“Self Identify”

June 16, 2015

Ellen edits all of my “ruminations” before I send them. On occasion she tells me not to send them or to change some things so as not to offend or miscommunicate. I suspect this will be one of those. But I’m going to stand firm… well… sort of. I’m not good at resisting her.

For some of you this will come across as preaching to the choir. And for others I may very well upset you or make you angry. Oh well.

Allow me to ruminate a bit on the furor surrounding Rachel Dolezal the young woman from Spokane, Washington who, even though she was born of VERY Caucasian parents has chosen to “self-identify” as an African American. This whole story is complicated by the fact that her “lies” about her heritage have allowed her to excel in her position with the NAACP.

Let me say up front that she seems to be a very bright, charming and troubled woman, who has done a nice job on her hair and has spent considerable time in the sun or in a tanning booth. The short version of the story is this. She was “outed” this past week regarding her heritage. She is no more African American than I am. Maybe less so. But her rationale for years of lying and deception is this, “I self-identify as African American.”

Uh…. Huh?

Now I don’t want to put words into her mouth. That being said, it’s tempting, since the words coming out of her mouth make no sense. So what does “self identify” mean? Since the explanation, according to her, is “very complex” (I read that as, “You’re not smart enough to get it,” or “I don’t really have an answer.”), and she never gives the explanation, I guess I have to figure it out for myself. Remember, I’m not so smart so I might get this wrong.

I suspect it means something like this, “I am biologically Caucasian (although she never says that), but since I want to be African American, and since I identify with African American causes, I can call myself African American. Some would say that is called lying about your heritage, but it’s not lying if everyone can legitimately “self identify.” Get it? In other words… words don’t matter anymore. You can say and call yourself whatever you want and if it’s okay with you, then it’s okay.

I remember when I was a kid, I lied to my mother about something I had done. I got caught and the punishment was severe and humiliating. I made one big mistake. I should have told my mother that I “self identified” as someone who would not lie, thus by definition I could not have lied no matter what the facts or realities were. WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?!?! I’m pretty sure my mom would have bought it.

Let’s be very clear here… she is not the first person to get “caught” lying publically. We hear these sorts of things from political types all the time. “It depends on what ‘is, is.’” “I misremembered.” “I did not have ‘sex’ with that woman.” “Blah, blah, blah…” Seriously, I suspect most of us have “bologna buzzers” in our heads that go off when phrases like “self identify” are heard. When the explanation to a very simple question like, “Were you born Caucasian?” is “too complex to answer,” my buzzer sounds.

Is it any wonder that Jesus says this in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

I have written about this passage previously but the short of it is this… be honest/don’t lie. If you have to take all sorts of “oaths”, or pledge to “cross your heart and hope to die” to prove your trustworthiness then you likely are not very honorable. If we are known for our “yes being yes and our no being no,” then the need for “swearing” is negligible.

Truthfully? I feel sad for this young woman. Along with her competence in the work place, she somehow picked up the notion that “the end justifies the means.” If you are a Christian, you need to be known for your honesty and forthrightness. Not for your ability to spin words into such a meaningless mess that no one can figure out what you’re talking about.

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