Rebecca Keel / by Michael Falco

Who is Rebecca Keel?

Rebecca Keel, MSW, is twenty six years old and from Richmond, Virginia. They are Black, African American, and have Albinism, a genetic condition that affects eyesight, skin, and hair. This is why Rebecca presents as white. Rebecca identifies as a Queer Person of Color who has a disability. The disability affects her eyesight, rendering her visually impaired. Rebecca works in the non-profit sector of Social Justice advocacy. They have four siblings and many step siblings, and have lived in a number of culturally diverse households.  

Excerpt from interview with Rebecca Keel by Whitney Dow, 2017

Keel: [13:07:54] Yes. So some of my siblings are—we’re a range of complexions. I have a brother who’s very dark-skinned. I have siblings who just people don’t even know what race or ethnicity they are. They look like kind of nondescript brown people. And then I have another sibling who is half-Black and half-Puerto Rican. So our complexions are really in a big spectrum. And then, again, me on the end of that spectrum with albinism.

Q: And what sort of perspective on race did that give you growing up in such a family with such diverse roots and diverse looks?

Keel: [13:08:38] The perspective I had growing up on race was really shaped by seeing the way people treated me and my brother, who’s closest in age. He is one of those nondescript brown males. When 9/11 happened in 2001, people were on really high alert. And there was a lot of racial tension toward brown folks; folks who looked Middle Eastern, folks who could be identified as what we were made to think of as what a terrorist looks like. And so I saw how differently he was treated. When we would walk into grocery stores people would really follow him in retail shops. And I didn’t get that same treatment. And then just the whole rest of my family being from a range of lighter-skinned Black folks to darker-skinned Black folks, and then even white people within my family who have married into my family, seeing just the differences in how we’re treated when we’re in public spaces, and even as a unit when we all go out together. I think servers at restaurants or hotel staff or just families walking past are maybe a little bit confused by who we are, if we’re like a group of people who have come together for an organization. I think we get that more so than we’re just a family.

Q: How do you feel about this idea that you’re African American but present as white? Do you wish that you had been born looking how you identify? Or would you change it if you could?

Keel: [13:10:26] That’s a good question. So would I change being albino if I could? And do I wish that things were different? For some reasons, yes, I do wish that I was born into the body that represents my race and ethnic culture. But I was dealt the cards that I have. I think it’s a gift to be in spaces where people don’t actually recognize that I’m African American because people are much more candid about some of their racial beliefs when they feel that they’re in homogenous company or folks who look like them. You know, people just see themselves in me. White folks feel more comfortable, maybe a little more racist around me, which can be extremely uncomfortable. But it’s really good for me to know where people actually lie in terms of racial allegiance or just biases they have.

So again it would be nice if I looked like the rest of my family. But I think I have a really unique opportunity for folks to be really candid with me about their perceptions of race. And even if the conversation isn’t geared toward race, I mean, we do live in a very racialized society. So the subject is often brought to the table. So again, because of my white privilege and because of white folks feeling more comfortable around me when they don’t recognize that I’m African American, that I’m Black, then it can be interesting. I feel like I am a chameleon of sorts.

Interview Transcript