Critical Conversations: Rachel Dolezal’s little black lie and the ethics of truth telling
WASHINGTON, June 15, 2015 — Declaring that leaving her place with the NAACP will not stop her fight for racial and social justice, Rachel Dolezal resigned as president of the Spokane, Wash., NAACP Monday.
Dolezal gained national notoriety last week after her parents went public with the fact the Dolezal is white and is misrepresenting herself as black or mixed-race. Her adopted brother, who is black, equated Dolezal’s intentional efforts to change her appearance to “blackface,” the use of makeup by a white actor to portray a black person, usually in a mocking way.
Supporters noted that Dolezal brought positive changes to the Spokane NAACP. She increased membership transparency and improved the organization’s finances.
Others dismissed the issue, noting that there is no requirement that NAACP employees be black and that having a white person head the organization only emphasizes that the NAACP is relevant across racial lines.
Neither race nor competence is the true issue here. The simple, non-debatable issue is that Rachel Dolezal lied.
Dolezal lied on official forms, she lied to her colleagues, she lied to the media and she lied to her employer. She intentionally, with forethought, lied to all of us.
Her lie is the only thing that matters.
Or is it?
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Suppose someone lied about his Vietnam experience. Does that matter?
Democratic Connecticut senate candidate Richard Blumenthal lied about serving in Vietnam. His challenger, Republican Linda McMahon, in this new ad, reminds Connecticut voters about Blumenthal’s self-aggrandizement.
“We have learned something very important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” declared Blumenthal in 2008, “and you exemplify it. Whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it, Afghanistan or Iraq, we owe our military men and women unconditional support.”
Richard Blumenthal was in the Marine Reserves and never served in Vietnam. He received five deferments to avoid going to war between 1965 and 1970, then volunteered and went into boot camp, and then the reserves in 1970. (Richard Blumenthal lied, and it should matter -The Daily Caller)
What if your parents lied to you about your racial identity?
It’s a story which many might find far-fetched: a biracial black woman led to believe most of her life that she was a white Jewish woman.
However, this very thing happened to filmmaker Lacey Schwartz, and she is telling her remarkable story in a documentary titled “Little White Lie,” which is making its way through the film festival circuit — most recently the BlackStar Film Festival in Philadelphia, where she was on hand to talk about the film. (‘Little White Lie’: New documentary explores biracial woman’s quest on racial identity -= The Grio)
At the heart of our ad-saturated democratic process is a moral paradox. Politicians raise and spend billions of dollars to convince us to trust them with the responsibility of governing us. But (as I argued in an earlier post) the fevered competition for votes almost compels them to lie to us. Because lying inevitably undermines trust, including citizens’ trust in their leaders and in government generally, we have cause to worry about the increasing dishonesty of political campaigns. For leaders distrusted by their constituents cannot hope to unify them behind efforts to tackle the urgent problems afflicting our communities, states, and nation. (The Cost of Deceptive Politics – Huffington Post)
In her Ted Talk, Pamela Meyer (LieSpotting) says we need to go from lie-spotting to truth-seeking. Meyer’s number one truth about lying is that lying is a cooperative act. Did the NAACP choose not to see Dolezal’s “whiteness,” or did the NAACP see her qualifications and not care?
Speaking of political liars, Ranker.com ranks them. Their placement in the poll changes, but the top 10 are pretty consistent (story continued beneath poll).
Richard Nixon lost the presidency after lying to the American public over Watergate. Bill Clinton remained in office after he lied about Monica Lewinsky.
Former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and his wife are serving prison time for doing favors in exchange for gifts. And they stood before cameras and proclaimed their innocence. Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is serving a 14-year sentence for soliciting bribes for political appointments. He also lied, denying his involvement and covering up his actions.
Most recently, Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert pleaded not guilty to charges he paid hush money to cover up wrongdoing in his past and then lied to the FBI. (Dennis Hastert pleads not guilty to lying to FBI about hush money – Chicago Tribune).
Yet in our daily lives, we often misrepresent the truth, in both little and big ways.
The question, again, is does lying matter? Is it OK to lie on a job application, when you fill out those mandatory census bureau forms, to your boss when you claim you were sick, not at the baseball game?
Does the little white lie matter to our children? To our spouses? To our friends?
Or have we become a society where lying is OK—as long as you can get away with it?