Director: Laura Brownson
The Rachel’s Divide is a film in which one cannot take a stand. I entirely understood and agreed with both Rachel and her opponents, and this is what makes this film great.
Rachel Doležal is a white woman who identifies as black. She grew up in Montana with very strict and very religious parents, and she does not wish to identify with them. She also had adopted black siblings she later embraced as a mother, once they escaped the abuse of her parents. However, probably because of this childhood full of strictness, unreasonable punishments, as well as sexual abuse by her brother, she disassociated herself with whiteness. Thus, she identifies as black and she was heavily involved with organisations advocating the rights of black community in the US. She was even a president of one such organisation in her town.
However, things went south once she decided to testify in a case against her brother to confirm he sexually abused her too, and not just her adopted sister who filed a lawsuit. Her family run a whole campaign against her instigating media firestorm, because it became known she does not have a black origin. As we learnt in the film, black community does not ask questions about background. Many people thought she looks too white to be of mixed origin, but nobody asked anything due to black culture that respects boundaries.
Revealing that both of her biological parents are white brought criticism of the black community for false presentation, because black people could not accept that she identifies as black without even saying she does not come from black background. Many voices we see in the film call her plight for the right to be called black as a white privilege, arguing that she can abandon it whenever she wants to and be white and privileged again, but black community cannot do the same. The examples often being mentioned are discrimination from the Police, never being considered beautiful, always wanting to look different, hating yourself, etc. But, the most commonly heard criticism is white privilege, discrimination by the Police and surrounding for being black, and the whole life experience of being black that Rachel does not have.
On the other hand, Rachel finds it very painful that she is denied the right to express her identity the way she wants to, and she finds it hard not to be able to find a job and be isolated in her house, condemned by both blacks and whites.
This is a truly remarkable life story of struggle to enact a view that racial identity is fluid, as well as any other identity. While I agree with those black people who criticised Rachel, and while I do believe that race is not really fluid (and especially not the consequences that happen for looking different), I also think that Rachel went through too much. It was entirely unnecessary to destroy her whole life and put her children under pressure and isolation, just because she feels different and refuses to accept that everything is given by birth. If this is true, then we would have to ban many things we do not ban or stop fighting for things we fight for normally. But, in a racial society such as the American one it does not come as a surprise that Rachel went through a nightmare.
I suppose we should all ask ourselves whether it really matters how one feels. Ultimately, the fact Rachel destroyed her life to prove that she has the right to feel black just shows how much she loves the black culture, and that should only be positive for the black community. The fact it actually undermined their efforts for equality of blacks in America just shows in what kind of a twisted world we live in.
The film is well made, with plenty of archival and media materials used to show what Rachel has been through, and we also get to follow her on a day-to-day basis to see her life of isolation and misery.
A very remarkable story worth watching. Some really interesting questions are opened in this film, and I really enjoyed watching it. I also hope that Rachel’s life will improve after this film.
Thank you for reading.