As soon as news of Rachel Dolezal broke, opinion writers all over America fired up their laptops, stretched their fingers, and put their noise-cancelling headphones on as they prepared to pump out the ultimate thinkpiece.
It was too good to be true, from a commentary standpoint. A white woman pretending to be a black woman. Who was the head of a chapter of the NAACP in Washington State. Whose parents blew her cover. Who sent herself hate mail and reported it to the police. Who adopted her black brother as her son. Who was a professor of African-American studies. Who once told a Hispanic student she didn’t look Hispanic enough. Who sued a black college in 2002 for discriminating against her as a white woman. Whose brother is accused of sexual assault. Who said Tuesday morning that she still considers herself black despite all the backlash.
I mean…where to start?
In a recent Slate article about the satirical website ClickHole, the magazine’s culture editor, Dan Kois, writes about how every news outlet these days feels the need to have a hot take on cultural issues. This is not a bad thing. A lot of people like to read these pieces, and a lot of us writers like to produce them. They illuminate issues and draw attention to social injustices.
ClickHole parodies this need, and takes home the prize for Funniest Thing on the Internet every single day.
Because what the website nails is that while we do want to write for the greater good, every writer and every news outlet also wants publish that one brilliant article that blows the whole thing open and gets millions of clicks. ClickHole’s tagline is “Because all content deserves to go viral.’’ Which is essentially what every digital writer tries to do every time he or she writes something.
Hell, I’m trying to do that right now. I hope that this thinkpiece about all the Rachel Dolezal thinkpieces will resonate with enough people inundated with thinkpieces that it turns into internet fire. I want it to burn the whole place down in a blaze of opinionated glory.
Kois illustrates how hard this is to do when he writes about the Trevor Noah saga. Like Dolezal, Noah, Jon Stewart’s replacement on The Daily Show, found himself the talk of the internet due to old tweets that people said were anti-semitic and misogynist. Kois was initially proud of Slate’s coverage of the issue, but ultimately realized Slate’s takes weren’t any different from those of other outlets.
But what he doesn’t say is that every argument has a counterargument. This is the law of the internet. Every hot take has an equal and opposite hot take.
Dolezal illustrates this push and pull perfectly. In the initial coverage, some people started comparing Dolezal’s claims that she is black to Caitlyn Jenner’s transition from male to female.
Other people said this was the worst thing anyone could do. The Huffington Post published a post called “Why Comparing Rachel Dolezal To Caitlyn Jenner Is Detrimental To Both Trans And Racial Progress.’’
Three days later, Slate published an article titled, “It Isn’t Crazy to Compare Rachel Dolezal With Caitlyn Jenner.’’
I thought I had an original take on Dolezal yesterday when I decided she was pretending to be black out of self-righteousness. I thought I was brilliant when I wrote that she wanted to claim the narrative of the victim. Then I read this piece, and this piece, and this piece, and this piece.
So instead of publishing my now-tepid take, I went to lunch and started working on an article about showing Jaws to a bunch of 12 year olds at sailing camp years ago. At least that’s an angle I know no one else will have.
Ebony published an article on Monday called, “The Infallibility of Miss Ann(Or, the Last Rachel Dolezal Thinkpiece Ever).’’
Sorry, Ebony, but your post won’t be the last. As more information comes out, and as Dolezal continues to handle the whole situation with seemingly no understanding of how PR actually works—digging herself an even deeper hole—the internet will remain abuzz. We writers are like sharks to bait: We will always circle in search of the angle that gets us more meat than anyone else.
So thank you, Rachel. I may disagree wildly with your life choices, but you have provided content that’s led us down an ever deeper, ever darker click-hole.