Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (xv, 300 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Edward Schwarzschild

Committee Members

Mike Hill, Aashish Kaul


Lynching, Passing, Rachel Dolezal, Racial identity, Uganda, Whiteness, Passing (Identity), Whites, African Americans

Subject Categories

Creative Writing | English Language and Literature


Muzungu is a novel about a white woman who denies her whiteness by passing and even identifying as a black woman, even as she maintains a contentious relationship with her white mother. The plot is revealed through the point of view of the adult, “black” Rachel, but from the very beginning, much of what she gives the reader are memories from her white childhood, memories involving two key experiences in her youth, experiences that provide her with her first awareness of herself as a white girl. The first is her discovery of a lynching postcard in her great-grandmother’s cellar. Her great-grandmother’s callous message on the back of the postcard is as horrifying to her as the image on the front of the black man’s murder and the faces of the white people who participated in it. The second is when she and her mother relocate to Uganda, where she is the only white child in her community and at her boarding school. Muzungu explores why a white woman might attempt to deny her whiteness and identify as a black woman, as well as how the events in her life and her connections to her family, friends, and the communities she belongs to influence her perceptions of herself and of race. This novel draws upon the work of many sources on race and whiteness, both nonfiction and fiction, as well as from the life of Rachel Dolezal. Given that race is a social construction and that there is no biological basis for categorizing people by race, my dissertation asks whether a white woman in the twenty-first century can truly escape white privilege and the guilt it often causes simply by claiming to be black. As I explain in my Afterword, Muzungu reveals that the attempt to escape the responsibility of white privilege and appear to be something else requires white privilege to do so, and that Rachel’s social ties to her (white) past and the people who knew her then, as well as her memories of them, prevent her from ever being truly free of her whiteness.