 11:59 AM

    Doleful: sometimes autocorrect does get it right. I like your spin on these "dissociative dramas" (underscore age difference) Fyi, my right hand and my left hand are also at odds: the right hand is full of talent and finesse, and the left is pathetic and jealous.

  2. Elizabeth CatalanoJune 25, 2015 at 12:24 PM

    Ha, my hands have the opposite problem.

  3. She brought you her shoes in her mouth. My child is heinous.

  4. Hahaha, I love this so much! The method acting like Kirk Lazerus got me right in the giggle box!

  5. Elizabeth CatalanoJune 29, 2015 at 12:31 PM

    Oh, you love it!

  6. Elizabeth CatalanoJune 29, 2015 at 12:31 PM

    Haha, thanks!