Sunday 4 December 2016

The ultimate self-reinvention

Is it so terrible for a white woman to declare herself black?

Published 28/06/2015 | 02:30

Rachel Dolezal
Rachel Dolezal

Rachel Dolezal, the 37-year-old president of an American organisation to advance black people - NAACP - has been much disparaged for pretending to be a black woman: "masquerading" was the word used. Her fantasy of being an oppressed black woman was revealed to be just that - a fantasy - when her parents went and "outed" her as 100pc white, with mostly Nordic and German ancestry.

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It was a bit of a daft pose in the age of the TV interview and the world wide web, and it hurt her parents that she seemed to have so resolutely rejected them. But I don't see that it was such a terrible thing to do; probably far more people than is ever realised do live out lives in a fantasy identity. And it's very easy for a fantasy to somehow acquire a reality of its own.

When I was a youngster, I sometimes used to say that my elder brother, who bore the exotic name of Carlos Patricio Santiago, was born in South America. He wasn't, but my father had spent many years in Chile, and named his eldest son in honour of a country he had grown to love. I repeated the fairytale quite a few times, until I almost began to believe it myself. It was only when I was quizzed about how many years my mother had spent among the exotic gauchos and gorgeous gringos that I quietly let the story drop.

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