To Be Real – Thoughts about Rachel/Caitlyn/Laverne 3

“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






About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

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3 thoughts on “To Be Real – Thoughts about Rachel/Caitlyn/Laverne

  • Carolyn

    Wow…what a thoughtful piece this is. First, I’m still processing Rachel’s story. I had not considered a white person passing for black before and it still boggles my mind—not just a white person but a white woman raised in Montana. I’d like to know what were her intentions and motivation. It will be interesting to see her next moves. Second, I haven’t fully processed the transgender “female” either. Your points are so valid–being a woman is so much more than clothes and breasts and sex. So at this point I will reserve further comment other than to say, “thank you,” for stimulating my thought process and offering a place to begin exploring these deep topics.

    • Candelaria Silva Post author

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. In the early 70s, a friend of mine attended Sarah Lawrence College. I recall her telling me two stories – one about a biracial student who looked very white and was shunned by Black students (we were all militants and nationalists then). The other was about a girl who turned out to have been Jewish but had been “acting Black” for quite a while before she was outed. My mother said that she didn’t understand why any White person would try to give up the privileges that come with being White in this society. There’s an article today that says that Rachel identifies as Black. Very interesting.