You mean I'm gonna stay this color? This was the question Navin Johnson asked his mother as he came to realize that he might have been adopted. His identity had been shaped by those around him, not by his reflection in the mirror. As far as Navin was concerned, he was "born a poor black child." You might say that he identified as black. You might also say that Navin Johnson was a jerk. You might say that Navin was judging himself not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character. Navin's story is the dream within the dream.
What is the story of Rachel Dolzeal? In an interview with Matt Lauer on Tuesday's Today show, she reasserted that she "identifies as black." As the chat progressed, Ms. Dolzeal made the distinction between black and African-American. She continued this tack by explaining, “I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon." I could identify with some of that, except back when I opened my big box of Crayola and was drawing a self-portrait, I went looking for the "flesh" colored crayon. It was 1962 when Crayola changed the name of that particular shade to "peach." I was using an old box of crayons, admittedly, but I remember wondering what I might do if I were to draw myself with a sunburn. Or some of my friends who weren't so "peachy."
And all of this would be anecdotal rememberings or brand-name nostalgia if not for the fact that up until last week, Rachel Dolzeal was the president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP. That would be the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She resigned because her parents chose to kick up a little fuss about their daughter misrepresenting herself. They say they come from a long line of truth-tellers. The crayon story, as well as stories about being born in a teepee and growing up hunting with a bow and arrow did not meet that standard.
Still, I find myself wondering, as I did back in my Crayola days, about what it means to be "white." I'm not Casper, after all. More Richie Rich. If the truth were told? I can also remember coloring myself in with blue and green, from time to time. Sometimes it was because my peach was all used up, and sometimes I just liked to pretend that I had aquamarine skin. It's all a part of the dream.