Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Uncategorized A perspective: Owning white privilege -- and fronting poverty

A perspective: Owning white privilege — and fronting poverty


Another way of looking at the media horror show that is the Rachel Dolezal story

Why did Rachel Dolezal identify as Black -- and why do some people with money identify as poor?
Why did Rachel Dolezal identify as Black — and why do some people with money identify as poor?

By Tiny

JUNE 16, 2015 — “White culture isn’t good for anyone, even white people.”

The words of my mixed-race ghetto skola mama sailed through my ears when the sci-fi horror movie called Rachel Dolezal unfolded.

As the white-skinned daughter of a mixed-race, disabled, houseless, single mama, I have always claimed my skin privilege. I have named its infiltration powers and the ways this deeply racist society, stolen by settler colonizers who look like me, have continued their legislative, education and institutional terror over every person of color.

I was taught early by my mama, and our life of struggle, that it was not only essential, but dire, that I  use every ounce of my skin privilege so me and my family could survive.

From apartments to motels to broke-down cars to jobs to customers, the implicit racialized perception of “goodness” — my “honesty” — held by this racist capitalist society was used to hustle access for us. When we did get a little bit of blood-stained dollars together, I was sent out to rent an apartment or motel room in a K-Mart suit with a rent starter kit — a story.  I was a single 25-year-old girl making $65,000 a year at a full-time job. It never failed. I would get the place.

We would run little surveys just for fun. My mama would go out and try the same thing and get heavily questioned, rejected, or just plain not called back.

The Rachel D horror show

So why was Rachel so afraid of her white-ness? Perhaps because it’s so evil, and in her twisted, fairy-tale desiring mind, she was empathing instead of owning.

Owning is hard. It means you have to swallow the hard pill of perpetration – everyday, in everything you do and walk and see and are. And yet what she might not have understood is this is the same confusion the saviors of NGO’s and non-profit industry workers and media producers, artists and actors who write, act, speak, create and profit off of poor people get.

We don’t want your fake empathing, saving, story-telling and/or helping — what we want is what you and your ancestors, stole from us and continue to steal from us so we can re-build, create, make and manifest ourselves.

Sadly, the Dolezal woman’s strange sci-fi theft of culture and identity, spray tans and hair weaves, will probably become more prevalent over the years as settler colonialists with fuzzy connections to gentry and colonial genocide begin to face their own positions of un-culture in an increasingly Black and Brown world. Not to mention when white scientists and corporations with profit margins and research grants figure out how to make robots and change DNA and morph faces and skin color for all the confused white people of the not-too-distant future.

Poverty fronting

The so-called Trans-racial process, or fronting, of Dolezal  reminds me of all the people I have met over the years who front as if they are poor, wearing dirty clothes and not washing their under-arms and “squatting” when they have perfectly good homes with loving families across the country to return home to. But instead, like Rachel, they decide to “front,” to take up meager space, saying nothing about the people they are actively displacing, and stay in urban cities suffering from serious displacement crises, often adding to the displacement of hundreds of poor and working class people and people of color from their homes and neighborhoods of generations.

These are the hard lessons us poor White, Black, Brown and Indigenous, gentrified, houseless, disabled, bordered, colonized, and racialized poverty scholars at POOR Magazine’s PeopleSkool base our entire body of work around. Beginning with Theatre of the POOR about our multiple stories of trauma, racism, criminalization, houselessness, false borders, poverty industry pimping, colonial land theft and ableism from all four corners of Mama Earth, we teach young people with race, class, and formal education  privilege how to un-pack their relationship to our oppression.

These lessons of truth taught to the descendants of the original land stealers, current perpetrators of Mama Earth’s destruction, academics and multiple poverty industry executives are nothing less than urgent. Forget the guilt, fear, or selfish appropriation, White people. As our insanely twisted corporate culture continues its drive towards hyper displacement, and destruction of Mama Earth, it’s more important than ever for people to understand, confront, and activate movement, change, and reparations, so we can all heal and actually repair our colonized souls.

To find out more about the upcoming session of PeopleSkool’s Decolonization/DeGEntriFUKation and Community Reparations Seminars in August email

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


  1. Class doesn’t exist. It is a classification used by some people for political and ideological purposes.

    Stereotypes are mischievous.

