In a Facebook post, the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts defended its decision to book Rachel Dolezal, the white Washington state woman who for years told people she was black, until she was exposed, for the Baltimore Book Festival.
It reads: "In response to feedback about our decision to have Rachel Dolezal at this year's festival, the Baltimore Book Festival provides an open forum for dialogue and topical discussion of various issues. The Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts does not agree or disagree with the many authors that have appeared on the festival’s stages for more than 20 years, but we do provide a platform for relevant and multi-layered conversations. In seeking participating authors, BOPA looks for new and existing works of interest which may offer more insight into the lives, thoughts, businesses, and opinions of people and characters; and expand our understanding of people, places and thinking that may be different than our own. We invite everyone to attend the festival to hear all of the varied voices of the participating authors."
Commenters were having none of it, with many questioning the non-profit arts organization's ability to understand the people for whom it books events.
"If you booked shorty and thought no one in Baltimore City was going to push back, you really are not from this city," wrote Chelsea Monaé, later adding, "Considering Baltimores majority Black population, I highly doubt your office received an influx of requests to invite an author who has otherwise disregarded very real experiences of very real Black people."
Rapper Eze Jackson said BOPA's statement made him "100% sure that BOPA's disconnection to the Black Community in Baltimore City is very real."
"I understand the interest in having varied Authors," he continued, "but do you know what you're saying to Black People right now? Is this a joke?"
One commenter, Kofi Jamal Simmons, suggested organizers take Dolezal around Baltimore, beyond the "White L."
"Perhaps she can speak to little Black girls and teenagers," he wrote, "many are often punished in various way for their Blackness, and she can explain why she can be allowed to be 'as Black as she want to be' & profit from her 'Blackness' while those young ladies can be expelled from school, talked down to, and worst for theirs."
Following our blog on the announcement, I reached out to BOPA with more questions about the decision to book Dolezal and received a response that is, almost word for word, the same as the Facebook post. It was attributed to Bill Gilmore, the CEO of the organization.
Further questions about the booking of Dolezal were not answered.
Not everyone is behind the booking, however. Multiple sources familiar with the situation said BOPA staffers expressed concerns when the booking was announced internally about a month ago.
One of the sources said that workers tried to stress that booking Dolezal was not reflective of the Baltimore community. The idea that scheduling Dolezal is considered offensive was not understood by the Baltimore Book Festival organizers, the source said.
In addition to backlash on social media, BOPA has received emails complaining about the appearance, and some employees are talking about leaving BOPA if the organization sticks with it.