OPINION: My teacher lied to me about being Black

An illustration of an African American woman against an abstract rainbow background, and a profile of a person who is colored in rainbow hues and is juxtaposed against a white background.
(Crystal Yang • The Student Life)

CV Vitolo-Haddad: Black radical leftist, University of Wisconsin-Madison educator and brilliant debater. They argued against white supremacists, studied journalism, worked as a medic at numerous Black Lives Matter protests and taught at policy debate camps across the country.

Except Vitolo-Haddad wasn’t Black. They’d pretended to be Black for years. Vitolo-Haddad was, in fact, knowingly Southern Italian, but said they sustained that lie because “guesses about ancestry [became] answers [they] wanted but couldn’t prove.”

Vitolo-Haddad is one of several educators feigning Blackness who was recently exposed for their deception. Hundreds of students took Jessica Krug and Rachel Dolezal at their word when they wrongfully adopted racial identities that weren’t theirs.

I haven’t seen many testimonials from students who were so unfairly deceived by these instructors they trusted.

As a former student of Vitolo-Haddad’s, it’s quite a weird feeling. Last year at the University of Michigan policy debate camp, they gave me weekly lectures about racial identity and Afro-pessimism. They debated against me in an auditorium of students about America’s history of colonial abuse. When they spoke of the Black community, it was always framed as a statement in first person. That’s why the Medium article a friend sent me exposing the lengths of their deception was the last thing I expected to read.

It’s so incredibly hypocritical to proclaim oneself as a radical educator staunchly against racism, white supremacy and fascism while co-opting a Black identity to advance oneself. I can’t articulate the full extent of the harm this deception produces, but I’m shocked to have trusted a person whom I thought would be able to.

This sort of transracialism is repugnant. Black educators face massive obstacles in their pursuit of advancement in academic spheres. In the fall of 2017, only 6 percent of full-time faculty members in degree-granting postsecondary U.S. institutions were Black. White caricatures of them taking their places shrinks that statistic. Michelle Moyd, a Black female professor of history at Indiana University Bloomington, likened such deception to “minstrelsy.”

“The jaw-dropping audacity of a white woman judging actual Black and Brown people’s politics and scholarship produces a special kind of anger,” Moyd told The San Diego Union-Tribune when interviewed about Krug, colorism and the “one-drop rule.” “Krug fabricated a difficult, tragic past that drew on some of the worst stereotypes and caricatures of Black and Brown people, and she weaponized that fake past to diminish people’s actual experiences, politics and scholarship.”

Aside from exemplifying the utmost hypocrisy, transracialism in educational atmospheres is pedagogically irresponsible. These Rachel Dolezals and Jessica Krugs hold themselves to the minimal tier of decency while simultaneously demanding respect and honesty from their students. 

Educational institutions have an obligation to their students and their own integrities to ensure this duplicity ends. Obviously, doing anything else aside from taking one’s word regarding their identity is difficult and complicated. However, many of these individuals adopt multiple ethnicities throughout their academic careers, and I don’t think it’s a big ask for universities to notice, at the very least, such oddly conflicting information.

I don’t know whether non-Black educators have the grounds to teach critical race theory or other sensitive topics — perhaps there are ways to teach such material with appropriate tact and respect. But what is clear is that feigning Blackness and capitalizing on their appearances — some fashioned, some naturally ambiguous — are utterly antithetical to the subjects these educators set out to teach. 

Kristen Lu CM ’24 is a hopeful philosophy, politics and economics major from Palos Verdes, California. She owns a bubble tea shop in Animal Crossing. 

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