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, dating back to before the Civil War, 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 racial spectrum. Most people are just trying to understand why someone would be so deceptive. No one knows whether Dolezal’s alleged “passing,” which may have included false claims of having been racially harassed, 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
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.
Born Espera de Corti, the son of Sicilian immigrants, he went into acting at an early age but couldn’t break onto the big screen. Iron Eyes married an American Indian woman and adopted two American Indian sons. Cody stuck by his lie, even when a New Orleans newspaper ran a full story exposing his non-native background.
Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow
In his autobiography, Really the Blues, he recounts being arraigned his imprisonment, ” ‘Mr. Slattery,’ I said, ‘I’m colored, even if I don’t look it, and I don’t think I’d get along in the white blocks, and besides, there might be some friends of mine in Block Six and they’d keep me out of trouble’. Mr. Slattery jumped back, astounded, and studied my features real hard. He seemed a little relieved when he saw my nappy head. ‘I guess we can arrange that,’ he said.”
Wilson proudly announced his deception after winning the election – and is serving his term.
Jesús Ángel García
During personal appearances, this writer (who remains anonymous) would allow people to refer to them as their pen name, all the while knowing they were committing cultural appropriation for the sake of keeping a readership. “The first few times, when folks would ask if it was Jesús or Jesus, I would give them the Jesús pronunciation, since that was the name on the spine of the book. Soon, though, I found myself playing preacher: “Whatever makes you happy, my child.”Let’s have fun with blasphemy! I never meant to hurt or disrespect anyone (other than True Believers, perhaps, if they happened to get caught in the crossfire).”
Michael Derrick Hudson
Hudson admits that whenever one of his pieces is passed over he uses his Chinese-sounding pseudonym and sends the work back to the publishers. Hudson claims that the whole thing (the “thing” being cultural appropriation) is an allusion to the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, who wrote under imaginary identities, or “heteronyms.” It’s been argued that Hudson’s appropriation of an Asian-sounding name is crass Orientalism, while some people in the literary community believe it to be an artistic stunt meant to draw a closer look at our investment in diversity.