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Strange Fruit: Rachel Dolezal Didn't Come Out—She Got Caught

Laura Ellis

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As we celebrate Juneteenth this weekend, it's with the impossible-to-ignore knowledge of how much work the United States still has to do to achieve safety and true equality for all its citizens.

We recorded this show before a white supremacist named Dylann Roof opened fire on a Bible study group at historically blackEmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. It was before many in the mainstream media assumed he was mentally ill. It was before Roof's roommate said he'd been planning the attack for six months, but no one tried to stop him. It was before Roof was taken into custody, alive and unharmed. It was before a 5-year-old girl played dead to survive the massacre. It was before leaders publicly said we would probably never know the reason for the attack—despite the fact that Roof was very clear he had gone to the church "to kill black people." It was before the U.S. and state flags were lowered to half staff over the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina... while the Confederate flag continues to fly high.

It was also before the president of Louisville's Fraternal Order of Police wrote a menacing letter to "sensationalists, liars and race-baiters," telling them (us, we guess?) to "Consider yourself on notice."

We will come back to these topics next week, with as much clarity as we can achieve between now and then.

On this week's show, we covered a story that seems downright frivolous by comparison, but still raises important questions about racism, identity, and taking up space: Rachel Dolezal.

Dr. Yaba Blay, scholar, and author of "(1)ne Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race," joined us to try to make some sense of the story. Is there such a thing as transracial? And is it comparable to being transgender?

"Trans people are trying to be honored in their truth, " Blay said. "They are coming out. And there are things that they have to risk in order to come out, and be taken for who they believe they are. Rachel Dolezal never came out. She got caught up. And if she didn't get caught up, she would continue this lie. Her identity is seated in deception. And I think a lot of people presume that trans lives are seated in deception, and that's why they're making that comparison."

We also learned a little this week about queer people's place in the history of medical marijuana activism. The connection began when cannabis oil was found to have therapeutic benefits for patients with HIV. Whit Forrester is working on documenting that story in a project called "Affinity in the Tall Grasses of California: The Rainbow Roots of Medical Cannabis."

And it's not only Juneteenth, it's also the Kentuckiana Pride Festival this weekend. We've been long-time supporters of KPF, and because we love them so much, we'd like to see them do a little better in terms of diversity and inclusiveness for people of color and gender non-conforming folks. We talk about why and how.

Fruitcakes, be as proud as you can this weekend, and celebrate Juneteenth, and if you need a break from the news, check out #BlackJoy on Twitter. And check out this advice from friend to the show Ashlee Clark Thompson : "For my black folks: We can’t just survive. We must thrive in the face of domestic terrorism. We might be weary, but we are resilient, too. Centuries of struggle have taught us to keep pushing. We must succeed in spite of hate."

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.