Richmond Day

Historian Laura Ackley speaks at the Richmond Museum of History.

Above: Historian Laura Ackley speaks at the Richmond Museum of History.


By Keisa Reynolds

It’s been a century since Richmond was honored at a world’s fair in San Francisco, and 110 years since the city was incorporated on August 7, 1905.

To celebrate the combined anniversaries — and the opening of a new permanent exhibit recognizing the fair — the Richmond Museum of History held a special event this year that included musical performances, a lecture and featured architectural historian Laura Ackley, an expert on the Panama-Pacific International Exposition — the fair that first honored the city — and author of “San Francisco’s Jewel City: the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

The PPIE was primarily a celebration of the opening of the Panama Canal. But, for businessmen and city officials, it was also a way to help San Francisco recover after the devastating 1906 earthquake. The fair opened on February 1915, and hosted 19 million attendees throughout its ten-month duration.

On August 7, 1915, around 3,000 Richmond residents ferried to San Francisco for Richmond Day, an event to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the city’s incorporation. Among the crowd, were children who were let out of school for the day to see the parade, and sing the Star Spangled Banner at the Liberty Bell, which was “visiting” the city for the occasion.

In addition to celebration and fun, many hoped the fair would bring more people and investments to the Bay Area. There were guidebooks on hand and trips given around the region, including to parts of East Bay.

“They wanted settlers, [saying], ‘We need people to buy land. We need people to come and invest in our state,” Ackley said. “I expect the same was with Richmond.”

And according to some experts, it worked.

“The exposition did a lot for the city of San Francisco,” said Evelyn Santos, a museum technician. “Back in the day, expositions were a big deal. People went to learn about the latest craze including technology, public transportation and fashion.”

After discovering a trove of items related to the fair in inventory, Richmond museum staff decided to open a PPIE related exhibit to commemorate the 100th anniversary. The exhibit is in the permanent gallery.

“[The exposition] helped recognize us,” Santos said. “The city was fairly new, and by ten years, Richmond had grown exponentially. It was a cool way to say, ‘We are here and representing our city.’”

Over 80,000 exhibiters with over a million objects, not including the art galleries, showed off their wares at the fair. Some of these, which Ackley describes as treasures, can be found in Richmond’s exhibit. Attendees will find glass jewels, ribbons, pins, fabric, postcards and other souvenirs.

For Santos, the PPIE exhibit brings to life people during that time. “It reminds me of an amusement park and how exciting it must have been to be there,” said Santos.


Richmond’s history museum is open Wednesday through Friday from 1 to 4 pm. Admission is a dollar for students and free for children under 12.

Those interested can also visit California Historical Society and HistoryPin’s online exhibit, Mapping San Francisco’s 1915 World’s Fair. Other remnants of the fair can be found around the Bay Area.

Rosie the Riveter – Still Inspiring Women in Richmond


Story, Nancy DeVille | Photos, David Meza

They came from all over the Bay Area. Hundreds of women in navy blue coveralls, knee high red socks, black work boots and red and white polka dot bandannas. All to be a part of history and pay homage to the woman known as Rosie the Riveter.

The Rosie lookalikes gathered at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park to attempt to break a Guinness Book world record for the most Rosies gathered in one place since World War II. The previous record of 776 Rosies was set in Ypsilanti, Mich. last year.

For Yenni Velazquez, the Rosie rally was an opportunity to educate her seven-year-old daughter Yennell, who met one of the original Rosies at the event.

The original Rosies were workers at Richmond’s Kaiser shipyards who took jobs during World War II that were traditionally held by men. They earned the nickname Rosie the Riveter and worked as buckers, welders and electricians. The Rosies are renowned for redefining the women’s role in the workplace and inspiring women of all ages.

“The minute we got out of the car it felt like we were part of a scene back in the ‘40s, because there were Rosies everywhere,” Velazquez said. “It empowered my daughter for her to hear one of the original Rosies tell her, ‘You can do anything you want to do.’”

