June 23, 2015
Solidarity AND Integrity
The revelation last week that the president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, Rachel Dolezal, had misrepresented herself for many years as African American while in fact she was not, has created a media frenzy such as we have not seen in a long time.
That seems to indicate that our society is fascinated by confusion and celebrates mystification.
Ms. Dolezal was a well-known civil rights advocate and did a very good job at the NAACP. Her identification with the black culture and people was always for her to make.
But why the lies?
Many years ago, the chairman of a large US corporation told me the story of how, while he was in the military, in response to some very nasty and racist remarks about black people from fellow soldiers, he pretended to have African American ancestry. At first they did not believe him but somehow he managed to convince them that it was true. I think he did it out of solidarity and empathy for African Americans but also to embarrass and even shame his “comrades in arms.”
Feeling empathy and solidarity with a group of people is a very positive thing. Identifying with a cause wholeheartedly is admirable.
Maybe the earliest account of such identification with a people of a different religion and culture is found in the Bible. Ruth, the Moabite widow, says to her Jewish mother-in-law:
“Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”
Some of the “I am” slogans testify to those sentiments such as:
“Je suis Charlie“ after the murders of journalists of the French satirical magazine.
“I am a Jew” after the attack and murders of Jews at a Kosher store in Paris.
“I am Arthur Andersen” following the layoff of thousands of employees of the firm because of fraud.
Eugene V. Debs, the founder of the American Railway Union once said:
”While there is a lower class, I am in it: While there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free. ”
Maybe the most famous identity-solidarity quote of our time is President Kennedy’s who said in a speech to a German audience on June 26, 1963, following the building of the Berlin Wall by the Communists that divided the city.
“Ich bin ein Berliner”
Solidarity and empathy however should never be expressed in a way that compromises integrity. The manifestation of these worthy sentiments cannot be at the detriment of truth.
“While I can certainly understand a complex racial identity and I can absolutely respect someone being inspired to fight for human rights on behalf of a community - I simply can’t wrap my head around Rachel Dolezal being so completely dishonest and in denial of that dishonesty. It does no one any good and sadly it does undercut the work she did on behalf of people of color. This is all so very deep and disturbing and seeing this fractured person and family is truly heartbreaking.”