No, You Can’t Just Wake Up and Decide to Be Black

White on the outside, black on the inside (YouTube screenshot)
White on the outside, black on the inside (YouTube screenshot)

Apparently people seem to have a hard time grasping the concept of race when it comes to being black. That was clearly seen in the comments section of my Paris Jackson post about how she had declared herself a black woman. I left the ending vague and with a question on purpose because I wanted to see how people would react to her claims of blackness.


First, I’ll state the obvious.

Do I believe that Michael Jackson is Paris’ biological father? Fuck no. But until a DNA test proves otherwise, if he said he’s her daddy, then he’s her daddy. With that said, and with my stated opinion that Michael is not Paris’ biological father, no, I do not believe Paris can or should refer to herself as a black woman. Now, if DNA tests were to prove that Paris is biracial, sure, she can be black or white or something in between. By now we all know that biracial people come in various shades, from the lightest Rashida Jones to the brownest Barack Obama. But that’s not exactly the point of this post.

You cannot wake up one day and just decide, “Hey, I’m black now.” You cannot Dolezal your life. If that were the case, imagine me walking around and telling people, “I’m a white woman.” Yeah, you’d look at me like I was fucking crazy. And that’s exactly how I look at white people like Rachel Dolezal and Paris Jackson (minus the DNA test).

It’s OK to be white and embrace everything black. If you identify with black culture, cool. More power to you. But blackness is more than liking hip-hop, going to an HBCU or knowing how to put a kinky weave in someone’s hair.

Two years ago, my writing partner Danielle Belton and I created a web comic titled Passing. The comic was created after months of working and having our showrunner, Madeleine Smithberg, pitch it to various people in Hollywood. Unfortunately, people said that our comedy and concept were “too smart” for television.

The comic is based on two white women who were raised by a black family in a predominantly black suburb outside of Washington, D.C. The two characters, although they knew they were white, identified with black culture. So much so that one character’s boyfriend stated that if he wanted a black woman, he would have found one—instead of a confused white woman.


The comic predated Dolezal, but it speaks about the intricacies of race and culture. But not once did we even think about having the characters walk around telling people they were black.

I imagine that people who truly think that a white or another nonblack person can wake up one day and just declare him- or herself black really don’t know much about race. And please spare me your “Race is a social construct” tears. Yeah, this same “social construct” seemingly allows black people to be discriminated against when they apply for mortgages and car loans. Also, hello, police brutality. And do I need to mention “White” and “Colored” water fountains from back in the day? Or did we all forget about the civil rights movement?


See, the thing is, Paris Jackson and Rachel Dolezal can scream all they want about being black, but what water fountain or bathroom would they have chosen to use back then? In the words of Paul Mooney, “Everybody wants to be a nigga, but nobody wants to be a nigga.”

What are these “passing” people doing with their blackness? Are they being subjugated in the above instances? Sure, Dolezal was in the community doing NAACP work, but she could have done that without being black.


White privilege is one hell of a drug and can even get black people rooting for you when they know you’re just masquerading as one of them. But let a black person try to pass as white and see how quickly he or she finds out that the imitation of life isn’t what it was cracked up to be.

And here’s a clip from one of the most brilliant moments in recent television history.



I have a question here. The other day I was talking with someone about transgender issues (this person wasn’t super supportive - seeing it as one person’s “craziness” that they are trying to pull others into participating in). As I was disagreeing, she compared it to Rachel Dolezal. That if you accept that gender is a construct and that person can identify differently that what their outsides might show, that you have to also accept that race is a construct, and that a person could identify differently. My initial argument was that because of the history of racial oppression, it is different. They argued that a male-bodied person may be raised as a male and receive those privileges (I do not mean to demean in any way the pain that they go through), and go through the process of presenting as a woman, and only the suckiest of feminists argue that transgender women are not “real” women. Then I thought, “But she claimed to be black, when she wasn’t.”  But we would never say that if a trans woman wasn’t upfront with people about being born male-bodied, that they were lying somehow. (Again, Dolezal). I was a bit lost for a response to why gender identity is so different from racial identity. I would appreciate a better understanding, because my gut says that they are different, but my logic isn’t helping me get there.