Ellen Seskin, a Richmond resident, said the event brought together a diverse group of women. “For just a few hours, there weren’t black women and white women and Asian women, old women and young women,” she said. “We were all just Rosie the Riveter, [coming] together for a common cause, just as I imagine the real Rosies did.”

Guinness must still validate the head count and ensure the women were dressed in the official Rosie attire before the record is official. But Rosie officials believe the record was broken because they sold more than 800 of the famed polka dot bandannas before the rally. During the event, organizers announced that 1,084 attended.

“It was important for me to get involved for something that was bringing positivity to Richmond,” added Velazquez. “We have some pretty awesome women that can come together and break a world record. It gave me hope that we can get together and continue to bring out the best in Richmond.”

Anna Deavere Smith Takes on School-to-Prison Pipeline


Review, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Many students may not have heard of the “school-to-prison pipeline,” but they experience the reality up close. It is a series of steps the criminal justice and education system are taking to over-police, criminalize and punish students of color, specifically black and Latino students. This could include funding police presence in schools instead of providing therapists and counselors; resorting to suspensions and expulsions rather than mediation; expanding juvenile halls instead of improving public schools; or stereotyping certain students as “problem students”- a label that becomes racialized and near impossible for the student to shed.

Playwright, actress, documentarian and MacArthur “genius” award winner Anna Deavere Smith–known for bringing American testimonies to the stage–fixes her gaze on the this pipeline – and asks what we as the public can do about it.

The creator of critical works including Twilight and Fires in the Mirror (both of which highlighted racism in the United States), continues her investigation into the American condition reckoning with racism with her newest performance, Notes From The Field: Doing Time in Education, now playing at the Berkeley Rep. In this play, Smith utilizes her process of finding individuals closest to the narrative, interviewing and filming them, studying their mannerisms, memorizing their words, and ultimately, curating a showcase of those voices. In Notes From the Field, Smith filled Berkeley Rep with more than 20 testimonies from people impacted by criminal justice and education.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counselor of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, opens the performance, offering a frame by which inequities in education have skyrocketed in the U.S. Contrary to popular belief, the United States is investing in an infrastructure, says Ifill. According to Ifill, the nation chooses to invest the way it responds to poverty and low-achieving students by focusing on extreme disciplinary measures and expanding prisons and its role in schools. Smith’s inclusion of this view encourages the audience to view the school-to-prison pipeline and mass incarceration as systemic and implicating all.

From there, the school-to-prison pipeline is an entry point to larger discussion on the state of education, the violence done to and felt by people of color, institutional racism, and America’s current investment in mass incarceration. Among the voices featured in Notes from the Field are Arnold Perkins, former director of the Alameda County Public Health Department; Michael Tubbs, councilmember of Stockton, Calif.; Kevin Moore, a Baltimore resident who filmed police abusing Freddie Gray; Linda Wayman, principal of a school in Philadelphia; and Stephanie Williams, an emotional support teacher in Philadelphia whose intensely emotional account of comforting an 11-year-old moved the audience to tears. Smith closed her show with a profound reflection from James Baldwin commenting on the grief that exists in humanity.

Yet, Smith was not the singular force of the show. At intermission, she organized facilitated discussion groups for the audience. In these discussion groups, theater facilitators asked participants to imagine a world where the school-to-prison pipeline was completely solved. Participants offered solutions to reforming criminal justice. Mentoring, volunteering at schools, donating to civil rights organizations, and participating in efforts to reform mass incarceration were all voiced ideas. During intermission, participants could tweet their own commitments and ideas to reforming criminal justice and mass incarceration. Tweets included “I commit to be more alert to detecting ways class and race assumptions distort the classroom experience of my students” and “I commit to writing my elected officials in support of increased funding for mental health and public education.”

Smith’s testimonies engaged with the audience so deeply on racism, police brutality, and the injustice of the American dream, that the energy at the end of the show was palpable, leaving all marked by the experience of a tremendous performance that required all to consider their own role in reforming oppressive systems.

If You Go: Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education, The California Chapter runs through Aug. 2 at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley.

