Why Rachel Dolezal Still Matters After Charleston

Justin E. H. Smith in his own blog:

ScreenHunter_1230 Jun. 19 21.50In the first days following the news of Rachel Dolezal’s ruse, there appeared to be some real hope emerging that, at long last, the deadlock of identitarian politics might finally be over. Compelling voices spoke up to acknowledge the simple truth, that identitarianism is essentialism, no matter how much its defenders will ornament their essentialism with the acknowledgment that race is, in the end, a social construction. No one said it more compellingly than Adolph Reed, Jr., who seemed almost poised to become the progressive voice of the new political moment: one that pays attention to serious things.

But then, yesterday, yet another racist attack by a homegrown terrorist took place, and even before the crime scene had been cleaned up we Americans were being scolded for having considered the possibility, for a moment, that racial categorisation (and the essentialism that flows from the practice) is something we might hope to move beyond. Right away, people were being referred to, in the identitarian manner, as ‘bodies’ instead of as people. And the fact of ‘being a black body’ was reinscribed back into the natural order of things. As Jelani Cobb wrote in The New Yorker, closing off the Dolezal affair, “The existential question of who is black has been answered in the most concussive way possible: the nine men and women slain as they prayed last night at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Charleston, South Carolina, were black.”

But the existential question needs to be asked again and again, and the belief that there is a simple answer to it is part of the reason America cannot overcome its murderous pathology, cannot really end the Civil War. Rachel Dolezal grew up in a society that told her, constantly: “You're white, you're white, you're white,” and she seems to have thought to herself, “Really, now, can it be so simple as that?”

More here.