What a year for name confusion in and around Washington, D.C.! First there was the drama in the at-large D.C. Council race over Michael D. Brown and Michael A. Brown, a case of mistaken identity with grand implications for race relations and civic leadership in the District of Columbia. Then the dog-shooting case, in which a Maryland man who happens to share a name with the police officer who shot and killed a dog last month in Adams Morgan has had his Facebook page inundated with hateful messages from animal lovers. Ever eager to provide the third example that caps off a trend piece, The List presents the other Michelle Rhee. This 29-year-old HR manager in New York has been receiving Facebook messages for D.C. public schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee since March at a rate of two a week. The List chatted with New York-based Michelle Rhee about what happens when people mistake you for one of the country's most intriguing figures.
Rhee first found the chancellor years ago on Google.
“I Googled my own name, and all the sudden I was this famous person who graduated from Harvard and I was like, wow,” says Rhee. “But it wasn’t me.”
What do people write to the chancellor about?
“It’s never really any hate mail,” says Rhee, “but it’s more about their story and how I can help them. Things that have been going on at school.” In one message, one of two that Rhee kept, two former international students who are now school administrators congratulated the chancellor on her work. "We have had the same serious problems when we try to overcome them and people start criticizing us," the message reads. "We would be happy if we can do something together to overcome the problems in this field in the world."
Rhee doesn’t mind the mix-up.
“I feel like I have a small connection to her,” she says. She used to read the messages out of curiosity, but eventually began deleting them automatically.
To respond or not to respond?
Rhee has never written back, something she feels conflicted over. “What should I do?” she asked The List over the phone. Her friends advised her that the chancellor is “really keen on contacting people,” so her non-response will convey to writers that she is not the chancellor. Rhee hopes this is true.
Michelle, please help.
One of the messages was from a woman seeking help for her son, who had been abused in a Florida school system. The writer pleaded with Rhee for her email address and told her that her father-in-law had fought for South Korea in the Korean War. Rhee kept that one, though she says she doesn’t know why.
Rhee doesn’t mind if the chancellor gets the Michelle Rhee Wikipedia page.
“I like to live a quiet life,” she says. “The world is too small for two people with the same name to be famous. She can have the spotlight.”
She does, however, blame the chancellor for stealing the Gmail account.
“All of my friends have, like, firstname.lastname@example.org,” Rhee says. “I tried to do michelle.rhee, but it was already taken. I think she took my Gmail address.”