For more info visit



The Night My View of Richmond Changed


By Ronvel Sharper, age 16 ­|Photos by Ann Bassette

On July 17, 2015, I joined about a hundred other people taking to Richmond’s streets for a Ceasefire night walk through neighborhoods impacted by gun violence. The weekly walks are the community’s attempt to lessen shootings in the city. Each week a couple of dozen regulars come out to walk in support of the cause, but the walk this week was different—it was the first of two larger citywide walks and, on a personal note, it was the first time I took part in something like this.

One of the first things that struck me was the diverse group of people participating, including Blacks, Whites, Latinos and Asians, all holding signs promoting peace. I felt as if we were all a part of one huge family, as if we are all indirectly related. It was empowering and made me feel as if I could contribute more to my community.

The atmosphere was positive; everyone was chatting with one another, singing, playing instruments and having a good time. As we walked, we chanted, “Ceasefire, Richmond” and, “Alive and Free.” Throughout our walk countless drivers responded to our “Honk for Peace” signs, signifying their support for our cause.

I was astonished to see people in cars waving and cheering for us. Going into this, I thought no one would have cared and would have just driven past. But they did care and hearing them blare their horns was breathtaking. The support they showed opened my eyes to the kind of people that live here in Richmond. There were people talking and hanging out, no one was alone or being a loner. Everyone was happy. They exhibited a different future for Richmond as a happier place to be.

Equally significant to what we chanted was where we were when we chanted, as Tamisha Walker, a frequent Ceasefire participant and founder of the Safe Return Project, a nonprofit that helps people in the area coming out of jail or prison, pointed out.

“We start in North Richmond and it’s really important to walk through Las Deltas projects to show folks that we’re around and we’re here for folks,” she said.

“Then to cross under the train tracks into the Iron Triangle, right in heart of Richmond, and be able to run into folks who’ve lived in Richmond honking and saying, ‘Thank you, we really need this’…and be able connect Richmond to say, ‘We can cross these barriers and feel safe,’ it was just amazing.”

Leaving the experience, I feel as if Ceasefire walks make a difference in the community, or at least can in the future. The sheer number of participants signifies that people are willing to make a change.

Luckily, I wouldn’t say the violence in Richmond has affected me directly, but before this I always thought that no one would help. That if something did happen, you and a small group of friends would have to tackle it alone. Participating in this event has shown me otherwise. Being a part of the walk has opened my eyes to what Richmond can be, if we continue these nonviolent events. Richmond can be a peaceful, safe and friendly community—a town with a bad past, and overall horrible environment, can become a safe and beautiful place.

At this rate, I think, it’s only a matter of time before Richmond becomes a city no longer plagued by a bad reputation and negative stereotypes. Perhaps in Richmond we will see a prime example of the powerful impact people can make when they come together and push for change.


Catahoula Coffee Hosts Customer Appreciation Event


Photo Essay, David Meza

Catahoula Coffee, a local go-to caffeine spot in Richmond since 2008, opened its doors last Sunday to say, “thanks,” to its many loyal patrons with a customer appreciation day.

The 6th annual, “Party in the Parking Lot,” featured free coffee, live music, classic cars and furry friends. In appreciation of its patrons, the locally owned coffee shop also dished out free hot dogs and other yummy snacks, including a fan favorite: Japanese Mochi Bread, made at its sister location in Berkeley.

To many in Richmond, Catahoula is close to the heart simply because it’s close to home. The shop’s owner, Tim Manhart said he started the event to celebrate the community and its support of local businesses.

DSC_0164“If you’re going to have a business, you might as well have fun with it,” Manhart said, at the event.

Among the local businesses present was Urban Tilth, a non-profit gardening organization that is expanding its retail portion, offering deep cleansing soap bars with used Catahoula coffee grounds in the ingredient list. Also embracing community, by selling local honey, was the owner of Richmond Gold and Vice President of the Alameda County Beekeeper Association, Catherine Edwards.

“This is great stop on a bike ride,” said local photographer Mindy Pines as she stopped by the event for a bag of coffee beans.

A family favorite of the day was the Little Explorers Petting Zoo featuring Kanga the rabbit, Duchess the pig and Bella the goat.

