Like so many of us, I have been fascinated with the Rachel Dolezal story. I just finished watching the Today Show interview with Matt Lauer and as I watched, all I could think was no matter what your opinion of her, this whole situation feels like a racial tipping point for our country. No longer can we sweep difficult discussion about race under the rug because they are "uncomfortable." Now we have an impetus to start having the conversations that our white privilege has afforded us the luxury of ignoring.
While Dolezal has been painted as a deceptive villain in recent days, what struck me about her interview is how complex humans really are. Rachel is not all bad or all good. There are facets of her behavior that we can feel compassion for and others where we can clearly question her motives.
It's easy for us to try to paint a person as one thing. As teachers, we have a tendency to do this with our students: the bully, the bookworm, the slacker. But in reality, our students are complex and lead rich lives beyond our classroom walls. The same is true for all of us, even those we publicly shame on social media.
Once the public feelings of outrage and schadenfreude along with the sensationalistic media fallout has subsided, what is left behind I think will perhaps be a milestone for race relations in the U.S. As much as I've been perplexed, on occasion outraged, and even a tad amused as this story has unfolded, what I keep coming back to is that Ms. Dolezal is no one thing; she is many things. As are we all. And despite the fact that all of this is happening at her expense, I think she may have inadvertently solidified a cultural practice that will usher in an era when everyone can openly discuss race and matters of identity without it being considered verboten. If some good can come from this, that is my hope.