Monthly series ‘New School of African Thought’ to cover ‘every aspect of Blackness’
The Rachel Dolezal story created a perhaps unnecessary uproar among some Blacks, says noted historian Mahmoud El-Kati. Dolezal, a civil rights activist, college instructor, and now-former president of the Spokane, Washington NAACP, whose birth certificate showed that she actually was born White although she has identified herself as Black since as early as 2007.
Her “faked racial identity” sparked spirited discussions about Dolezal, who was appointed by the Spokane mayor to the city’s police ombudsman commission but was voted out by the city council based on an investigation finding that she displayed “a pattern of misconduct” as commission chair.
El-Kati wrote in his 2014 The Myth of Race that race is “a product of human imagination” and the idea of it was first introduced in the 16th Century. It is mainly used to categorize people as superior and inferior for political, social and economic purposes.
“The two races that represent these two extremes [are] White and Black, and everything else in between,” said the professor in a recent MSR interview. He added that instead the discussion regarding Dolezal should be about culture. America has been influenced by Black culture for decades, such as White musicians, he noted.
“I don’t know what her motives were. She could be genuine,” said El-Kati of Dolezal’s identifying herself as Black. She is probably no different than other Whites who may see themselves as a person of color. “There is a great deal of [Black] culture in White people,” added the professor. “So and so is the ‘new Black.’ What is the new Black? What does that mean? Was the old Black not good enough?”
Furthermore El-Kati doesn’t agree with some Blacks who argue that Dolezal benefitted from White privilege and used it to her advantage to advance herself. “I’m pretty sure she was aware of that. She caught up with that at Howard [University, where she attended in 2002].
“In her mind, she was trying to help the cause,” said El-Kati on Dolezal, who supposedly helped revitalized the Spokane NAACP, which led to her being elected as branch president. “That’s why she switched sides,” he proposed. “She may be a tortured soul, I don’t know, or feeling guilty about being White. We don’t know.
“Here’s my answer — there is no such thing as a simple human being. It’s a contradiction in terms.”
Racism rather than race should be discussed, El-Kati continued. “Racism is a European phenomenon, began and practiced first in Europe and brought to America. It is about power. Racism gives life to race.
“I don’t even know that much [about race], but I know more than most Americans,” said El-Kati. “Race has nothing to do with intelligence but ideology.” Rather, El-Kati says White supremacy should be discussed and understood. “White supremacy works overtime to suppress the history of Black people.”
Last month’s Charleston shooting unfortunately is an example of how racism in America still exists. “This young man [charged with nine counts of murder] is a natural product of the American racist ideology,” explained El-Kati. “He is not unique — no more unique than the man who killed Martin Luther King, Jr. or Medgar Evers, or bombed and killed the four little girls [inside a church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963].
“Racism doesn’t acknowledge” Black people and especially their accomplishments, even individually and collectively, said El-Kati. “Racism eliminates you as a personality. We’re just n***ers.”
What bothered him most of all, however, were cries by some Blacks that Dolezal shouldn’t be head of her city’s NAACP, where she was elected president in 2014 until last month. “White people founded the NAACP,” he noted. “The NAACP was founded as an interracial organization. The people who largely founded it [in 1909] were White” along with W.E.B. DuBois, [and] two Black women, Ida B. Wells-Bennett and Mary Church Terrill, and a few other Blacks, said El-Kati.
To address this lack of knowledge, the history professor is currently facilitating the monthly “New School of African Thought” educational series on the fourth Friday of each month at 6:30 pm at Golden Thyme Coffee Shop in St. Paul. “We’re going from June to June on every aspect of Blackness. We want people to use this knowledge and apply [it].
“You don’t have to be a specialist in Black studies” to know Black history, says El-Kati. “I am no more a specialist than the guys in the barbershop who taught me. We are going to talk about things that are not talked about. We don’t have to go to the University of Minnesota to learn that. We can do it ourselves.”
The classes are free, El-Kati said, but attendees must make “a modern sacrifice — time.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.