Adam and Jinny Pagle, of Pagle Homestead, who grow food and sell custom planter boxes and homemade jam, have been bringing their children to Catahoula for years. The couple said they admire the friendly atmosphere and like many others, enjoy the company of neighbors while supporting a thriving local business.


Khalid’s Corner: Escaping


by Khalid Elahi


Why does letting go of the hood seem like the hardest thing for some people to do?

The attraction to SELF DESTRUCTION, the interest in the SHINE and the fascination with the ILLITERATE, is unbelievable to me.

To watch the best of the best go down a path and get murdered brings me to a question, “What makes you think you can walk that path and survive it?”

Some say there is love, loyalty and dedication in the hood. I say that’s a lie.

I saw the most disloyal, undedicated, hateful cats in the hood. It is a dream eraser and a life taker. A producer of lies, deceit, fraud, weakness, pain and sorrow.

Young people, if you get a chance to leave the hood — not by ambulance or coroner’s car but by education or occupation — then leave.

Leave to gain experience and success. If later you want to, then come back and help strengthen your hood.

This world is bigger than the block.

Banh Mi: The Rise of the Vietnamese Sandwich

Since the Vietnam War ended 40 years ago, Vietnamese have shared much of their culture with the larger world. But many of us who fled as refugees could not have imagined that the Vietnamese sandwich, bánh mì, would one day become an international sandwich sensation, a culinary wonder of our globalized age.

Today it has spread from Saigon to California and from there to the rest of the planet. Every city in North America now has its own bánh mì shop or chain: Bánh Mì Saigon in New York, Bun Mee in San Francisco, BONMi in Washington, DC, Bánh Mì Bá Get in Chicago, Bánh Mì Boys in Toronto. Bánh mì is standard food truck fare from San Diego to Boston. Yum! Brands, owner of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, has opened Bánh Shop fast-food outlets in Dallas.

South of the border in Mexico City is a bright red and yellow bánh mì food truck called Ñham Ñham. Shops and chains have sprung up everywhere else; in London there is Kêu!, Bánhmì11, and, next to St. Paul’s Cathedral, Banh Mi Bay. Among the options in Shanghai is Mr. V, whose menu includes the Obscene Double Triple—bánh mì with headcheese, Vietnamese sausage, and peppercorn terrine; in Singapore, you can try Bánh Mì 888; one of the busiest in Tokyo is a place simply called Bánh Mì Sandwich.

But what is a Bánh mì’?

It is an airy French baguette with a thin crunchy crust that could contain a cornucopia of roast chicken or pork, homemade pâté, cured ham, headcheese, a mélange of pickled daikon radish and carrot, slices of cucumber and chili pepper, a generous sprinkling of cilantro leaves, a few dashes of Maggi sauce, and a spread of mayonnaise. At once spicy, salty, sour, savory, sweet, and aromatic: a bite into a well stacked bánh mì is always a moment of rapture.

Bánh mì’s origins, as its architectural foundation indicates, of course, are in France. The French arrived in Vietnam initially as missionaries in the seventeenth century and established colonial control of Vietnam in 1887 with the formation of La Fédération Indochinoise. The French brought their language and their food, including eventually the baguette, the long thin loaf of bread that became popular in France in the early twentieth century. Growing up in Hanoi my grandmother called it bánh tây, literally Western-style bread. By the 1950s the Vietnamese started to tinker with it and, signaling Vietnamese appropriation of the baguette, started calling it bánh mì—simply, wheat bread. Some recipes called for a mix of rice flour with the wheat flour. The aim was to make it fluffier than the French baguette, allowing it to be easily stuffed with Vietnamese delights.

Bánh mì has long been a food staple of the working poor. Bánh mì stalls and carts are everywhere in the streets of Vietnam, providing simple and delicious sustenance, typically for breakfast or the midday meal, to the masses. It was street food long before street food became an obsession with foodies—in those days, some well-to-do Vietnamese shunned street vendors out of concern about typhoid fever and other illnesses. Ingredients like the sweet, crunchy fresh vegetables and pungent herbs and spices are what make the bánh mì Vietnamese. An essential component of the Vietnamese way is Maggi sauce, a Swiss-made savory seasoning introduced by the French.

