“I’ve not been intentionally untruthful. I’ve been completely open when speaking about what was my reality and what is my reality now. It just doesn’t match your normal or your reality.”
Quote from 1Q84? Close – an excerpt from the 60 Minutes interview with Belle Gibson, the disgraced Australian health blogger and author of The Whole Pantry who revealed last month that the brain tumor she claimed to have healed with kale and quinoa never actually existed. Gibson’s deception, which sounds like a rejected plot from an episode of House, was brought to light when the thousands of dollars worth of donations raised by the health guru failed to materialise. Gibson claims that she is good for the money, and that while she may never have actually had cancer (whoops), or that stroke (double whoops) or those two heart attacks (that’s just bad luck, babe), she was convinced that she did when she sold her app to Google for hundreds of thousands of US dollars. No, really.
I think it’s pretty obvious to everyone that Gibson is a pathological liar, if not a sociopath. Even when directly asked what her age was during the interview, the blogger was unable to give a straight answer. Could it be Munchausen’s? Delusions? Is she mentally unstable? To be honest, probably. But we’re talking about fiction this edition and it got me wondering – how far is too far?
This seems like the kind of shit white people do all the time. Obviously pretending to have brain cancer is a crazy, but Gibson knew all the buzz words, all the correct behaviour to gain the trust and support of the cancer community, and the sympathy of the wider world. It’s almost as though this is the next step of cultural appropriation – like that author who said he was in Auschwitz and got his penis got cut off by Nazis, but actually just lived in his parents’ basement and wasn’t even Jewish. Instead of simply appropriating the best parts of a culture, white people are now stealing their tragic histories to gain sympathy, attention, money, and fame.
Let’s talk about Rachel Dolezal for a second. The term ‘Transracial’ brings me out in full-on hives, but this is the word being applied to the former NAACP president of Spokane, civil rights activist and Afrikana studies instructor, who was ‘outed’ by her white parents last month. Essentially, she is a white woman who’s been tanning heavily for twenty years, and thereby living in permanent black face. When asked directly if she was actually African American, Dolezal stated “I do take exception to that because it’s a little more complex than me identifying as black, or answering a question of, ‘Are you black or white?’ I definitely am not white. Nothing about being white describes who I am.”
Except it does describe something about who you are Rachel, because you are WHITE. I mean, we can all relate to how shit white people can be, but this is next level. It’s one thing for someone to identify with, appreciate and even partake in black culture, but it’s another thing for her to try to literally become black. Dolezal reported police officers for racial profiling and abuse, lead civil rights marches, and essentially stole attention from actual black women who experienced discrimination and violence based on their race.
Earlier this year, Dolezal told a news organization that she had been born in a tepee, that her mother and stepfather had beaten her and her siblings, that “they would punish us by skin complexion,” and that they lived for a time in South Africa. Her art focused on the black experience and racial reconciliation, but there was still no question about her own identity; in college and in graduate school, she was known as white. In fact (get this) Dolezal sued her alma mater, claiming that it had discriminated against her being white. She said she was denied financial help because the university’s attitude was, “You probably have white relatives that can afford to help you with your tuition,”. So, she was white when it was convenient – good to know.
Stories like Belle’s and Rachel’s showcase a worrying trend. Privileged white people wanting to play the victim so much that they steal traumatic experiences from minorities, and trick that community into sympathising and supporting them. There’s this incredible arrogance in the idea that you can benefit from the suffering of others without having had to do the hard yards yourself – like chemo or you know, hundreds of years of institutionalised racism.
But hey, I’m not entirely innocent myself. Sometimes I tell people I went to a public high school so I can blame any spelling mistakes on ‘the system’. It’s a struggle, but I hope my journey can inspire others. Where’s my Apple Watch deal?
Words by Anna Saxon