Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Rachel Dolezal, Isaac Hayes, and Al Jolson


"As far as Dolezal is concerned, technically, since there is no such thing as race, she's merely selected a cultural preference of which cultural group she most identifies with. Who can blame her? Anyone who listens to the Isaac Hayes song, "Shaft," wants to be black—for a little while anyway," writes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a terrific essay about Dolezal, race, and personal identity.

From Time:

Al Jolson, once considered the most popular entertainer in the world, rose to fame wearing blackface. He also used his considerable influence to help blacks. At one time, he was the only white man allowed into some of the nightclubs in Harlem. Ironically, Jolson admitted that when he performed the same songs without blackface he never felt he did as good a job. Some critics say it's because while singing in blackface, he was singing for all downtrodden people, including his own Jewish people. And he found his strength and passion and power while identifying with another culture. Maybe like Quentin Tarantino in Jackie Brown and Django Unchained.

So, does it really matter whether Rachel Dolezal is black or white?

Dr. King said we should be judged by the content of character rather than color of skin, which is what makes this case so difficult. So, yes, it does matter. Apparently lying to employers and the public you're representing when the lie benefits you personally and professionally is a deficit in character. However, the fight for equality is too important to all Americans to lose someone as passionate as she is and who has accomplished as much as she has.

"Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Let Rachel Dolezal Be as Black as She Wants to Be"