Okay, enough already about Rachel Dolezal and her weird tale of cross-racial activism. But before we let it go, let’s consider one new angle: Did Dolezal’s strange behavior result in part from her upbringing in an abusive fundamentalist homeschooling family?
That’s the charge leveled by the folks at Homeschoolers Anonymous. Worried that their coverage seemed to be excusing Rachel Dolezal’s behavior, they have since retracted their argument. (You can still read their original article here.) But it seems to me they raised an important question.
For those of us outside the world of fundamentalist homeschooling, Rachel Dolezal’s life history seems simply bizarre. Why did she list “Jesus Christ” as a witness to her birth? Why did she claim to have been beaten with a “baboon whip” as a child? Most important, why would someone go to such extreme and unnecessary lengths to alter her appearance and life history?
I do not want to excuse anyone’s actions, but I think Homeschoolers Anonymous has a right to point out Dolezal’s extreme evangelical upbringing. It doesn’t prove anything, but it adds background information.
The family was active in young-earth creationism. They apparently subscribed to the abusive philosophy advocated by Michael and Debi Pearl. Last year, Rachel Dolezal’s brother published a shocking memoir of their childhood. As HA summarized,
In his memoir, Joshua recounts growing up in the Dolezal’s conservative, Pentecostal home and church. He recounts a raging father, a mother with extreme suspicions of medicine and doctors, home-birthing with birth certificates listing Jesus as witness to the births, and much more.
Now, we need to add some of the usual caveats:
1.) Behavior that seems odd to secular folks like me does not equal child abuse.
2.) Many conservatives use corporal punishment in a loving, caring way.
3.) It does not excuse Rachel Dolezal’s apparent lies to point out her parents’ extreme beliefs.
4.) Homeschoolers Anonymous certainly has an axe to grind with this expose.
Even taking all those factors into consideration, however, knowing a little bit about Rachel Dolezal’s childhood helps me understand how someone might be driven to immoral extremes in order to separate herself from her past.