The Heart of Whiteness: Ijeoma Oluo Interviews Rachel Dolezal, the White Woman Who Identifies as Black

I’ve been seeking out Oluo for a while now. I appreciate her journalism. 

I have been shaped by whiteness and yet lived outside of it. I don’t have the words for my experience. I may never have words for my experience. It has broken me in some ways. Some words will never come to me because of whiteness. I have a word for misogyny, and I have fellows in feminism, but when it comes to whiteness…I often feel alone and lonely. Unsure of where to put my hands or feet. Perplexed by the performances and the pleasure. The ignorance and the isolation.


Me and Jack are hanging out. Sitting on the stoop. Jack is bigger than I imagined. He is quiet but needy. Sitting close to me with his bone, put-off because I do not pet him.  I feel so visible here, my anonymity gone the second I crossed the border between central and southern Illinois. The stench of wet dirt greeted me. The sight of a shredded deer carcass spread across the interstate with streaks of blood confirmed the little mileage I had left.

It’s dark here. Darker than anywhere. There aren’t nearby cities with streetlights to light up the distant horizon. Civilization is thin here. Silent. That shrouded feeling wells up in my chest. Seeps out the corners of my skull.

I sit with Jack the dog now. We watch the neighbors push mow and ride mow their lawn. I saw my nephew earlier. His skin is tauter, his bones larger. He points and uses words and pushes his little body to its physical limit.

I pull into my sister’s darkened driveway. She greets me in her scrubs. It is late. We are tired. She walks me through the new house. I try to keep my notions at bay. I keep my mind quiet. Trying to shake out the night’s drive from my hips and my shoulders. My sister tells me a story. She had our nephew in her upstairs bedroom. It was night. It was storming. She has an old chair that came with her old house pushed back in the corner. It is yellow and floral. Our nephew pointed at the chair, “who’s that?” Without a word, she carried him down the stairs. Later, upon hearing the story, her boyfriend burns the sage my mom gifted them. Walking around the house expressionless, determined.

I sleep deeply, undisturbed in the downstairs bedroom. I am relieved to wake up and realize this in the morning when the light is coming in. “Everything is better in the daylight.”

In the morning, I open all the curtains. I tug up all the windows. April here is not like April in Wisconsin. There are flowers and trees with leaves. I will be hot later in my loose t-shirt and jeans. I will be comfortable in the morning drinking my coffee in the grass in just my shorts, barefoot. I grill French toast for breakfast. My sister makes us a pot of coffee. I try to refit here.

In the afternoon, I sit on the arm of my brother’s couch. My nephew points at me from the arms of my sister, “who’s that?” Our eyes light up and we laugh. “Just like that,” she says. But I am real, dimensional.

I sit here with Jack now. The neighbors don’t acknowledge us. There, a vestige of Midwest home I recognize. I will eat cafeteria food later with my sister. She will tell me stories of the woman she works with, who I partied with in my very late teens. I will find very fond memories of this woman folded up in my brain, someone I didn’t even realize was hiding out back there. But my thoughts have never mattered here.

Uti and frui

I sat in on a colleague’s class today, and I felt nervous at first. How much stands between me and my last undergraduate course. But as it began I was swept away. Caught up in the discussion questions and the contextual text. Taking notes not on pedagogy, as I was invited to do, but content and thoughts and relevance. College was–mostly–processing alone. And partying out of obligation. I’ve spent the last few days trying to pin it down, why in all places I didn’t come out of feeling so alone, even in the office hours of my professors. What it was, ultimately, that separated me from them. Time and assumptions are all I can come up with. The fucking privilege of an education, I thought, as I looked around the room at all the students. Some of them engaged, some of them in other places. Why do we do that? Do we start college too young or too late? This kind of education. I wanted it so badly. I still want it. Still would rather be sitting in a classroom than anywhere else. A circle of thought. Still am the most frustrated when I feel like I am not learning. When I feel under stimulated. When I feel brain energy has been wasted = think of what else I could be learning. I have to feel pushed. In anything. In everything. My challenge is dealing with a lack of challenge…

The class discussed Augustine. My colleague beginning the session with a quote from the only christmas movie I quote, It’s a Wonderful Life: “No man is a failure who has friends.” Why that line has always resonated with me…but it hooked me into the discussion.

You are choosing a life of love
But you are also chosen
Grouping up to become one
“How did it feel to be chosen?” I want to start asking my students.

And I was struck by one young man’s comment that people “can go away,” so we give them our heaviest word, our strongest attempt at living: love

To leave–to end the choice–to choose not to be chosen. To fall out of the pool. To choose your self or new others over former beloveds… but ultimately creating a chain of people. All of them are one–are one group–through my connection = my chain. And what if there were mutual respect because we are all links of the same chain? What if you cut someone out of the chain? Then? My spiritual development has been so shaped by my community. This is the first one that has given me words for my experience. I have filled.

Here is some sap for your cup

I’ve been thinking a lot, a lot, a lot…


about wounds and pain and discomfort. bell hooks visited my campus and I found the conversations I attended somehow circling back to a point related to: these are my wounds, and this is how I’ve worked through them, and this is how I’m working to help others overcome, yet first nurture these same wounds…

I found myself sitting behind the two white men who have threatened my existence here the very most. They didn’t raise their hands when the speaker asked for sexists in the room, and for the first time I found myself wondering, what are your wounds?

