Years ago I hosted a network news program. I made a lot of money, was driven to work everyday in a big black car and had one of the shinier American Express cards, among other fancy things in my life.
None of that changed one crucial fact.
I am a black woman.
The fact that I was going to pay for my Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses with my shiny AMEX then throw my packages in the back of a big black car and be driven home didn’t stop me from being followed in Bergdorf Goodman.
Once on assignment in North Carolina, I went to a small shop with my hairdresser and floor director, both of whom are white. The shop attendant followed me through the store, even as the others moved to the register to pay for their items.
None of this, being treated a certain way because of skin color, is new or different or specific to Rene Syler. And if you think it is, you better ask someone…
When I was nine-years-old, my mother let me ride my bike to the store.
I will never forget the young, white kid who called out from across the street, words that hit me so hard I almost fell off my little, orange Huffy.
My mother talks of experiences traveling with her younger sister on the train to visit relatives in Jacksonville, Florida. While stopping somewhere in the south, the two girls just wanted an ice cream cone on a hot, dusty day.
Clutching their money, they were greeted by an elderly white woman who said, “Oh sugar , I’m sorry.. but you know I can’t serve you here.”
She couldn’t serve them there because.. they were black.
Buff tells a story about driving with his dad across country. Casey Parham was a truck driver who worked very hard to earn enough money to own his own rig. He was a proud, black businessman. But that didn’t stop the white waitress with a nasty attitude when they stopped for a bite to eat in Arkansas at the middle of the night.
“What y’all niggers want?” Buff recalls his dad squeezing his 8-year-old hand.
“Ma’am.. my son and I have been traveling all night. We were just hoping to get something to eat.”
“Y’all niggers will have to eat in the kitchen then.”
And they did. In humiliated silence.
“Now you know why I left here” Casey Parham told his son.
Why am I sharing all this?
Because in light of the Rachel Dolezal episode something needs to be stated clearly.
While the lying and level of deceit certainly needs to be examined, there’s one more thing. Rachel Dolezal, though married to a black man and the sister (but claims to be mother) of a black boy, is not African American.
She is black by choice meaning she can put it on when convenient and take it off when it’s not.
Being black is not a piece of jewelry or a leather jacket; it is an indelible part of your being.
That is the case for me and everyone in my family as well as a lot of other people I know. We are black 24 and 7 and that means being treated some kinda way by some kinda folks.
I’m not saying she cannot effectively lead the local chapter of the NAACP; in fact the organization is standing behind Dolezal. I am saying she needs to be honest about who she is (too late?) and admit that she cannot fully understand the entire black experience in America.
So your thoughts? Should Dolezal step down? Can she effectively leave the organization as a white woman?