As a white woman, Rachel Dolezal could have turned into an especially strong advocate for African-Americans as leader of her local NAACP, writes Tamara Winfrey Harris in the New York Times. Too bad that her "empathy evolved into impersonation," a dishonesty that "undermines the very people she claims to support." Dolezal says she identifies as black. Well, good for her, "but actual black people, like me, don’t have the option of choosing." Dolezal was able to get away with her ruse thanks to the legacy of America's old "one-drop rule," which stipulates that anyone with a black ancestor—with even one drop of black blood—is considered black, writes Harris. It was all about preserving the "racial privilege" of whiteness.
"Dolezal may not be able to claim even a drop of African-American ancestry, but the way blackness has long been determined means that few would question a woman who presents as white but claims to be black," writes Harris. "She was able to trade on a racist element of history to pass believably as a black woman." The argument that race is "malleable" falls flat because Dolezal's case illustrates that while white people can feign blackness, the reverse isn't true. Black people can't "shed their race," writes Harris. "I will accept Ms. Dolezal as black like me only when society can accept me as white like her." Click for her full column.