Friday, June 12, 2015

Last night, the Rachel Dolezal story became a Twitter feeding frenzy

Posted By on Fri, Jun 12, 2015 at 8:19 AM

When a local story goes national, it doesn't just get picked up by national publications like Buzzfeed. It becomes fodder for a frenzy of instant reactions, jokes, lamentations and, eventually, long essays at sites like Salon and the Atlantic. 

So when news that NAACP Spokane President Rachel Dolezal's biological parents had accused her of lying about her race broke in the Coeur d'Alene Press yesterday, it wasn't long before it completely dominated Twitter. Or to put in terms of how it totally "owned the Internet," there were the hashtag games like #RachelDolezalMovies, #blackreceipts and #AskRachel. There were the lamentations of the awfulness that was to come. There was the hope for the moments of good journalism we could expect in the future. There was renewed interest in the monthly freelance columns she published in the Inlander.

And there were predictions of what we could expect from the Internet in the next few days, like these from Buzzfeed's Adam Serwer: 

But Serwer did close with some earnestness: 

Already, sites like Jezebel have begun to churn out reaction stories.
James Wilburn, who served as president of the Spokane NAACP before Dolezal, said that some members of the group did have doubts about her background: “It was discussed among close members to me, and we kept it like that.”

JAMES WHAT IN THE HELL? If you thought that the president of your local NAACP was LYING about being black, why why why why why why why why why would you keep that under wraps?

Many news outlets, locally and nationally, have pushed the story forward. The Seattle Times had more details of the estrangement between Dolezal and her biological parents. 

The couple and daughter became estranged after Rachel Dolezal asked them not to attend a Juneteenth event in Coeur d’Alene she had planned to attend, they said. Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. They decided to honor her request and not go and have had very little contact with her or her teenage son since.
And the Washington Post found that the story of the family's division was far more bitter and painful than just race. 

The Dolezals, it should be noted, are a family divided. Parents Lawrence and Ruthanne and brothers Ezra and Zach do not speak with their sister because, they say, she alleged abuse in the family and obtained custody of her 21-year-old brother Izaiah. Izaiah, who is black, lives with Rachel Dolezal in Spokane — and Rachel says he is her son, the family alleged.
KREM secured a sit-down interview with Dolezal. Much of it deals with Dolezal's choice to represent her brother as her son. But toward the end, Dolezal said that the "community... really doesn't understand the terms of race and ethnicity" and that "if I was asked, I would say, 'Yes, I do consider myself to be black.'"  

Online investigators have already gone through Dolezal's Facebook posts, previous statements, and Twitter messages. 

There's also an old Gonzaga Bulletin article where Dolezal lamented the cultural appropriation of The Help

Rachel Dolezal, a professor of Black Studies who rotates between Eastern Washington and North Idaho College, and is a leader for NIC's Black Students Association, said she wished the film had never been made. Her main dislike stemmed from all the money Kathryn Stockett, the author of the novel and a white woman, made off of this book and film.
"Follow the money trail," Dolezal said. "A white woman makes millions off of a black woman's story."
And in old articles in Eastern Washington University's college paper, Dolezal has said that "Our story [of Black history] should be taught year round," that she was "criticized for 'not painting white people' when [she] was in college" and that she was "always a sort of a 'bridge' between white and black worlds."

But most of the reaction was just snark. Slate's Jamelle Bouie turned to comic books to express his reaction: 

Several black Twitter users put the snark on hold to express genuine anger and frustration.

Several social conservatives, meanwhile, drew parallels between Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender movement and Dolezal. If you can decide your gender, they say, why not your race? 

Others admired the way that, temporarily, the left and right seemed united. 

Some, at least, offered unease at the way that Twitter and other social media outlets seem to form vicious, sanguine mobs on a regular basis. There is, after all, a real person in this story.  To remind the world of that, Dolezal posted this on Facebook.

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, staff writer Daniel Walters is the Inlander's City Hall reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...