“It’s got to be real.
To be real.
It’s got to be real.“
The chorus from Cheryl Lynn’s 1978 disco hit, To Be Real, keeps running through my head as I think about Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who’s been passing herself off as a Black woman for quite a while and even became President of the NAACP Chapter in Spokane, Washington.
To deny your parents is wrong (even if they weren’t good parents). To deny your heritage is a travesty (even if you don’t want to own everything about that heritage). To pretend to be someone you’re not and claim position and leadership based on that dishonesty is shameful.
Rachel dear, you don’t have to be Black to be an ally to Black people. A number of Whites have been allies and champions of Black people and have fought in the struggle for Civil Rights. But to be Black you do have to be Black. You got to be real. Really Black. Born that way.
Blackness is more than skin or hair texture. There are so many experiences and gradations of Blackness.*
The experience of being a Black girl raised with the realities that many Black girls face is part of what gets you to the joys and sorrows of Black womanhood. There are no shortcuts. You got to be a Black girl to become a Black woman. There is no one way to be a Black woman but you do have to actually be Black.
Sing it Cheryl, “To be real.”
I feel the same way about Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox. To be a woman is to grow up as a girl, treated the way girls are treated – both positively and negatively. You have to be socialized as a girl to be a girl and you have to have menses. Having a menstrual period colors a lot of what it is to become and be a woman. You don’t get to skip to womanhood without going through this and without understanding that you have the potential to carry life (even if you never do or want to).
Femaleness is not simply having breasts, hair, make-up and stereotypically feminine clothes. Being a woman is not dress-up. I resent the reduction of womanhood to these characteristics. Feeling like a woman is not the same as being a woman. You can adopt it but you can’t own it. Sorry.
To be real. It’s got to be real.
*You Can’t Take Black Away from Me” – blog post by Candelaria Silva