The Vietnamese sandwich could be found in the communities of Vietnamese students and émigrés in France from the 1950s onwards. The traiteur Hoa Nam in the thirteenth arrondissement of Paris has been selling bánh mì wrapped in wax paper for years, although the foodie trend in bánh mì is now evident in bobo (bourgeois and bohemian) spots on the Right Bank like Saigon Sandwich and Bulma.

But it was the mass exodus of Vietnamese with the Fall of Saigon in 1975 that propelled the Vietnamese sandwich on its way to global stardom. In no time, refugees in the United States were opening Vietnamese restaurants, bakeries, and delicatessens, offering up all the dishes from the homeland—including bánh mì—for fellow refugees and curious American diners alike.

Some trace bánh mì’s cultural migration to the sandwich’s burst of popularity in California’s Silicon Valley.

Vietnamese refugees eager to build new lives in America had flocked to the area to work in the booming high-tech industry’s assembly lines. In 1980, a man called Lê Văn Bá and his sons parked a food truck outside a computer manufacturing plant, targeting Vietnamese who couldn’t go far or spend much for lunch. Lê, a wealthy sugar merchant who had lost everything in the Communist takeover of South Vietnam, sold the cheapest fare around, including Vietnamese baguette sandwiches. It didn’t take long before bánh mì caught on with non-Vietnamese workers as well as local college students.

By 1983, Lê’s sons, Chieu and Henry, turned the success of the sandwich into Lee Bros. Foodservices, Inc.—the family Americanized their name to Lee—which today serves more than five hundred independently owned food trucks throughout northern California. The business also evolved into Lee’s Sandwiches, a fast food chain of dozens of shops selling bánh mì from San Francisco to Houston. Cathy Chaplin, author of the Food Lover’s Guide to Los Angeles, once blogged, “If there was a Lee’s Sandwiches for every McDonald’s, the world would be a better place.” Indeed, when Lê died, his obituary in the San Jose Mercury News called him the Ray Kroc of Vietnamese sandwiches.

Bánh mì’s meteoric rise in the past few years is probably best explained by a convergence of pop-culture food trends in the United States—the popularity of food trucks dishing up tasty and inventive street food, the explosion in food blogging, the phenomenal success of television cooking shows, and the advent of the celebrity chef. The bánh mì craze has produced an authority on the subject, Andrea Nguyen, a northern California writer whose blog, Viet World Kitchen, explores the culinary traditions of Vietnam as well as of Asia more broadly. She published The Bánh Mì Handbook: Recipes for Crazy-Delicious Vietnamese Sandwiches, which made National Public Radio’s list of best cookbooks of 2014.

“Vietnamese bánh mì offers a wealth of textures,” Nguyen told me. “Crispy bread! Fatty mayo and meats! Crunchy pickles! Hot chilies! Refreshing cucumber and herbs!” Nguyen attributes bánh mì’s crossover appeal to its familiarity and adaptability. “It’s pretty, not overly mysterious for people interested in exploring new cuisines,” she says. “It’s varied in fresh vegetables, light flavors, and people can more or less identify what they’re eating. Vietnamese cuisine blends East Asia with Southeast Asia, South Asia and the West. Bánh mì is the perfect hybrid.” One of her recent blog posts: “Laughing Cow Cheese Omelet Bánh Mì Recipe.”

Pauline Nguyen, owner of the Red Lantern, Sidney’s top Vietnamese restaurant, sees the bánh mì’s attraction in its exquisite taste. “Let’s face it, the traditional French baguette with jambon, a bit of fromage, and possibly some cornichon, doesn’t quite compare,” she says. “You have a beautiful balance of the sweet and piquant of pickled vegetable, the heat of chilies, and richness of the pâté and mayonnaise, along with the unctuousness of the pork terrine, the aromas of the coriander and spring onion, and of course the texture of crisp baguette.”

