I watched The Rachel Divide, Netflix’s documentary about Rachel Dolezal. The details about her upbringing make it appear obvious she and her adopted siblings were emotionally and physically abused by their parents (and allegedly sexually abused by Dolezal’s oldest and biological brother) and makes it possible for the viewer to draw a dotted line to the possible cause of Dolezal’s current crisis of identity. Where the documentary wins is it leaves it up to you to decided whether her “trans-racialism” or “cisracialism” (and no, I do not endorse this terminology because it’s nonsense) is a construct of opportunistic narcissism or mental delusion. The documentary introduces Dolezal’s adopted black sister, Esther, who at the start of the documentary was awaiting the status of a pending court case against their oldest brother Joseph for sexual assault. If you believe the sister’s allegations, which I do despite having a difficult time believing anything endorsed by Dolezal, it is easy to follow her claim that the truth of her racial identity and fraudulent deeds associated with her role as an NAACP leader was revealed as part of a plot devised by their estranged to discredit Dolezal as a witness in the abuse case. I don’t believe these things are mutually exclusive – I believe the abuse allegations to be true. It would explain, in part, how someone like Dolezal can construct a whole other self grounded in fantasy. But Rachel Dolezal can be a victim of her parents and brother’s past abuse AND be a pathological liar in other aspects of her life.
By the end of the documentary, we learn the court case has been dropped, largely due to the publicity surrounding Dolezal’s very public outing as passing for a black woman while leading an historical civil rights organization. After watching the documentary, I became immensely sympathetic to her three sons: her adopted son (formerly adopted brother) Izaiah, her biological son she shares custody of with her first husband, and her youngest son who is a toddler. Dolezal is a professional martyr. Her professional martyrdom began way before she crocheted the first strand of blonde kanekalon into her hair: she says in her book she related to African slaves when she was a young girl growing up in Montana because she had to sell crafts for money to buy her own clothes; she unsuccessfully sued Howard University for discrimination after denied a scholarship and teaching position; as the head of the NAACP’s Spokane chapter, she constantly reported receiving death threats in the mail from local white supremacists (none of these letters were confirmed to have been mailed, but hand delivered to a locked mail box that only she and one other employee had the key to); and then there was her zealous ability to be at the center of local protests including making her young sons lie on the ground in chalk outlines as part of various protest demonstrations. As a mother, I’m never desirous to see my child in a chalk outline in protest, in jest, in any type of performance, ever.
The whole of her black-woman-narrative is predicated on tales of woe like rubbernecking while passing by a collision on the highway or the way one might obsess over and become expert on a great historical tragedy. Where is the beauty? There is none because beauty is counterproductive to the task of her pickaninny martyr fantasy. Throughout the documentary, we are witness to scenes of Dolezal’s gentle weeping she only wants a safe and happy existence for her children juxtaposed against her engaged in or pursuing some sort of activity in direct opposition to a drama-free existence for her family. She declares she wants her son Izaiah to go on with his life free of her pariah status, but when she goes with him to tour his dream school, Howard University, she posts a photo of him on the campus to Instagram captioned that he intends to attend the school. The social media post is, of course, met with derision and vitriol. Not exactly the best way to endear him to an admission committee. Her middle son confesses during an interview that though he loves his mother and is okay with her choice to identify as a black woman, he believes there is a possibility she has made up some of her claims of discrimination and harassment. By the end of the documentary, it is clear her middle son is depressed (n one scene she tries to drag him from his bed one morning to eat breakfast in front of the film crew and he refuses, declaring he is tired of “all of this” and didn’t ask for “any of this”). He also goes on to tell her to just stop, just stop all of it. Her adopted son, of age, leaves for Spain and on the morning of his departure when she suggests it would be cheaper to leave some of his belongings until his return the following summer, he informs her may not be returning home for the summer as previously planned (if you read body language, facial expression, and tone, it feels like he was telling her he was uncertain if he would return, period).
You get the impression, the people around her who love her are exhausted playing supporting roles in the public shit show. My takeaway from the documentary is it serves as a tool to educate how adept a sociopath is at crafting their masks. Blackface just happens to be the mask Rachel Dolezal prefers to pull on.