What’s your gap? When the body says, No; when you feel the floor of your chest fall away, when grief hits, how are you working through it? Are you finding your grief, catching it with the light? Shining it high and low until it’s nailed in the center of that beam, then holding it, nailing it down to name it, making sense of it, and then letting it go. Setting the monster free for greener pastures? The spaces we exist in are complex, and the borders we build to keep ourselves safe have to respond with complexity. It’s the only way to build up your immunity to new grief. It’s the only way to make a guard rail out of your scabs.

Protect your spirit from the violence of the world.

Stop waiting for a hero, for a mother to pick you up and dust you off and kiss your scars.


Life is not about heroics. Life is hard work.

Sometimes you’re just going to feel bad. I don’t know what else to tell you. Think of it as a privilege–the some times–because that means there is enough joy in your life that it isn’t bad all the time. That you can feel the ebb and flow of it. Deconstruct yourself: Question what pushes you up and what pulls you down. Chart it. Plot out your rollercoaster. Recognize yourself, then. Find the meaning in the chaos. Be something. Separate the wheat from the chaff. Become. Or rather, maybe for you it is: Remember. Yo recuerdo

inspired by: bell hooks, George Yancy, Bettina Love, and Mama Dee

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S-Town = listening to another clueless white man describe life to me. The privilege of being unsure of what the world is all about, and then feeling accomplished to think you’ve discovered something. An important piece of a puzzle you thought you had already finished.  An invasive, weak, earnest, sad story chase. A spoken ogle. A misplaced admiration. A published misstep.

This is how we got here. Isn’t it something to have it all documented for future research ?

Additional thoughts: I take issue with how anyone from a non rural area defines “rural”; how they place themselves there. Here’s me in “rural [insert state].” What are you trying to say about yourself; why are you distancing yourself and your readers, listeners, receivers from that place. What are you saying about that place with your use of “rural.” Rural runs in my blood, runs through the old world recipes I grew up on: the beef in the freezer, the pie crusts, and the salmon patties, and the iced teas. Rural structures my understanding of clothes on the line, candles in the drawer, cars in the yard.

Rural isolates you. It’s long, quiet, humid summer days. It is dark, quiet, nondescript winters. Rural is space not just from your neighbors, but from the rest of the world. And you can make of your space what you want, which is probably the most alien to the rest of the world. That you have the autonomy and the audacity to not go with the flow, but to create your own rules and your own lives, without the approval of anyone else. That is rural.

And of course John loved his life. Of course John could recognize the privilege his life afforded him. I think that was evident in the very first listen. I didn’t need six more episodes, his death, his secrets, or his suicide note to clarify that for me. What kind of love filled his heart all along, even if it wasn’t enough to sustain him. Even if it wasn’t enough for him to keep going through the motions. You don’t need to make this point. You don’t need to other him or his world to bring us back, to reconcile, to form a new truth, a new view. It was in plain sight all along.

To toil like you mean it

It’s something about being a depressed, broken woman. It’s something about being a woman with an affinity for destruction. As a woman we are always being watched, we are never unseen. But there’s something else to this: a desperate plea to be followed down the path as we run to our destruction. Not just for a witness to our pain, but a fellow participant. A public suffering. That is what the hurt seems to call for. I have never claimed absolute wholeness, but I have been wary of the habits that lead to darkness. The island of shattered souls. I have avoided the men, the drugs, the sharp objects. Those things that pull out the ache of woman from beneath the skin. Those things that promise to set you free from yourself, but only nourish those monstrous parts you were hoping to escape in the first place. A flood that breaks the levees.

A young girl has killed herself, and out pours the sympathy and the pity, but I see no empathy. In a way it’s because I imagine we all know how she felt before she declared it with her death. A fallen comrade in the battle we are all fighting. There is no normal or healthy or whole. There are those of us who tiptoe around the lines of pain, and those of us who go running screaming across the borders. Our t-shirts on fire and our skin sliced and our disheveled hair. To be a mess, to wear your insides out. To be a miserable woman. There is striving and then there is a life of going through the motions. I think you can love life, yet still wake up one morning and decide not to do it today. Not to do it ever again because you are woman. Because of woman. Because there can only be so much that waits for you. Women are told their hearts are burdens rather than treasures. (-Alana Massey)

My sister obsesses over the death and worries over her inaction. What could she have done differently to prevent this final, last embrace of pain? I don’t tell her, she’s still missing the point. Not to be seen in life, and then to be unseen in your own death–what could be worse?

“Girls run the world in the sense that they perform the invisible and unappreciated labors that keep the world on its axis. That is different from doing what everyone wants to do, which is rule the world. Running a thing is to toil in tedious and uncredited roles; ruling a thing is to hold dominion over it enough that little toil is required.” -Alana Massey

Women are told to toil over everything unremarkable and then to die unremarkable. You have to matter to yourself the most because it might be too long for you before someone sits you down and tells you, “you matter.” And it might be even less time that they mean it, show it, believe it.