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A Racial Healing: An Open Letter to Rachel Dolezal

06/16/2015 12:50 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2016

You are my sister. Not because you're black, white or in-between, but because you are a fellow card-carrying member of the human race.

In your first name, Rachel, we see letters that make up the word "race." In that name we also see letters that form the word "heal." Your story -- though not what you consciously intended -- is offering all who come across it an opportunity for racial healing. And with healing will come evolution. Your personal performance of race, your unusual act of "going Other" (my play on the phrase "going Native"), prompts all of us to ask a new set of questions (new being of course relative -- the new is never actually new or wholly original -- it always arises from something/somewhere that's already been).

So kudos to you because a change in the racial landscape -- and by extension a change in the lingering and serious matter of racism -- will only come about through prioritizing a different set of questions than we have been asking so far. Questions like, What are the parameters of race and can it be measured or quantified?

The hubbub that's ensued as a result of your choice is also shedding light on the tyranny of human categorization. It's high time we examined both of these overlapping matters. For your role in this new development, for your catalyzing new lines of conversation, I thank you.

I witness the judgment you are experiencing; the outrage being projected onto you from some quarters; the not so kind laughter; the punitive policing of your chosen identity; the public shaming. Times like this, people forget there's a living, breathing, vulnerable human being at the other end of the discourse. Monica Lewinski said it aptly in her recent Ted Talk when she said, "Never judge a person until you've walked a mile in their headline."

I hope you will learn whatever you are meant to from this, and that you will submit to the fires of personal transformation and thereby experience redemption. Any huge upheaval in our lives carries an equally huge test in life's classroom, replete with a key set of lessons we are meant to learn. And then, to parse Oprah, once we know better, we do better. Perhaps this situation will help you come home to yourself, plug you more deeply into your own socket, and connect you to a deeper love of yourself. Perhaps you are meant to question more thoroughly what it is, for you, to occupy your "True Place." Where would you be standing if you were immersed in your personal authenticity -- and your greatness -- as a human being?

Where does your authenticity truly lie? Because living in alignment with who we truly are not only sets us free, but also enables us to fly. What many fail to understand, however, is that only we ourselves can ascertain the location of our "True Place." Only we ourselves can discern whether we are in alignment or not, and what our soul's deepest truth is. It's not for others to determine, regulate, or patrol who we are. But nor can we take on an identity for egotistic reasons and expect to walk away unscathed. I don't pretend to know your motivations for making this choice, but I do find myself deeply curious, and I look forward to hearing whatever you will choose to share with the public about it.

Meanwhile, your suffering, your crisis, your "outing" is offering you a wonderful opportunity to grow and expand as a human being. I expect -- and I hope -- you will become a better person for all this. And at the same time, as a testament to your intrinsic power and glory just as you already are, without even trying to, you have wound up offering our society an opportunity to learn something we are desperately needing to learn -- namely about the social-constructedness, the infinite complexity, and the elusive, slippery quality of race.

You now have been offered a new beginning, a chance to re-create yourself more masterfully -- to become a person whose life is founded upon premises of honesty, integrity, and sound judgment. Maybe for you, standing in your personal truth includes the choice to remain black, and if so I fully honor that. But it will serve you well that now you can be whomever you choose to be in the absence of the spiral of deceit, the elaborate web of lies you chose to spin in order to perform and ramp up your version of blackness. I pray you are able to heal and recalibrate that part of yourself.

At the same time, you have offered those of us who have stumbled upon your story an opportunity to raise our own vibration, by which I mean to become bigger and better people ourselves.

This is true in that when we point a finger at someone else, three fingers point back at us. We point at you because your "difference" and "unusualness" jars us and we don't have a way to process it. We don't understand what would compel choices like yours, and so we judge. We draw conclusions based on our own profoundly limited understanding. And we draw conclusions about you without simultaneously drawing equally important (and frankly equally damning) conclusions about ourselves.

