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Thursday, December 24, 2015

The King and I vs. The Internet and I--Anna Leonowens and Rachel Dolezal part 2.

Last time, I wrote some about Anna Leonowens, of the King and I fame and the challenges that she fought against to create an exceptionally adventurous and productive life.

Now, we come to Rachel Dolezal, the brown-skinned ex-leader of the Coure D'alene NAACP, 

who turned out to be a blonde, fair-freckled, straight-haired woman from an ultra-Christian background. I have learned from sources--not Ms. Dolezal--that she was homeschooled in isolation using a curriculum provided by Christian Liberty Academy Satellite School, (CLASS) which comes with Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) membership and a copy of "To Train A Child." Both are red-flags for child abuse--To Train A Child advocates "blanket training" infants (i.e., put one on a blanket, and if they so much as put a limb off the blanket, spank them) and suggests flexible plumbing pipe and running around a tree all night as discipline tools for older children. (All of which sound like "discipline" Anna Leonowens might have encountered at the Military Asylum run by the Bombay Education Society in 1841.) In the mid-1990's, these parents began to adopt black babies, which is a way for evangelicals to "save souls for Christ," beginning at home. I did not know about this culture before I researched Dolezal's family, but have spent some time researching it since, as well as inter-racial adoptions within this community.

Oh, and by the way, CLASS curriculum is linked to White Supremicist home schoolers, and HSLDA is ignoring several scandals involving sexual abuse linked to its leader and those he supports. To Train Up A Child explains that reasons an adopted child may not look a new parent in the face or may accuses someone of sexual abuse is because they suffer from an attachment disorder. The solution is corporal punishment or banishment to a Christian-linked camp that uses even more corporal punishment. Three of the Dolezal's four adopted children are no longer on speaking terms with them. And witnesses report the Dolezal's "practicing" infant spanking in public in the church parking lot. If they did that there, I can only imagine what they did at home.

Rachel Dolezal fled this environment. Interestingly enough, she headed to a traditionally black college, and what she studied was not religion, but art. She married an African-American man, had a child with him, and took on the responsibility of raising her adopted brother when he was legally emancipated from his parents. She also switched her hair, darkened her skin, and worked for the betterment of a people she adopted, despite the documented hostility, and worse, that people of color routinely faces. Unfortunately for her, she did so in the era of the internet, viral videos and instant research. Anna Leonowens would never have been able to succeed in her life-long masquerade had she done so now. Rachel Dolezal could have disappeared into an African-American world without anyone batting an eyelash had she done so then.

Anna Leonowens and her choices are complicated. It's not possible to sneer at her, to say, "she did this for her own betterment." She had few choices. In fact, the choice she took didn't even exist before she created it.

And she always showed a profound empathy for women of color, especially Asian women, and did so openly. She was a passionate suffragette and life a life of tremendous adventure and vision. And yet, once she crossed the line, she had to defend a racist system in order to remain safe, and to have her two surviving children and her grandchildren remain safe.

Dolezal, too, is complicated. The stories of her finding a noose outside her house are questionable, though a neighbor did admit to dressing a deer in a tree near her house, and leaving the rope hanging. She stepped up for her brother, and for her younger sister, too, who had claimed sexual abuse by Rachel's biological older brother--an examination that was dropped after the parents outed Dolezal. I hope that Dolezal has half of Anna Leonowen's fighting spirit. I'd love to see her transform her experience into something that changes the world, at least in small ways, as, indeed, Leonowens did, to some degree, in 1850's Siam, among early suffragettes in Canada, and in pre-revolutionary Russia. Go for it, Rachel.
Mixed Race Dutch/Indonesian Girls c. 1925-1930.

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