Rachel Dolezal may have been the most audacious person to ever attempt to pass herself off as black, but she certainly was not the first. Here is a brief history of people, white and otherwise, pretending to be black.
1959: John Howard Griffin
Griffin, a white man, wrote a well-regarded book titled Black Like Me, in which he darkened his skin in order to pose as a black man in the segregated South. Griffin underwent medical procedures—including taking pills, grilling himself under a lamp and rubbing a stain into his body—in order to change the color of his skin.
“In the flood of light against white tile, the face and shoulders of a stranger,” he writes, “a fierce, bald, very dark Negro glared at me from the glass. He in no way resembled me … I had expected to see myself disguised, but this was something else. I was imprisoned in the flesh of an utter stranger, an unsympathetic one with whom I had no kinship … I looked into the mirror and saw reflected nothing of the white John Griffin’s past. No, the reflections led back to Africa, back to the shanty and the ghetto, back to the fruitless struggles against the mark of blackness.”
Griffin ended up paying a physical toll for writing his book: several years after it was published, he was stopped on the side of a road with a flat tire when a group of white men came upon him and beat him with fists and chains.
1990: Vanilla Ice
Vanilla Ice became a sensation specifically because he was white, but, man, he really did not want to be white. The man born Robert Matthew Van Winkle got himself a fade and concocted a backstory that was, at best, partly embellished to make him seem more, uh, authentic than he really was. Via a People article from 1990:
Touring (until Dec. 18) as the opening act for M.C. Hammer, Ice still loses his cool when critics suggest that his fast success has more to do with pale skin than cool raps. “It’s not about skin color,” he insists. “Rap is from the streets and I’m from the streets. That’s why a lot of people accept me.”
Well, that’s the gospel according to Ice, who has said that he was a poor street kid, won three pro motocross titles, went to the same Miami high school as 2 Live Crew’s Luther Campbell and nearly died after that knife fight in ritzy Coral Gables, Fla. Others who know him, however, tell of a well-off kid named Robby Van Winkle who spent many of his teen years in Texas, won motocross trophies only on the amateur circuit and drove a white IROC Camaro Z28 in high school.
2001: Jordan Sargent
In seventh grade I wore red Sean John terry cloth shorts.
2011: Gwyneth Paltrow
Here is an advertisement campaign that Gwyneth Paltrow, daughter of beloved white actress Blythe Danner, participated in four years ago:
Gwyneth Paltrow is not African.
2011: Chet Haze
The son of incredibly famous white person Tom Hanks desperately wanted to be black long before he bravely defended his right to use the n-word. In 2011, he remixed Wiz Khalifa’s hit “Black and Yellow,” rapping, “White kicks/ Purple kush/ This is college, hittin’ blunts after hittin’ books.” Alas, his name will always be “Chet.”
2012: Iggy Azalea
Iggy Azalea became a superstar thanks to her 2014 single “Fancy,” but the rapper raised in Mullumbimby, Australia was trying to convince you that she actually grew up in Atlanta as early as 2012, when she rapped like a person whose mouth was full of mashed potatoes on her breakthrough song “Pu$$y.”
2013: Dave Wilson
Two years ago, a man named Dave Wilson won a seat on the Houston Community College Board, beating a 24-year incumbent in what was considered a major upset. Here, via Politico, were some of Wilson’s campaign strategies:
The anti-gay activist printed mailers for his campaign featuring pictures of African-Americans that said, “Please vote for our friend and neighbor Dave Wilson.” The pictures came from the Internet, Wilson said.
He also included a line on the mailer that said he was endorsed by Ron Wilson, the name of a longtime African-American state representative from Houston. The Ron Wilson mentioned on the mailer, however, is Dave Wilson’s cousin, he wrote in fine print.
Dave Wilson is white.
2015: Twitter Trolls
Random white people on the internet have been pretending to be black probably since its invention, but it reached its nadir earlier this year when Twitter racists pretended to be black people looting Baltimore under the hashtag #BaltimoreLootCrew.
2015: Vijay Chokalingam
Earlier this year, Vijay Chokalingam, the brother of Indian-American actress Mindy Kaling, bragged about getting into medical school in the late-90s by saying he was black. He probably should not have done this.
Who did I miss? Please let me know in the comments.