  2. The Haight was destroyed as a community. The so-called “hippies” came and and went and were part of that destruction – renters moved out and the druggies moved in.

  3. Right away the manipulative choice of words – ie obsess! To register class is certainly no obsession. Speaking of England: perhaps the “gentleman” protests too much” Period. The people in this country do not think about class enough. You certainly are not “we”. As a native of this City, I might suggest that you move.

  4. If you want to obsess over class move to somewhere like England.

    We are done with class and other unhelpful stereotypes here

  5. I got that too and it still continues – one can see this in various so-called progressive groups and on the left in various ways – along with a lot of guilt tripping. I think Tiny is asking for something else.

  6. This author may not have covered the entire subject re_ fronting poverty but she describes a familiar phenomena whether one is a defensive “white person” in denial of racism or a guilt-ridden middle-class person (or beyond) pretending to be poor and perhaps even losing all his or her advantages over time and ending up down and out. I thnk what she says is valid owning who you are is a start and certainly more is suggested here. Class is never discussed enough in this society and even an awareness of class could help to heal some of the wounds of racism.

  7. More cultural appropriation. C’mon guys, it’s obviously wrong to imitate a person from another race, even if you have the PRIVILEGE to do so. It’s easier for whites to do that. We’ve all see pics of white folks wearing feather headdresses, saying it’s just fashion, and now, this lady, acting like she’s entitled to be black. Don’t you think people of color would try to be white if we could? Maybe slip by the glass ceiling of the tech industry. See behind the curtains. Haters can come at me, but honestly, own up to your privilege. Colonists can’t have everything, especially not our culture.

  8. Dolezal lied about and fabricated numerous ‘facts’. Not sure if Jenner did or not (Q: can s/he “reverse” her/is identity – didn’t realize the switch – intact penis – wasn’t entirely complete?)

    Seems Dolezal has the ‘switch’ option; which is why I think so many take umbrage at her claims. I don’t think anyone is upset that someone white would head the NAACP (which has always been integrated). Its the perception of misrepresentation on her part that is the craw in the paw here.

    Identity is one this, reality is another. Dolezal can claim to be ‘Black’; but many of the lite-skinned AAs I’ve known have had issues overcoming their light skin tone in the eyes of their darker skinned peers. Dark skin has its own reality – despite what one may want to ID as. AND, its never entirely ‘switchable’, they way that those like Dolezal can change their mind.

  9. Perhaps but you can’t deny that the fact that Caitlyn Jenner is being embraced as a hero for finally identifying her true feelings and Ms Dolezal is being villified for being fraudulent.

  10. I can apologize to anyone I offended but I wasn’t really being sarcastic – part of me is sincerely astonished at the media outrage over what Ms. Donezal did even though it is technically fraudulent. If she really feels black and wants to be then maybe the AA community should embrace her as one of their own instead of being upset. Maybe she really does feel the same righteous anger that Tiny feels.
    Maybe we will get to the point of having genetic testing for college admissions – a group of Asian people recently sued Harvard for discriminating against Asians because if the number of Asian people wasn’t limited they would take over the whole university because they get higher test scores than everyone else.
    And plastic surgeons can do almost anything nowadays – so people can change their appearance to match almost any ethnic group they want. So in some ways it is similar to being transgender. If a white person wants to change his or her skin color to fit in or “become” a different ethnicity why would that be criticized?
    and you’re right – I just don’t get SF politics although you did a good job of explaining why feelings seem to trump law or money in some circumstances

  11. Quite the ignorant reply. I dont think that trans people have quite the same view of themselves as you do. It’s not playing house. So you’re a woman because you have ovaries? In real life biology isn’t always black and white

  12. Oh dear Mary. I know that you’re well connected here, but based on you questions I don’t think that you have what it takes to be a Real San Francisco Progressive after all (in abstentia, of course, given that you’re in Philadelphia).

    I agree with your “then” given your “if”, but what you’re missing is a basic, fundamental precept. It’s now about who has a penis or ovaries, or about DNA, biology, or science, or any of those other white, patriarchical constructs. It’s about feelings. Think of the San Francisco left as our Tea Party. You know, as in ‘science doesn’t matter, my feelings tell me that global warming isn’t happening.’

