So, in the reputation management business (that is, the whole industry surrounding making sure your Google results are favorable and that bad stuff is buried on Page Two or beyond), every once in awhile, someone just floats across your social media feed, and you wonder: what if I took them on as a client? What would I advise them to do?
Most of the time it’s actually simple—you advise the person to lay low for awhile to let whatever they did die down (like, they said something obnoxious in the media, or their restaurant got a bad review, blah blah), and at the same time you start the work of just building up the good stuff eventually that’s what Google delivers.
However, then there is Rachel Dolezal. In case you missed it, Rachel Dolezal is that woman who, until recently, was the president of the Spokane NAACP, and apparently, SHE IS NOT AFRICAN AMERICAN AT ALL. Not one bit. Like, her parents are white and they outed her for being white. You would think she would be so embarrassed she would kind of just disappear and get treated for whatever mental illness she obviously has, but NO. She gave an interview to Vanity Fair that she “identifies as African American.” Wow.
So…..this is kind of a fascinating case study. What do you do with a person who is NOT sorry and NOT willing to back down off her stance?
Well, you don’t take them on as a client, for one thing. But, since this is the kind of thing I like to think about, here is what I would advise her to do (Rachel Dolezal has not hired me or contacted me in any way, so this is all just speculation of course):
Here is my action plan for Ms. Dolezal. The first part is probably the most important.
- Stop pretending to be African American. STOP IT. You do not have the “Black Woman’s Experience,” so no one is ever going to take a class from you again to learn this. People are on to you. Stop with the self tanner. Stop with the hair weave. Stop claiming that you “identify as Black.” STOP IT. STOP ALL OF IT RIGHT NOW. I know, this sounds hurtful and maybe it is, but you are a white woman and it is beyond offensive that you are dressing and living as an African-American woman when actual African-American people have such a hard time in this country. STOP TALKING.
- Change your name. Seriously. This is the reputation management equivalent of the Witness Protection Program. Your only choice in life, from now on, is to totally reinvent yourself and just become someone else. You’ve done it before. It shouldn’t actually be that hard. Just please, PLEASE do not pick another African-American identity. Let your self tanner fade and go back to being the pale blonde girl you were before your mind snapped. Again, not meaning to sound mean. Just wanting you to be able to reintegrate into society and start making a living again, you are going to need to just leave that identity behind completely.
- Learn a new trade. Go back to school. Become a nurse, or a dental hygienist, or a chef. Do something, do ANYTHING where you won’t be in the public eye anymore, because I’m telling you, the moment people think they have spotted you and they out you as “That white lady who pretended to be African-American for ten years,” you have to start over. There are thousands of people in Witness Protection, and you seem clever. Make up something. Seriously. Your old identity is burned, in reputation management terms.
- Stay off the internet. You want as little chance as possible that someone is going to grab a photo off your Instagram, do a side-by-side comparison, and be like “Hey world! My dental hygienist is the Performance Artist Formerly Known as Rachel Dolezal.” Act like you’re shy and don’t love attention. That is what it’s going to take.
I almost hate to say this, but for people that screw their regular identities up that badly, this is my best-advised course of action. I don’t know if a PR person has taken Rachel Dolezal on (I’m guessing the answer is yes because of that Vanity Fair piece), but if so, that is sad, because that is a blatant waste of money and there is actually nothing that can be done to “spin” this story into a positive, more palatable direction.
And with that, I leave you with the scary thought that when you are crazy and pretend to be African-American for ten years, the internet never forgets. NEVER! So don’t do it!
In the next installment of “Stop Talking,” I will address the big game hunting dentist who ruined his life by crossing the line and killing Cecil the beloved lion. I’m going to let you take a guess as to what I think he should do with himself.