Monday, June 22, 2015

GUEST POST ~ Identifying With A Race Is Different Than Being Part Of It by Loukia Borrell

The controversy over former NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal, the new media “it” girl who has gripped headlines all week, is dying down as other, more important news stories take her place. The nation’s obsession over Dolezal, who stepped aside from her NAACP role in Spokane amid a whirlwind of media and public scrutiny, will likely linger, but it shouldn’t be about why a biologically white woman is going around telling people she is more black than white. The issue with Dolezal is that she misrepresented herself. She claimed to have black heritage, but her white parents and others have said Dolezal is not a black woman. She insisted to Matt Lauer on the “Today” show that she identifies with blacks and, since that interview, has boldly continued to move as far away as possible from portraying herself as a white woman, even though old pictures of her reveal a blonde girl with alabaster skin.

Racial and gender lines, in today’s society, have become so blurred that it is difficult to define a norm.   We can look all around society and see people who are crossing over into different arenas, wearing their hair, dressing or acting in ways that are from cultures or ethnic groups different than their own. There’s Caitlyn Jenner’s recent transformation from Bruce Jenner into a woman, complete with a come-hither Vanity Fair cover and television coverage as heavy-duty as her makeup. Years ago, before Barack Obama ran for president, Michelle Obama wore her hair in its natural kinky style. Today, she prefers the straight, sleek look. Then, there’s the late Michael Jackson, who went to extraordinary lengths to appear less black as he became more famous. And it can be argued that Madonna, who is nowhere near being a natural blonde, wants to distance herself from her Italian heritage by continuing to dye her hair.

All of those people, along with the ones who live privately, have a right to live their lives, dress their bodies, and find common ground in whichever ethnic, cultural or gender group they feel most comfortable. If Dolezal feels more closely connected to the black community spiritually and emotionally, let her. Just don’t tell people you are black. You feel black. You like black people. That doesn’t make you a black woman.

One of the questions I asked myself prior to publishing my first novel, Raping Aphrodite, was whether I was “Greek enough,” to write the historical novel. The book centers around the July and August 1974 invasion and division of Cyprus by Turkey. At that time, I was an 11-year-old spending my summer in Virginia Beach, playing in our neighborhood, safely away from the crisis, while my relatives in Cyprus were running for their lives. Some, including my maternal grandparents, didn’t make it. Those who did became refugees. As I got older, I began to think more about my family in Cyprus, the island and its deep, rich history. My history. Eventually, I matured to a point where I could write a book based on one of the darkest summers in the island’s 10,000-year history.  I was born in the United States but the blood in my veins is 100 percent Cypriot. My parents, their parents and on back to the mid-1800s, were all from small villages in North Cyprus that were inhabited by Greek farmers and shepherds. I haven’t been able to trace back to the 1700s, but it would be highly unlikely that we have a rogue relative from Norway or South America. As time has marched on, I have decided that I would have to be dead not to feel the pull Cyprus has on me. I was born and raised in America, but I also strongly identify with Cyprus and my Cypriot heritage.

Having said all that, I also have to be careful. I am an Americanized version of my Cypriot relatives. I look like them, but as soon as I appear and open my mouth, they can see and hear the American in me – from the way I dress to how I pronounce my Greek. I have to make sure I don’t pass myself off as a native. I don’t tell people I lived there (I haven’t) or that I experienced the 1974 invasion (I didn’t) or that I know my way around the island (I don’t). But that doesn’t stop me from feeling the connection. The island is where all my roots are. I just have to keep it real.

 

Loukia Borrell is a former journalist and the author of two books, Raping Aphrodite and Delicate Secrets. Both books are available on Amazon and BN.com. She lives in Virginia with her husband and their three children.