CNN's Hill: White NAACP Leader Pretending to Be Black is 'White Privilege'

On Friday's Anderson Cooper 360, during a discussion of revelations that Spokane NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal is a white woman who has spent years pretending to be black, liberal CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill oddly asserted that her actions constitute "the ultimate exercise in white privilege."

Ironically, after enumerating several reasons why blacks may want to pretend to be white for gain instead of the reverse, Hill ended up fretting that Dolezal may have deprived the university that hired her of being able to discriminate against her for being white if they wanted to hire an actual African-American to teach African-American studies.

Hill began his analysis:

I'm puzzled by this, Anderson. People have historically lied about their race in order to get more stuff, right? They've lied in order to avoid Jim Crow. They've lied in order to get access to jobs. They've lied in order to be safe from lynching. Very few people choose "black" as an identity unless they have to. "Black" is something people have historically tried to get out of.

He soon added:

I think it speaks to a very dangerous practice of trying on someone's identity, of trying on a marginalized notion of race whenever you want to. To me, it's the ultimate exercise in white privilege to say, "I'm going to be black for a little while."

A bit later, after noting that she may not have been chosen as an NAACP leader if she had been white, he lamented:

Maybe the university that she works at, perhaps they would not have hired her if they knew they were hiring a white woman to teach Africana studies. Not because white people can't teach Africana studies. Perhaps they had a diversity hire and they wanted to hire someone of color to diversify an increasingly white university. These are choices black people can make, and if you're an advocate of black people, you should be advocating black self-determination, the opportunity for us to make our own choices for ourselves. We can't do that if you throw on the braids and the sarongs and act as if you were African and black.

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Friday, June 12, Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN:

MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN COMMENTATOR: I'm puzzled by this, Anderson. People have historically lied about their race in order to get more stuff, right? They've lied in order to avoid Jim Crow. They've lied in order to get access to jobs. They've lied in order to be safe from lynching. Very few people choose "black" as an identity unless they have to.

"Black" is something people have historically tried to get out of, which is also problematic. So this is a puzzling choice for this woman. On some level, it speaks to the way that we think about race right now, which is that it is an individual choice, that it's a social construct, all this fluid stuff.

But, on the other hand, I think it speaks to a very dangerous practice of trying on someone's identity, of trying on a marginalized notion of race whenever you want to. To me, it's the ultimate exercise in white privilege to say, "I'm going to be black for a little while."

ANDERSON COOPER: Yeah, Michaela, that's an interesting point. Can you try on -- can you just say, "Oh, I'm black." I mean, if I just started to say I'm black, one, I don't think a lot of people would believe me, but, two, I mean, is there something offensive about that? Because you haven't lived through the same experience as somebody who can't change their ethnicity.

[MICHAELA ANGELA DAVIS starts by theorizing that Dolezal has a mental disorder]

(...)

MICHAELA ANGELA DAVIS, CULTURE CRITIC: I saw her give a lecture on black hair and privilege. And she was claiming it as hers. And what's so disturbing is she could have done all this good work as a white woman, right? She could have actually used her white privilege to help the civil rights movement. There have been black -- white people in resistance and going against structural racism all the time  She didn't need to lie in order to do good race work. So that's why I think there's something going on with her family, like, this is weird.

(...) 

HILL: And again, let me again preface this by saying I think there are some mental health issues here, and so I don't want to completely make this an issue of her character. She may not be willfully making any of these choices at the level we might be attaching to her. But I think there is, again, an exercise of white privilege here to be able to say, "I know what's best for black people." So if you're a white woman, yeah, you can still be a part of the NAACP. The NAACP all the way back to the Niagara movement, folks like John Dewey, have been at the center of NAACP. White folks started the NAACP on a lot of levels. So it's not a question of that.

The question is, what does it mean for black people to choose their own leadership? Maybe they would not have elected her to be the leader of the NAACP if she were a white woman. They may have made a different choice. Maybe the university that she works at, perhaps they would not have hired her if they knew they were hiring a white woman to teach Africana studies. Not because white people can't teach Africana studies. Perhaps they had a diversity hire and they wanted to hire someone of color to diversify an increasingly white university. These are choices black people can make, and if you're an advocate of black people, you should be advocating black self-determination, the opportunity for us to make our own choices for ourselves. We can't do that if you throw on the braids and the sarongs and act as if you were African
and black.

And, look, I don't know her well, but I have been in settings with her. I have organized with her. I've been on the West Coast and talked with her. And one of the things that she's been adamant about -- and other activists will attest to this -- just with regard to the Black Lives Matter movement, she was one of the people that said the Black Lives Matter movement needs to be led and directed by black people -- outsiders should not be there. It's the height of arrogance to say that -- and mendacity to say that at the very same time that you're actually white in the middle of it.

Race Issues Huffington Post CNN Anderson Cooper 360 Anderson Cooper Marc Lamont Hill Rachel Dolezal


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