I work at the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies and, one day, the organiser of an event where Rachel Dolezal would speak came around to our office with a stack of tickets. So, as a centre, we decided to go and ask the questions we wanted to ask. So, why did I go? I went there to disrupt.
The talk was held at the Joburg Theatre and, when we got there, there was quite a strong police presence – three police vehicles, two of which were those vans they lock people up in.
When she came on, she delivered this extremely emotionally manipulative speech. She didn’t engage with the issues really. Throughout her talk, it was all about her pain; the horror she went through. Five minutes into her talk, she even started crying.
When it came to people getting their turn to ask questions, I said that I had noticed a strong police presence and asked her whether the police were there to protect her and, if so, why?
She didn’t answer that question.
I then asked her whether, if black people could take up her position and start identifying as white, if this was possible, then how do we transcend poverty?
She responded, saying that she had never called herself transracial; that that was what others called her. “I’m just being me,” she said.
When she responded that way, it was really just confirmation for me of what I had thought of her all along. That, for her, this was not about engaging the very brutal historical legacy of the construction of race and racism. For her, this was actually just about trying to reclaim some of the privileges she had before she was called out. This was about selling a book, gathering sympathy and, ultimately, deflection.
When I left that venue, I felt like how I always feel when engaging white people on race: that feeling of being dismissed, used as a prop and having my entire history – that history that still impacts on me – completely erased.
Jamil Khan, 27, as told to Carl Collison, the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail&Guardian