Rachel Dolezal and the Ineffectiveness of "Going Native"

Sabrina celebrating New Years the Brazilian way in Brazil.

Sabrina celebrating New Years the Brazilian way in Brazil.

Recently, I was introduced as Brazilian in a meeting with the upper management of an organization. Now, anyone who really knows me, knows that I am not Brazilian. While this piece of information was incorrect, I chose to save the person giving my introduction some embarrassment by not correcting them. In that instance I knew that this group of people would leave the room believing that I was Brazilian and that I would be responsible for making the choice to clarify my actual cultural heritage. But I won't lie, the thought of them believing that I was from a place that I so adore was flattering to me. I even thought, "hey, let them think what they want," for a brief moment. I mean why not? I've lived in Brazil, I've studied Portuguese, I can cook a mean Moqueca de camarão and I Samba my butt off anytime I have the chance.

The temptation to "go native," or completely adapt and assimilate to another culture is real (especially for interculturalist and expatriates). So if it is my life's work to understand this culture, why can't I just let people believe that I am Brazilian?

The answer is two-fold. First, how can one truly relate to the culture of another if they have no understanding of what develops their own culture and second, credibility is everything. Since Rachel Dolezal is the hot-topic of the moment I will use her as an illustration of my points.

Losing one's self to go native jeopardizes one's credibility.

Culture can be defined as "the way of life passed down from one generation to another through learning." It is made up of behaviors, beliefs, values and thought patterns.