Undoubtedly, most of what we are concluding about you is just plain wrong because most of us are so busy trying to teach you something rather than learn something from you. And even if your choice to be black is less a show of freedom, courage and soul-level authenticity, and more a matter of emotional instability, low self-esteem and general misguidedness, the three fingers pointing back at the rest of us still stand and they beg for further examination.

The truth is that we as a society are complicit in your decision to become black. Here are the three fingers pointing back at us:

1. Our society is guilty of clinging to ridiculously outmoded and essentialist paradigms of race and identity. It's only our ideas about race that enable a story like yours to happen, much less become news. Even more troubling, our ideas about race are more sacred to us as a society than your very humanity. As a society we have no problem deriding and vilifying you for pretending to be black, while completely annihilating your character and dismissing you as a fellow human being. We uphold race, and yet we fail to be even the slightest bit humanitarian. The truth is that it's the racial paradigms themselves that are the problem, not the intrepid border-crossers such as you.

We would do well to look at ourselves looking at you and observe just how judgmental, reactionary and downright mean we can be. We should be asking ourselves if we have it within us to open our hearts and our minds. For we can choose compassion, and we can do so even if you do seem, to many of us, a little "tweaked" and more than a little misguided.

2. Some get extremely upset, threatened and offended when racial borders get crossed. Why, I wonder. What are we secretly getting out of being categorized, even if we are categorized as "Other"? Are we "Others" afraid it will be discovered that there are actually advantages to being "Other"? That even though racism is for sure alive and well, at the same time our identities are not purely a matter of multiple jeopardies and intersecting oppressions and spectrums of disadvantage?

Is it that we don't want our covers blown, that we ourselves would never want to be white if we were honest about it? Is it because for all the attention we pay to "their" power and "our" powerlessness, we secretly feel superior and cling to the ironic power that lies in our victimhood? Do we assess ourselves as more innocent? Do we assess ourselves as more morally righteous? And is one of the main reasons we wouldn't want to be white actually because we would never want to be situated at the other end of our own demonization of whites and whiteness? With harsh narratives circulating about white hegemony (or "whiteheterosexualpatriarchy," as bell hooks dubbed it), it's not hard to imagine why one impressionable white person would flee from that identity.

3. We live in a society that prioritizes what we look like in ridiculous proportions, especially for those of the female persuasion. Many of us "misrepresent," craft, curate and edit our external presentation of self to be more acceptable, to call forth advantages, to be more impressive, to be more dazzling. We make choices daily as to how to self-express and how to show up in the world with regards to our appearance.

It's normal and accepted to try to look 20 years younger than we actually are (is this not a form of passing?). It's normal and accepted to try and look more attractive through make-up, clothing, adornments and even through surgery. Through various means we choose to be curlier, straighter, darker, lighter, smoother, curvier, thinner, taller. I'm not saying this is "the same" as performing a different racial identity, because obviously it's not. But America is in a deep state of un-health about every aspect of our bodies. Rachel, you took the collective dis-ease around our bodies to a greater extreme than most of us do, but I don't think your transformation of self is as dramatically different as many of us would make it out to be. It's different only insomuch as we have as a society put an extraordinary, and I daresay a disproportionate amount of stock in the matter of race.

Rachel, like a vortex swirling around you, drawing so many of us into your personal drama, you have conjured up a potent socio-cultural teaching moment. Certainly we have all collectively been corralled by your story into a cosmic classroom on the topic of race. Will we absorb the lesson? Will we grow? Will we actually apply ourselves to our studies? Will we break free of our shackles? Will we evolve? We will have to unlearn much of what we thought we already knew if we are to ultimately pass this course. And if we are to get a passing grade, excuse the pun, we will have to take our gaze off of you and put it where it rightly belongs, on we ourselves.

I offer you strength and support as you undergo the spectacle you have found yourself at the epicenter of. It can't be comfortable, the position you're in, with our society's knee-jerk, objectifying, and unloving reactions to other people's life choices. And with our society's lack of compassion for people's legitimate foibles and missteps, as if we don't have flaws of our own that we would do well to identify and do something about.

I send you unconditional love, the beaming light of the sun, and the peace that passes all understanding,

Naomi Pabst