Just as the cheap price drew Vietnamese to bánh mì, says Minh Tsai, CEO of the Hodo Soy tofu business in Oakland, it is one of the reasons for its spreading interest among non-Vietnamese. He explains that bánh mì was quickly recognized as a bargain because Americans always perceived Vietnamese food as tasty yet inexpensive. For the same reason, he adds, phở, the Vietnamese noodle soup, likewise has become a ubiquitous dish across America.

“It was all about volume and cheap labor,” says Steve Do, among the boat people who fled Vietnam for the United States in the 1980s, who found financial success in real estate and Internet technology stocks. “I lived with bánh mì while going to high school and college, and I knew several families who worked in the business,” he told me. “Families working together making sandwiches eliminate labor cost—even underage kids make sandwiches after school to help the family out. Often the stores don’t hire anyone but Vietnamese newcomers who work under the table while still on government subsidies. It’s the refugee way, but it works.”

If bánh mì survives as common street food in Vietnam today, I imagine that some vendors would get a kick out of knowing that the Việt Kiều—Vietnamese overseas—took the sandwich on to international fame and glory.

Andrew Lam is an editor with New America Media and author of the “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora,” and “East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres.” His latest book is “Birds of Paradise Lost,” a short story collection, was published in 2013 and won a Pen/Josephine Miles Literary Award in 2014. The above essay is an excerpt from a longer version in The Cairo Review

Local Happenings July 2015

Independence Day Celebration

The City of Richmond will sponsor its annual 3rd of July Celebration from 6 to 10 p.m. on Friday, July 3 at Marina Bay Park.

The (mostly) free event will include fireworks, food, live blues music and a pay-to-play youth area. The 20-minute fireworks display will start at 9:15 pm.

For more information, call 510-620- 6793.


New Park Opening

The grand opening of Santa Fe Union Park, formerly known as the South 2nd Street Play Lot, is scheduled for noon on Saturday, July 18.

The celebration will include food, refreshments and remarks from local community leaders and members. The park, located on South Second Street between Florida Avenue and Main Avenue, has undergone a total renovation with new children’s play areas and basketball and soccer courts.

To RSVP for the grand opening event, visit of call the at 510-260-0290.


Reggae in Richmond

Reggae music will be center stage during a three-day festival coming to Richmond this month.

The Bay Area Reggae Festival is scheduled for July 17-19 at the Craneway Pavilion (1414 Harbour Way). Artists scheduled to appear include Bugle, Gyptian, Lady Saw, Romain Virgo, and Marcia Griffiths, among others. Ticket prices range from $75-$195, and will increase if purchased after July 9.

For a full list of performers or to purchase tickets, visit


New City of Richmond Mobile App

A City of Richmond app is now available for IOS devices and Android mobile phones. The app was designed to provide Richmond’s community members with one-stop access to city services and information. An informational video providing an overview of the app is accessible online from the city’s website.

The app can be downloaded for free from the Apple App Store and at Google Play.

Richmond officials would like feedback from the community on the new app, send in comments to

Native American Culture Celebrated and Displayed in Richmond

Story and Photos by Luis Cubas

Among the vibrant array of colors, the jingling of bells rang out as dancers closed into a circle at this year’s sixth annual Richmond Pow-Wow, “Dancing for Our Next Generation.” The event took place on June 20 and brought hundreds of people, of all ages, together at Wendell Park in Richmond.

“We were dancing for not only our ancestors but also for the next generation, the ones that haven’t been born yet,” said Courtney Cummings, the organizer of the event. “We dance to let them know that we are thinking about them and praying for them.”

The City of Richmond, Mayor Tom Butt’s office and anonymous donors and volunteers from the community hosted the Pow-Wow.

The event served as a celebration (and education) of Native American culture. This year’s Pow-Wow brought out dancers from Sacramento, Humboldt County, and Fresno, as well as a traditional medicine man from Montana.

“The purpose of the Pow-Wow is a social gathering for Native American communities in an urban setting,” said Cummings, who is from the northern Cheyenne Arikara Creek Tribe and an enrolled member of three affiliated tribes.

