Forgotten Flamingo

The New Fuss About Rachel Dolezal As A Non-African Artist

There are always times in you life when you look at what you said or did and say to yourself. “Gee, I could have handled that better.” It always seems the worse the choice you make, the nastier the consequence is. Rachel Dolezal the disgraced former Washington state NAACP chapter leader is probably really considering that now.

The idea of a universal reaction to an action is nothing new. Sir Isaac Newton put it forth in his laws of motion. Every physics student tries to remember that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

However, while Newton’s law works for physical objects it seems to be a little more complicated for the non-physical world of professional morals.   There is an old idea that the universe pays you back 3-fold for the wrong you have done. Dolezal has hit two of them so far.

While the public did not know about Dolezal pretending to be of African descent until the evening news, many don’t realize that she is also an artist.   It is within this professional arena where the 2nd strike against her is occurring.

According to Artnet , Dolezal is now being scrutinized for possible plagiarism in her artwork. It seems an artist J.M.W. Turner painted a scene in 1840 of a slave ship throwing the dead and dying slaves into the ocean so they could collect the insurance money on them. As a historical note, these sad events did indeed happen and slavery was a huge issue throughout the 19th century.   So,  Turner’s timely piece is also a masterpiece of artistic social commentary.

J.M.W. Turner, Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On) (1840). Photo: courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
J.M.W. Turner, Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On) (1840).
Photo: courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The problem arose when Dolezal painted a scene very similar to Turners’. So similar in fact that it seems she only changed out the drowning slaves in the painting for sharks and doves.

Rachel Dolezal, The Shape of Our Kind. Photo: Rachel Dolezal.
Rachel Dolezal, The Shape of Our Kind.
Photo: Rachel Dolezal.

Now Artnet News correctly implies that this might be forgiven. Because of her earlier position, she undeniably had some logical reasoning for using her art as a medium for historical slavery awareness. However, on her website, where this painting is available for purchase, she states:

“The sharks and doves in this scene symbolize the contrast between cynicism and optimism in the male and female figures and the tumultuous water is offset by the verticality of the sun.”

What is your opinion? Remember she has a MFA from Howard University and is a professor in the Africana Education Program at Eastern Washington University.  She should understand what plagiarized art looks like. Did she plagiarise Turner?  If so, her academic career could end up like the subject of our picture Forgotten Flamingo , decayed and a mere image of the greatness that it had.

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