Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Rachel, Rachel: Black Like She
Well, I've certainly been wasting more than enough time on the strange saga of Rachel Doležal,* that Jenny Stewart for the Post-Modern century.
It's the kind of story that, the more you know, the weirder, more unsettling, and, perhaps most of all sadder, it all gets.
Whatever we end up knowing about this curious woman - and certainly, after only a few days, anyone with a taste for the less reverent end of what passes these days for journalism certainly has the opportunity to know quite a bit - it's pretty clear that she is, as Shelley Winters so often said of her erstwhile roommate Norma Jeane, a Very Troubled Girl.
I've more or less decided, in fact, that she's the contemporary equivalent of that girl we likely all knew from our college dorm, the one who returned from a semester abroad with a vaguely posh London accent and an infuriating insistence that, when dining out at the local Bar & Grille, she be served malt vinegar with her "chips." I bet you remember her, every now and then, most likely with a little shudder and the sincere hope that she never finds you on Facebook.
Of course, what's also clear is that she's Not a Well Woman. Behind all that lying (and elaborate hair-ruse chicanery - think of the work that went and still goes into it all!), I'm guessing there's a pretty damaged person, one way or another. The more we learn of her family, too, the more complicated it all gets. While they appear to have been annoying god-botherers of a very high order, I'm still tending to sympathize a bit with her parents. I feel like they've just been driven beyond the patience of their last nerve, in the way that one can only be by a particularly toxic immediate relative. I'm as annoyed by Internet diagnosticians as anyone, but even so it's hard not to note the tell-tale signs of some kind of significant personality disorder in someone who is so consistently, for so many years, at the center of hullabaloo after ruckus after dust-up.
So far we know she sued her grad school, abruptly quit one job when they called her bluff after she insisted on more or less declaring herself executive director for life (much to her board's surprise, as she'd not applied for the job), was repeatedly found not to have been, despite her protestations, the victim of racially-motivated attacks, and both subject and object of multiple family disputes involving her parents, siblings, and (now ex-, possibly to his relief) husband. And all the while she's dipped ever deeper into what looks very much like a not-particularly-well-mixed jar of Lena Horne's trademark Light Egyptian Max Factor Pancake.
Anyone who hasn't yet found themselves at Maximum Doležal can get a heaping helping straight from the dipper, as one of her students has posted a series of clips, totaling more than 45 minutes, from an interview she did with her onetime professor last year. It's fascinating, in a predictably trainwrecky sort of way; she has the hallmark ingratiating ingenuousness of the truly disturbed, the coy, darting glances of the deeply dishonest, and, of course, hair that could star on its own in an off-Broadway revue.
I've long been fascinated, as I've noted previously, by fakes and imposters of all kinds - literary forgers, artistic mountebanks, and all manner of Internetische freaks and sensations. This latest one will doubtless flame out and disappear as thoroughly as so many before her, her first claim to fame (such as it is), the racial imposture, only the tip of a much deeper, weirder, and, very likely more depressing iceberg of personal problems that may well shade into serious mental illness. For the moment, though, albeit with a trace of shamefacedness, I'm on the wait for the latest development - and already on the lookout for the next big thing. I'm thinking maybe a couple of men who discover only after they marry as a joke that they actually are gay, or possibly a very belated claimant to the Romanov gold. Until then, we'll always have Rachel...
* I think it's important to include, as she often does, the diacritical - you just know she was the kind of gal who reveled in correcting people about the goddam diacritical.