In addition to the dancing and performances, foods such as fry bread and Indian tacos were for sale at the event. There was also handmade jewelry for purchase.

Before the day was over, Mackenzie Phillips, 12, was crowned this year’s Pow-Wow Princess. She will represent Richmond for the next year at all the surrounding pow-wows and special events.

Cummings said she was pleased with the number of youth who turned out for the event. “We had more young boys in traditional regalia this year then I’ve witnessed in the last five years prior to this,” she said. “That’s a good sign that our young people have decided to follow and participate in their culture and traditional ways.

Rachel Dolezal Poses Ugly Challenges to America

Rachel Dolezal Poses Ugly Challenges to America

Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson | New America Media Posted: Jun 16, 2015


Yet the fact that she found herself unceremoniously plopped square in the middle of these controversies says less about her, than it does about the tenuous and problematic ground that issues of race, ethnicity and gender rest on. Let’s go down the list. Dolezal proudly declared herself a black woman. That’s far different than many whites who, through a mix of infatuation and identity search, latch onto what’s perceived as the hip, cool, slightly rebellious black culture. This compulsive need for some whites to identify with blacks even prompted the coining of the term “white Negro” by Norman Mailer in 1957, to describe whites who are wannabe blacks.

Dolezal took it a step further and proclaimed herself African American. That might have been the end of the story if she had just lived quietly in Spokane. But she headed a chapter of the nation’s best-known civil rights organization. This raises another question: Can a white person lead a civil rights organization that has been strongly identified throughout much of its history as a black rights advocacy organization?

The question has been fiercely debated from time immemorial. The NAACP makes it clear that it judges leadership not on the basis of color but on commitment. Fair enough, but thousands of other blacks don’t. They are adamant that black organizations should be led by blacks who supposedly bring more sensitivity, understanding, and role-model visibility and credibility to the leadership positions in these organizations. No matter how often it is pointed out that whites have played a role as supporters, initiators, and even leaders in countless fights for civil rights, this will not convince many blacks who still believe their white colleagues must be relegated to a subservient role in civil rights organizations.

Dolezal challenged that belief, not just by being something other than “African American,” but, from all accounts, being a supremely dedicated and effective leader on the hot-button issues of education, health care, criminal justice reform, hate crimes and police abuse.

Then the issue got muddied again when it was discovered that as a fine arts student at Howard University, a historically black university, she sued the school charging reverse discrimination. At the time, she was purportedly a white student. Though the suit was dismissed, it stirred the pot again on whether whites really have any case that they can be victims of racial discrimination.

Dolezal’s suit seemed to say that white people can claim discrimination when it suits them, and then deftly pivot and assume a black identity when that suits them.

The other thorny question is whether the Dolezal saga will ignite the next great debate over just who is what, when it comes to defining a person’s race, ethnicity, and, as we saw recently with formerly Bruce, now Caitlyn, Jenner, their gender. The new buzz words that almost certainly will confuse, divide, and provoke many in the coming years will be over transracialism and transgenderism. This has already sparked debate about just how someone should classify themselves for Census purposes. Many blacks have fiercely opposed the biracial designations, charging that this serves to dilute their political numbers, strength and clout.

But the speed with which the Dolezal story took flight can be directly attributed to the thirst by the mainstream media for even the slightest hint of salacious gossip, especially when it comes to race and sex. That thirst is helped along by a social media that takes giddy delight in endlessly looping any juicy tidbit of race or sex gossip faster than the speed of light. The Dolezal story was made in heaven for both types of media. This is both an exciting and dangerous trend that will become a fixture in American media from now on.

Whatever their motives, Dolezal’s family knew that they could drop a story about their daughter’s alleged racial duplicity and the media and the public would run with it. This smacks of more rank manipulation that can be rerun again and again in other situations where families want to air their dirty laundry before the public. We may have seen the last of Dolezal, with her resignation from the presidency of the Spokane NAACP, but we haven’t seen the last of the ugly challenges that her story posed to America.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. His forthcoming book is: From King to Obama: Witness to a Turbulent History (Middle Passage Press).

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