    It’s true that Dolezal believes she is black not because of her biological heritage but because of her feelings; the problem is that Dolezal’s feelings are trumped by Tiny’s feelings, and she feels far more strongly and with all the rage of her righteous anger that Dolezal has no business calling herself black because Tiny feels that she is an evil, deeply indebted white who needs to shut up and get busy making her reparation payments. So without science to guide, the loudest, least hinged feelings win. Dolezal got out-felt, in other words.

    And why would the NAACP engage in racial discrimination against a white person? Did you not read the article? “Perhaps because whiteness is so evil.” Failure to discriminate, given that perception, would be amoral.

  13. I agree with you (and I think it’s the first time). For me the issue here was the almost comical way she lied about things, and then other stories started coming out about her past behavior and the whole affair became a scandalous farce.

  14. this article is more than a little annoying but it raises an interesting question:
    If Caitlyn Jenner considers herself to be a woman (although she still has a penis) she can be considered a woman. She can change her social security card, tax returns and have people refer to her as a woman. Although imho he/she will never really be a woman because he/she does not have ovaries and never will. But she wants to be a woman so she is.
    Then why isn’t someone who wants to be black treated the same way? If you can change your gender by wishing why can’t you change your ethnicity by wishing? Isn’t ethnicity more about the group with which you identify than the group into which you were born? Do you have to have a DNA test to prove your ethnicity? Or can you just fill out those ridiculous questionnaires on every job/college application and put the ethnicity down that you would like to be?
    Of course if you go far back enough in history all humans originated in Africa, it just depends whether your ancestors were part of the first wave out of Africa or the second wave and where they went from there. So if the lady wants to be African American let her be! Who cares anyway and why would the NAACP engage in racial discrimination against a white person?

  15. You should click on the link in the article – it takes you to what might well be an Onion parody. If so, it’s funny. If not, well….

  16. If there is a difference (and I don’t really care if there is or not) then I’d say the difference is that the alleged gentrifiers of the Mission are more prosperous than those they allegedly displace. While the white hippies who showed up in the 1960’s were young, poor and had no real power to displace existing residents..

    But all that assumes that it even matters how many blacks or Hispanics there are at any one time, why someone might claim that it should never change, and whether you’re the kind of person that sees certain quotas as being desirable

    There are about 50,000 blacks in SF and probably 100,000 Hispanics. Are those the wrong numbers and, if so, why?

  17. “Ethnic cleansing” was the term used by protestors in The Mission to describe gentrification, as quoted by Tim in another article.

    I agree with your WTF screech. But if gentrification in The Mission can be termed “ethnic cleansing”, it can be applied to The Haight too. The Haight was a middle-class black neighborhood in 1966. You can bet that the folks there were not happy with “not washing their under-arms” whiteFolks taking over their neighourhood in 1967.

  18. What is with this fashion for describing any change in the ethnic allocation of a neighborhood as “ethnic cleansing” WTF?

    Shifts in demographics has always been happening in America and always will. Why do some people have to try and politicize that?

    Haight hippies? Like that was the biggest problem that blacks had?

  19. “Tiny” has been a fixture of the Prog movement in the Bay Area for 20 yrs. One note, accusatory, and stuck.


  20. Tiny came to mind when I first read of this so-called scandal.

    Tiny is spot-on in her analysis of White Hippie ethnic cleansing of African-Americans in The Haight in the 1960s:

    “All the people I have met over the years who front as if they are poor,
    wearing dirty clothes and not washing their under-arms and “squatting”
    when they have perfectly good homes with loving families across the
    country to return home to. But instead, like Rachel, they decide to
    “front,” to take up meager space,

  21. I think Tm didn’t read it before posting it. And instead just assumed that if it was from a poverty pimp, that it would be all good.

    Instead he got a incoherent racist tirade. He should pull it before more damage is done to his cause.

  22. Yeah, a better question might be this. What was Tim smoking when he thought this drivel makes his blog look credible?

  23. I tried to read this piece,but couldn’t make sense of it. It’s so jumpy and disjointed, as though the author were on something (crack perhaps?) when she wrote it.

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