Dear Rachel Dolezal,

By now you’ve probably seen the articles, tweets, and blog posts talking about what you managed to accomplish. Some have supported you and called your choices harmless or “transracial;” many have criticized you and called you ignorant and labeled your charade ‘modern day minstrelsy.’ I’m in the latter group. Because you see Rachel. I’m black. My parents are black. My siblings are black. We are black. But none of us got the option to choose, not that we would have chosen differently if we had. As a result of my blackness I’ve had to figure out how to live and grow in white America. I’ve spent my entire life working to succeed and survive in a society that has never prioritized my happiness or my safety. Of course you already know all of this, you’ve studied African-American history and culture in depth. But that’s the thing. You studied it. You haven’t lived it. Despite your numerous, and arguably successful, efforts to live as a black woman, you will never know what it truly means to be black. Just as you have the option to choose to put on your blackness, you can also choose to take it off. On days when the world is just a little too rough, or one too many black children have been shot, you can walk away. You can scrub off your self-tanner and take out your braids and pick up your privilege right were you left it. Though you’ve never truly been without it. And I know, you went to Howard, and teach Afro-American studies, and your siblings are black, so I’m supposed to believe you “get it.” Because you’ve been doing this for years. And have experienced numerous hate crimes. So many, in fact, that you document them on your university bio page. But you don’t get it Rachel. I’m here to tell you that you. don’t. get it. You could have done all of those things as a white woman. Gone to Howard on a full ride, become a professor and even the president of the NAACP. You could have done it. But you didn’t do it that way. You decided to pose as black and get that scholarship and teach those classes all while promising your perspective was deeper and more connected to the struggle and culture of blackness because you didn’t just study it. You lived it. But you haven’t. You trivialized my life, Rachel. Apparently the real lived experiences of actual black individuals weren’t enough for you. You reduced being black to a perm and a spray tan. You couldn’t just be an ally and use your privilege to help lift up our voices. You had to snatch them from us and market them as your own. To you, my culture is a commodity. A costume. You used my culture to get ahead while saying you were helping us. Fighting with us. For us. But all you did was strip us down, dress yourself up, and leave us behind. You’re not black Rachel Dolezal. And we are not your people.

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