What do Rachel Dolezal and Joyce Mitchell have in common? If you do not know who they are yet, the first is someone who successfully pretended to be African-American and became president, now is former president, of the NAACP of Spokane, Washington, while the other is a former instructor at the Clinton Correctional facility, a prison in upstate New York.
Both are now former in terms of their positions, so they have that in common. They are also both women. Additionally they also both dominated the news over the last week. In many ways the comparisons should end there. But they do not. Both were discussed heavily in the news and by media commentators. Both were described as being insecure, albeit in different ways, and also as manipulative, though I am not sure if that exact word was used. Several behavioral experts were called upon to help the public understand why one woman would pretend to be black and why another would allow herself to be put in a position of being groomed by two very dangerous inmates to help them escape from a jail where they were serving life sentences.
All the major news outlets in the United States and others throughout the world carried their stories and added commentaries. No need for me to repeat them. What struck me about the two women was not mentioned in the reports. Shocking for me was just how easily these two managed to assume the positions they were in, positions in which others supervised or graded them, and how both women dealt with or were dealt with by others.
The Mayor of Spokane appointed Rachel Dolezal to a city position as an ombudsman allegedly because she was an asset to race relations in that city. No one sought to even determine what her race was. Did anyone check her background first to determine who she actually was and if she could be honest and trusted? Joyce Mitchell worked at the jail as an instructor for at least five years also under the observation of her superiors. It seems that she received reasonable reviews in spite of the fact that she was providing two inmates with the tools to cut through layers of metal, steel and concrete.
In both cases was their oversight so grossly lacking that it was perceived by the two as nonexistent? And what does this say about community and government management in general? Did being a woman make it easier for them to charm their way around established protocols for proper behavior or were their superiors just indifferent to their employees and the responsibilities of their jobs? There is something both frightening and egregious when the people you trust to act as leaders are not performing their duties?
This might be seen as a feminist issue – don’t blame the women can be a rallying cry. A conspiracy theorist can say that is in fact what transpired here, women as scapegoat. That is not really possible though because both women actually committed wrongdoing. More likely in these two instances the weakest link was a woman. It could have just as easily been a man. Regardless, man or woman, it would be wrong to blame just these two individuals. The jail was reportedly run “like a college dorm” which is to say that there was no oversight. The same might be said about the Spokane NAACP and the Mayor’s office. Don’t just blame the women – blame the lack of oversight!
The greater message here is that things can good wrong far too easily. It is imperative that we keep people accountable and invested in their responsibilities across the entire spectrum of their duties. A lack of professionalism and a readiness to delegate responsibilities to individuals who are not properly vetted seems to be pervasive. Sure Dolezal and Mitchell are liable for their wrongdoing and must face their discipline. Yes they have issues that allowed them to be placed in a position of impropriety but their weaknesses should have been observed prior. In many instances, especially when security issues and race relations are involved, the weak links should be easier to find and countered before things unravel. In this age of fear of governmental oversight of digital communications and concerns for safety the case of these two women argues for a better, more authoritative and comprehensive attitude to employee behaviors.