The White woman who ignited a national debate over her being caught masquerading as a Black woman will headline the Naturally Isis Braid-On, Economic Liberty March and Rally in Dallas. Rachel Dolezal was invited by Isis Brantley, a celebrity stylist, natural hair activist, and owner of the Institute of Ancestral Braiding. Brantley’s announcement shocked the natural hair community, baffled that a White woman accused of appropriating Black culture could be a featured speaker at a Black cultural event.
“I’m not coming as a curiosity or for any controversy,” Dolezal told The Daily Beast in a joint phone interview with Brantley. “My intention is to support Isis and the braid freedom movement in whatever way it will be most helpful. I don’t want to be a liability for anyone. It’s a justice issue and I’ve been a social justice activist for years. It’s really that simple.”
Dolezal once taught a course on the politics of Black hair — now she makes her living as a braider. She specializes in creating popular styles for Black women. Brantley says the backlash and critical social media messages took her by surprise.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Brantley. “People threatened to boycott me. They are calling me a sellout and saying that I am ‘Massa’s girl’ or some mess like that. I just stopped looking and blocked everybody.”
Brantley was impressed by Dolezal’s braiding skills she caught glimpses of on television.
“This would make a great connection or union,” Brantley said. “If we could just come together we can spread this love across the country and see that braiders are free to work in all 50 states.”
Because Brantley is a revered leader in the community, many of the disappointed ones preferred to keep their comments off the record.
“Strange bedfellows,” says L. Michelle Smith, a Dallas PR executive and former client of Brantley. “Isis is everyone’s natural hair hero and Dolezal is the queen of cultural appropriation.”
Olinka Green, a Dallas community activist, asked whether Dolezal had any magical skills that helped her get invited.
“Rachel wants the black girl magic and the glory and attribution,” Green said, “but she can’t put up with what we go through day to day.”
Many don’t believe Brantley was unaware of Dolezal’s background since the media was saturated with stories of her exploits for months.
“Everybody knows about that controversy,” said Kerin Rodriguez of Dallas. “Isis knows exactly what she’s doing and why she’s doing it—to get people to go to her event.”
The Washington, D.C.-based American Hairbraiders and Natural Haircare Association (AHNHA) has supported Brantley and hundreds of other braiders in legal battles over regulation of what they consider a cultural art form that should not be government controlled. AHNHA co-founder Pamela Ferrell worries whether Dolezal is being handed an unfair advantage and will use the platform as an opportunity to further a personal agenda.
“The controversy around this person is her dishonesty,” said Ferrell. “Don’t think of her as someone who has contributed to the years of work we have done to protect this cultural art form. I see it as an opportunity for a White woman to steal this African cultural art form, become an expert and then get opportunities that we have been denied. I’ve seen it happen over and over again.”
Dolezal doesn’t seem to be ruffled by the criticism and she is looking forward to the visit. Meanwhile, she is focused on braiding and raising a 6-month-old son, Langston, who is named after the late Black poet Langston Hughes.
“I agree with Dick Gregory, who says that White isn’t a race, it’s a state of mind,” Dolezal says. “I pay homage to my African ancestry.”