Rachel Dolezal’s Not Alone: More People Lying About Their Race
Rachel Dolezal may have made headlines, but she’s not the only person to lie about their race. These folks lied about their heritage to get ahead, get a job or get deeper into a major identity crisis.
Mindy Kaling’s Brother
Back in April, the brother of The Mindy Project star admitted that he pretended to be Black to get accepted into med school under affirmative action.
The “Voluntary Negro”
That’s what jazz player Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow called himself. He married a black woman, lived in Harlem and when he was arrested for marijuana possession in the 1940s, he told officers: “I’m colored, even if I don’t look it.”
Remember Dave Wilson? When he ran for the Houston Community College board in 2013, he distributed leaflets with Black people on them that said, “Please vote for our friend and neighbor Dave Wilson.” Then he bragged about tricking his constituents into thinking he was Black after he won.
Ward Churchill became the Rachel Dolezal of the 1990s when he pretended to be a member of the “United Keetoowah Band” to qualify as a diversity hire at the University of Colorado. But soon they discovered Ward’s Native American ancestry was fake.
Iron Eyes Cody
The 1980s had a Rachel Dolezal as well. Remember this character from the “Keep America Beautiful” PSAs? When reporters discovered he was 100 percent Sicilian, Iron Eyes Cody claimed he could stick to his story because he was a Native American at heart.
In a classic case of passing, Margarita Carmen Cansino moved to Hollywood, surgically altered her face, lightened her skin and changed her name to became one of the biggest silver screen stars.
Paul and Philip Malone
Twins Paul and Philip Malone took the Civil Service test for the Boston Fire Department in 1975 and failed. After being given a picture of a great grandmother they were allegedly told was black, the white men tested again in 1977, reapplying as African Americans. They won appointments. They worked on the force for 10 years until investigators discovered their fraud.
Journalist Grace Halsell darkened her skin, lived as a black woman for six months and wrote about it for Ebony in 1969.
John Howard Griffin
John Howard Griffin wrote Black Like Me in 1961 after posing as a black man to show everyone that in the south, during the 1950s, Blacks and Whites were separate but definitely not equal.
Broadway star Carol Channing kept her African-American identity a secret until she was 81. When she finally revealed her heritage in her memoir, Just Lucky I Guess, Channing said that she wasn’t ashamed to be Black: “I thought I had the greatest genes in showbiz.”
J. Edgar Hoover
FBI director J. Edgar Hoover — the man who plagued the Black liberation movement and harassed Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders — was alleged to have Black roots.
The 1960s screen siren was actually born Jo Raquel Tejada. But when she arrived in Hollywood, film execs urged her to lighten her skin and hair. In her memoir Beyond the Cleavage, Welch said that pretending to be white gave her an identity crisis. “I had no Latin friends,” Welch said before returning to Bolivia to learn more about her heritage.