Recently it was revealed that a Spokane NAACP officer and Africana Studies professor named Rachel Dolezal has been pretending to be black for nearly a decade, according to her Caucasian birth parents. It's an unusual and polarizing story, but not one without precedent. On a number of occasions in American history, individuals of a number of races have claimed or implied that they were actually of another race. And there’s an even longer history of individuals of differing races altering their names, skin color, and hair to succeed in America. The individuals that preceded Dolezal in “passing” have done so for a variety of reasons. Some have done it to prove a point, some did it to get jobs, and at least one of them was just really into jazz. We’ve collected the most interesting stories of people pretending to be another race on this list to hopefully shine some more light on the subject.
The story about Dolezal pretending to be black for the last 10 years has created a massive outpouring of spite and confusion from people across the spectrum. Most people are just trying to understand why someone would be so deceptive. No one knows whether Dolezal's alleged "passing" was done in good faith or whether, like some of her predecessors in scandal, she decided to falsify an identity to advance her own interests.
Read on to learn more about these people who pretended to be other races. Included below are Dolezal, a white Texas politician who pretended to be black to gain votes, Mindy Kaling's brother (yes, really!), and the American Indian Chief who probably first inspired you to recycle.
On the morning of June 12, 2015 it seemed like the world stopped when it was revealed that an NAACP leader in Spokane, WA, Rachel Dolezal, had allegedly been pretending to be black for yeeeeears. Also, people were kind of shocked that Spokane had its own branch of the NAACP.
In April of 2015, Mindy Kaling's older brother revealed that he supposedly got into medical school by changing his race from Indian to African American. On his website he said, “In my junior year of college, I realized that I didn’t have the grades or test scores to get into medical school, at least not as an Indian-American. Still, I was determined to become a doctor and I knew that admission standards for certain minorities under affirmative action were, let’s say… less stringent?” We're going to need a bigger YIKES.
In November 2017, the media began reporting on a Tampa resident who goes by Ja Du. Born white under the name Adam Wheeler, Ja Du says he identifies as transracial and considers himself Filipino. He drives a tuk tuk around the citiy, and speaks about how he feels most at home when engaging with Filipino culture:
"Whenever I’m around the music, around the food, I feel like I’m in my own skin... I’d watch the History Channel, sometimes for hours... you know, nothing else intrigued me more but things about Filipino culture."
Ja Du doesn't consider how he's living appropriation; he says he doesn't want to take advantage of anyone.
C. B. Cebulski
C. B. Cebulski became Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics on November 27, 2017. One day later, Bleeding Cool published a piece revealing how Cebulski had written comics for Marvel for years, under the assumed name Akira Yoshida.
People had suspected Yoshida was a pseudonym for a while, though Cebulski always said he was a real person when asked. According to the stories, Yoshida was Japanese, but became involved in the world of American comics after going to fan conventions. Apparently Yoshida was devised as a way for Cebulski to write comics for his employer while simultaneously working as an editor, a practice outlawed by Marvel.