If you ask Rachel Dolezal what race she is, she will say she’s Black, even though her birth certificate and her parents, who are white, say she is Caucasian. When they finally came forward this week, their daughter’s fraud was exposed.
The whirlwind around the revelation that the former Spokane, Wash., NAACP president lied about being Black continues.
News of the revelation broke last week when the 37-year-old’s Caucasian parents in Montana spoke out, showing her race as white on her birth certificate. “We are her birth parents,” her father, Lawrence, said in a television interview Friday. “We do not understand why she feels it’s necessary to misrepresent her ethnicity.”
Dolezal grew up with Black adopted siblings.
Wayne State University student Anna Gibson describes the subsequent Black outrage over Dolezal’s actions in her ForHarriet.com commentary entitled, “On Being #Transracial, or the Arrogance of White Privilege and Cultural Appropriation.”
Gibson said of Dolezal, “By performing ‘blackness,’ she made a joke of our oppression.”
Commentators on social media suggested that the outed imposter’s thinking probably ran along the lines of “Why struggle through the packed career byways as a white woman when you can fast-track yourself as a Black woman?”
Gibson stated, “It’s clear that Dolezal has made a mockery of Black culture for her own selfish benefit. She curled her straight hair and claimed she was going ‘natural.’ She made jokes about going to movies like ‘12 Years a Slave.’ She tanned her skin and stopped speaking to her parents so that people wouldn’t know she wasn’t Black. She’s even claimed her adoptive brothers, who are Black, were her sons, all in an effort to live up to this charade and center herself in Black culture.”
As the media machine went into overdrive this week, Dolezal broke her silence and made her first public statements about why she considers herself Black, even though she is white.
Appearing on NBC News Tuesday, Dolezal maintained that she is Black and that several experiences and what she feels inside allow her to change her race.
“Well, I definitely am not white,” she said during an interview. “Nothing about being white describes who I am. So, you know. What’s the word for it? You know what I mean? The closest thing that I can come to is if—if you’re Black or white, I’m Black. I’m more Black than I am white. So on a level of values, lived experience, currently, I mean, in this moment, that’s—that’s the answer. That’s the accurate answer from my truth.”
Dolezal stepped down from her position as president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, stating in a post on Facebook this week that it is the best option for herself and the organization. She was scheduled to address the NAACP about the situation Monday, but she cancelled that appearance.
“It is with complete allegiance to the cause of racial and social justice and the NAACP that I step aside from the presidency and pass the baton to my vice president, Naima Quarles-Burnley,” Dolezal said.
The incredible story began when local media in Spokane confronted Dolezal last week. Shown a picture and questioned about a Black man she claimed to be her father, she hesitated in answering. Asked if she is Black, Dolezal said,“I don’t understand the question.” She then walked away.
As affronted social observers questioned why more Black talking heads were not challenging the audacity of Dolezal’s fraud, the NAACP chapter in Spokane supported Dolezal and said they didn’t plan on letting her go.
“One’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership,” the group said last week. “The NAACP Alaska-Oregon-Washington State Conference stands behind Ms. Dolezal’s advocacy record.”
As of Wednesday, Dolezal’s picture remained on the Spokane NAACP chapter’s website, along with her title as president. It was days before Dolezal went public with her side of the story. She said the revelation was something she is discussing with her chapter members before speaking to the media.
“I feel like I owe my executive committee a conversation,” she said in one report.
Dolezal presented herself as a biracial woman. She was elected president of the Spokane branch of the NAACP in November 2014. She also serves as chief of the Office of Police Ombudsman Commission in Spokane.
For the past eight years she’s worked as a college professor at Eastern Washington University, teaching courses in Black studies, African-American culture, African history and art. She earned a master’s degree in fine art from the historically Black Howard University. She sued Howard University unsuccessfully in 2002, accusing the school of discriminating against her because she was white, preventing her from getting a scholarship and a teaching assistant position.
In 2000, she married Kevin Moore, who is Black. The two have a son together. They divorced in 2004.
The situation has taken social media by storm, with Dolezal trending on “Black Twitter.” Hashtags including #racheldolezal, #askrachel and #transracial continue to be widely used. “Blackface” and “minstrel show” are also words being widely used, and Dolezal’s use of the term “transracial” to refer to herself has been subjected to debate and ridiculed for the sheer effrontery.
One of her adopted Black siblings, Ezra Dolezal, said that his sister is in “blackface” and is “pretending to be Black.” He said that his sister asked him not to reveal her true race.
“She told me not to blow her cover about the fact that she had this secret life or alternate identity,” Dolezal said in one interview. “She told me not to tell anybody about Montana or her family over there. She said she was starting a new life … and this one person over there was actually going to be her Black father.”
Dolezal said his sister began to gradually darken her skin and hair.
“It’s kind of a slap in the face to African-Americans because she doesn’t know what it’s like to be Black,” he said. “She’s only been African-American when it benefited her. She hasn’t been through all the struggles. She’s only been African-American the last few years.”
NAACP members in Spokane have stuck with their organization in the face of the media firestorm. The group recently held a rally in downtown Spokane in support of the chapter.
“It feels like the ultimate betrayal,” chapter member Angela Jones told local media. “Why would you not be honest?”
Past Spokane NAACP President James Wilburn said in a televised interview he was concerned for the chapter’s reputation and that Dolezal could have a mental issue she must deal with.
“I hope that [the branch] can maintain it’s credibility,” he said. “The NAACP chapter here in Spokane has had European-American presidents before. I assumed she was African-American. I only had her word, so I went by what she said. I had no reason to question it.”