Kareem Abdul Jabbar wrote in TIME magazine that Rachel Dolezal "can be as black as she wants." His argument is that she has been an asset to the Afincan American community through teaching classes, advocating, etc. It's a good point. I mean I don't care, it doesn't bother me.
My opinion isn't solid, though. About twenty years ago, two blonde white men standing at a card table called out to me on the street. The greeted me nicely, were friendly and chatty. "Don't be an anti-Semite," they said with a smile. Odd. It seems these cheerful gentlemen were standing at their temporary table in Foggy Bottom, DC with pamphlets claiming that G-d's "Real Jews" were in the United States Midwest. Not the Native Americans, mind you. The Swedish and Norwegian immigrants and their descendants are the "Real Jews" and the people killed by Hitler were "fake Jews."
So how do I feel about this self-identification? Offended. Of the two men had claimed to be Jews from one of the lost tribes, I wouldn't believe it, but it wouldn't offend me. If they claimed to be Jewish and started protesting soldiers' funerals, I would be angry and denounce them as poseurs.
Of course, I am open to the same criticisms myself: I identify as Jewish - but it was a journey starting at my grandmothers funeral, where the chaplain referenced Grandma's Jewish prayers of her childhood. My sisters and I were flabbergasted. We had never heard of this idea, and we were all in our 40s. We asked, immediately, our father and he just shrugged and said "I'm a Unitarian." Nothing else.
Since then has been an exploration of my religious identity. At first, I walked around randomly saying, "I'm Jewish." "I just found out I am Jewish." At home, to friends and at work. It was hard to get my head around. Added to that were the sparse written records for my Grandmother and her mysterious first eight years in Michigan that no one knows anything about. And her last name was different than her eleven brothers and sisters.
Of course, Grandma was my father's mother and so only Reformed Judaism consider me Jewish. But I wasn't really thinking of that.
Slowly - out of curiousity and with the prompting of a friend - I attended classes and services. The messages resonated. Friday rituals were started lighting candles and blessing the cat and the dog. Eating habits changed to exclude pork, shellfish. Still a weakness for cheeseburgers, though.
My family's reactions was mixed. Justin, my husband, was very supportive. So were other family members. Nieces and nephews raised their hands in class when asked if anyone had someone Jewish in their family. That makes me smile. Other family members were not so supportive, and I get it. They share my history and don't consider themselves Jewish at all.
The problem with this late awakening is all the information I missed about my heritage. the average six-year-old in shul knows more about being Jewish than I do. A synagogue looks different than a church and that homey, comfortable feeling is just missing. Prior to this, the emotional attachment to architectural styles and décor was not there.
Then there was the whole exploration of faith. Culturally, the Reformed congregations appealed the most for the openness to all of the community, including gays. In terms of deep connection to G-d, the Orthodox provided the deepest experience, but the warning to wear a long skirt and a long-sleeved shirt was a little off-putting at a minimum. "You don't have to wear a long skirt and a long-sleeved shirt, but you might feel uncomfortable if you don't." Uh, great.
So far, the experiences that have best suited me are associated with Rabbi Avis Miller and the Sixth & I synagogue. I like a place that "meets you where you are at" as my friend Lisette says. Because, quite frankly, I am all over the place.
So going back to identifying as black by Rachel Dolezal it must have started young and taken root strongly. As Larry Wilmore of the Nightly Report pointed out, "Her parents must hate her." She must have little fondness for them either if her wholesale rejection of her ethnic heritage encompassed a rejection of them , too. Later reports of custody fights, homeschooling and Christian fundamentalism fill in the background on that story, and makes it more believable.
So we can agree - there's a whole lot of animosity in that family. Rachel Dolezal's reaction to it was living life as a black woman.
Maybe the only people who can judge her are black women. It's not like she was doing something offensive or scandalous. But then that's just my perspective.