After taking a sip of wine, Dad explained that certain Americans like inventing stories, especially tales that turn them into native people. Dad’s thesis illuminated nothing. The girl’s behavior still made no sense.
“But why?” I demanded.
“They think it’s exotic,” Dad over-asserted the word exotic to heighten its vulgarity, “and, it eases their conscience. It makes them feel better.”
“Better about what?”
“About taking things.”
“Ooooooh,” I uttered as the puzzle pieces slid together. By things, Dad meant the lands called the United States of America. Still, I didn’t want to believe that my friend, or her family, were liars, and so, I did the work of whiteness: I continued to defend her innocence.
“But she really could be part Cherokee!” I insisted.
Dad replied, “Yes. Or she might be a typical Anglo American who insists that she’s 1/16 Cherokee and descended from a princess whose name nobody seems to know.”
“HOW DID YOU KNOW THE PRINCESS PART?!” I yelled. “AND THE 1/16 PART?!!”
Dad sighed, exasperated. “Because it’s always the same damn story. Now eat your ejotes!”
Dad was on to something. The lies my classmate told me closely resemble the fabrications for which various racial and ethnic fakes have recently been held to account. Last year, Jeanine Cummins, a writer who had publicly identified as an unelaborated white lady, began announcing herself as both a “Latinx woman” and “boricua.” It was noted by many who followed her story that her attempt at claiming a spicy identity coincided with the publication of her highly anticipated novel, American Dirt. That book, a narco-thriller set in México, fetishizes immigration to the point of unintended satire. It’s a fun book to hate-read.
Cummins is perhaps the most prominent among this new crop of Dolezalitas. Others include BethAnn McLaughlin, a white woman and former assistant professor of neurology at Vanderbilt University. McLaughlin crafted a pretendian Twitter persona, @sciencing_bi. The persona remained unnamed but, over time, @sciencing_bi developed an elaborate identity, that of a Hopi anthropology professor working at Arizona State University. On July 31, McLaughlin killed her nameless invention, announcing on Twitter that @sciencing_bi had died of COVID-19. Shortly thereafter, an ASU spokesperson exposed McLaughlin’s hoax. The outing prompted McLaughlin to pander for pity. She blamed her bad behavior on an unnamed mental illness.