Rachel Dolezal: A Very American Story

By Chris Lowe

An angle on Rachel Dolezal’s actions. Not offered as a comprehensive view, nor an evaluation, and certainly not a defense. Just an angle on which I’ve been reflecting. 

One of my great-grandfathers was German, surname Löwe (pronouced lerv-veh, sort of). I have cousins who are Loewe (loh-wee) preserving the two syllables. My grandfather, his youngest child, decided to “pass” as Anglo in the World War I period, when he was playing minor league baseball in Vicksburg Miss.

A lot of German people in that era did similar things. So did many immigrants from other places, Hollywood actors, etc.

The same grandfather was a “self-made man” through resumé inflation as he moved around. After WWI he became a semi-pro ballplayer on the Continental Bank of Illinois team in Chicago (he was born in Chicago and lived there mostly until the 1930s). While nominally working for the bank, he took some night school classes at the University of Chicago in book-keeping. Over the years those classes gradually became an accounting degree. I think at some point he actually passed licensing exams in states where he lived in accounting. He ended up as the president of a savings & loan bank in Florida, where he was also the victim of a con man partner, at least by his telling.

I don’t like what Rachel Dolezal did in a number of respects that I won’t go into. Just as my grandfather’s history is dodgy. In both cases I think there were complicated psychological factors of insecurity, mixed with some evident skill, and some self-centeredness focused on the insecurity.

Still, in some ways, including the bad ones, it’s a very American story.

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