Jess La Bombalera
whooooooo are youuuuuuuuuuuuuuu?
Last night, at approximately 8:53 pm, EST, a flurry of texts started a buzzing at once:
“Ooooooooh my god. You have to look at this!”
“THIS IS SO CLASSIC. WOW.”
“It’s happening… AGAIN.”
What was happening?????
Jessica Krug a.k.a. Jess La Bombalera was happening.
There are plenty of articles circulating the web since last night’s breaking news about Jessica Krug, so I’ll just give you the quick cliff notes a la The Cut:
In a Medium post, published Thursday entitled, “Theere: Truth, and the Anti-Black Violence of My Lies,” Krug admitted that she is, despite appearances she has painstakingly cultivated, a white woman. “To an escalating degree over my adult life,” she wrote, “I have eschewed my lived experience as a white Jewish child in suburban Kansas City under various assumed identities within a Blackness that I had no right to claim: first North African Blackness, then US rooted Blackness, then Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness. “I’m not a culture vulture,” Krug continued. “I am a culture leech.”
Jessica Krug is (was…?) an associate professor at George Washington University (!!!!) where she teaches “politics, ideas, and cultural practices in Africa and the African Diaspora, with a particular interest in West Central Africa and maroon societies in the early modern period and Black transnational cultural studies. TRY TO SAY THAT TEN TIMES. She has based her academic career on the study of African and Caribbean cultures, and is also the author of the book, Fugitive Modernities: Kisama and the Politics of Freedom. The book is a study of political movements among people trafficked in the slave trade, and was a finalist for the 2020 Frederick Douglass Book Prize and the 2019 Harriet Tubman Book Prize. Anddddd according to a PDF of the book, she received financial support from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to help fund the project.
Let me back up. Whew. Sorry. It’s just that… I can’t get enough of stories like this. WHAT is it about white women appropriating Black culture to the EXTREME that just makes me feel both horrified and…. SO.AMUSED?
It all started with Rachel Dolezal. If that name doesn’t ring a bell to you, I’m so sorry, because we clearly haven’t spoken for the last 12 years. When the documentary about Rachel Dolezal, “The Rachel Divide” ,came out on Netflix in 2018, I went through approximately 520 emotions in 116 minutes. Official description of “The Rachel Divide” below:
Rachel Dolezal, the former leader of the NAACP's Spokane branch, becomes a national news story when she is exposed for faking her black ancestry.
Fun fact: many moons ago, I let a white woman (for the first and only time) cut my hair, and she gave me what I am now forever calling The Rachel (Dolezal):
All jokes aside, there is something about white women going to the Dolezal degree to appropriate Black culture that hits both extremely amusing and absolutely upsetting nerves in my body. I think part of it is… I am a Mixt woman, who is (mostly?) Black-presenting, but who is also (sort of?) afforded many of the privileges that come with her approximation to whiteness, there’s a part of me that believes I have a little evil Rachel Dolezal within. Or… more fittingly: a little Jess La Bombalera that lives inside of me. Before you all OUT me for trying to claim I have a “transracial” alter ego, just hear me out, please.
For the very few of you who don’t know this about me by now: I have--and continue--to struggle with my relationship to my blackness. While no amount of therapy/journaling/CBD can fully assuage this tension within, that doesn’t stop me from trying my damnest to peel back the layers of this fucked-up-onion-dressed-as-an-oreo-identity-of-mine.
As a Mixt woman who does not feel super comfortable in all white or all black spaces, I am constantly performing a racialized version of myself, trying to match and weirdly impress those around me. All of this -- my relationship to my whiteness and my blackness, is rooted in some pretty problematic stereotypes I have internalized about these racial groups. If you are feeling like you’re reading gibberish right now, you are! that’s because racial categorization was designed as gibberish, to confuse, distinguish, and dominate those with less-than pasty white skin.
According to Racial Equity Tools.org, “Race is a false classification of people that is not based on any real or accurate biological or scientific truth.”
In other words, the distinction we make between races, has nothing to do with scientific truth. Race is a political construction. A political construction is something created by people; that is not a natural development. It is constructed or created for a political purpose. The concept of race was created as a classification of human beings with the purpose of giving power to white people and to legitimize the dominance of white people over non-white people.
And now… back to white women appropriating Black culture.
What Jessica Kruger/Jess La Bombalera did was outrageous. There is no excuse whatsoever. Her weirdly intellectualized cry to be “cancelled,” in a Medium post just speaks to the absurdity and awesomeness of the age we’re living in. I really do hear those who are tired of centering white women like Jessica and Rachel in conversations regarding blackness. But I cannot get Jess La Bombalera out of my HEAD.
What I’m trying to say is… as a Black, mixt woman with a white, Jewish father and a West Indian mother, who grew up in predominantly white, Jewish spaces and once had a white store clerk at a juice store ask me “How did you get so tan?” my racial identity, in a certain way, has always felt pretty convoluted and more based on whether someone has an astigmatism, than how I actually feel. Because as soon as I get too comfortable just calling myself Black, someone will say, “well, you are… mixed…” And as soon as I try to tell another person that I identify as Mixed, they’re quick to ask, “Wait… so you’re not Black?”
The Jess La Bombalera that lives within me is constantly nagging me to PICK A DAMN SIDE. She furiously shakes edge control in my face like she’s Gloria Estefan, repeatedly screaming, “Come on, shake your body baby, do the conga, I know you can't control yourself any longer!” Jess La Bombalera sits perched on my left shoulder while I take a selfie at Burning Man, whispering in my ear, “you cannot show anyone this photo, there are four naked white women with box braids dancing directly behind you.” Jess La Bombalera scans my recent instagram posts, hissing “YOU SSSSSUCK” at the photos in which I’m the only brown face in the group shot. Jess La Bombalera has been gathering data for a dissertation she’ll never defend about everything that’s wrong with interracial relationships. And for a while, I followed her logic, no questions asked. If Jess told me to “stop acting so white,” I poured ten pounds of seasoning on my food. If Jess told me that agreeing wholeheartedly with Black people about anything they said was the only way to prove my allegiance to them, I swallowed my own opinions and curiosities. If Jess told me to divide myself in half, I only asked, “how deep would you like me to cut?”
But here’s the thing about Jess La Bombalera. She’s a fraud. She’s superficial, judgmental, self-loathing and just….. sad. She’s really, really sad. Jess La Bombalera works so hard to make others see the world through a black and white lens, because there’s no vibrancy in her world. No layers. No blends. And the saddest part of all? She has reduced herself to a caricature of a person. She spent so long internalizing racist thoughts that she eventually just became one. She is a product of racialized performance. The star of her own reality minstrel show.
And I think I’ve just figured out the big plot twist. I’m so drawn to the Rachel Dolezal’s and Jessica Kruger’s of the world because I recognize a piece of myself in them.
On the surface, it’s the racial masquerading. The familiarity with a flare for drama. But beneath all of that meaningless fluff, there is a deep feeling of emptiness. A pit of grief that churns at the base of your belly for an impossible sense of total acceptance. Of pure, unapologetic bliss. The loneliness that comes with not knowing yourself and relying on others to justify your existence for you.
The immense pain that comes with a longing to just genuinely belong…. Somewhere. To just be……. The looming fear of what happens when the curtain is finally lifted, and on the stage, what remains is nothing more than a few specks of scattered dust.
I hope you get the help you need, Jess La Bombalera. I’m rooting for both of us, to just be real.