Controversy has raged on the internet over a report by the Washington Post that Rachel Dolezal, the president of a NAACP chapter in Washington State, had claimed to be Black while actually being White. Dolezal, 37, leads the NAACP chapter in Spokane and had also claimed to be the victim of several hate crimes. When questions emerged about her claims, a White couple identified Dolezal as their daughter. Photographs, allegedly of Dolezal as a girl and young adult, are circulating that show her with straight blonde hair and freckled skin. In more recent photographs, Dolezal appears to have a bronze skin color and curly dark hair. So far, Dolezal has not made any statements to clarify the confusion.
A reporter for KXLY television station in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, asked Dolezal about a photo of a Black man identified as Dolezal’s father that is posted to the NAACP chapter’s Facebook page. Dolezal at first said “Yes, that’s my dad.” But when pressed again as to whether her father is actually African-American, she answered “That’s a very … I mean, I don’t know what you’re implying.” When she was asked whether she is African-American, Dolezal replied “I don’t understand the question,” and walked off camera as reporter Jim Humphrey asked, “Are your parents, are they white?”
Identifying themselves as her parents, Ruthanne and Larry Dolezal asserted that their daughter is White. “Rachel has wanted to be somebody she’s not. She’s chosen not to just be herself but to represent herself as an African American woman or a biracial person. And that’s simply not true,” said Ruthanne. According to Dolezal mother, the activist has identified with African-American culture and has adopted Black siblings. Dolezal’s parents assert that she believes that she is biracial and that her biological parents are not her real parents. The couple are troubled by their daughter’s misrepresentations. Among Dolezal’s claims is that she has black son, who her parents assert is actually their adopted child.
In the Washington Post report, Lawrence Dolezal said Rachel - while attending Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi, was part of a “racial reconciliation community development project," called Voice of Calvary, "where blacks and whites lived together.” The Dolezals are Christian. At Howard University, said the elder Dolezal, Rachel presented an art portfolio of exclusivly African American portraits. The university, said Dolezal, “took her for a black woman” and gave her a full scholarship. Ever since then, Rachel has been involved in advocacy for African Americans. Lawrence Dolezal said that her assimilation was such that his daughter eventually transferred her identity to the African American culture.
The Dolezals said that Rachel was once married, but later divorced a Black man in 2004. After that time, they said, Rachel started claiming to be partially African American and the daughter of bi-racial parents. They said that they do not know how she has changed her physical appearance. Born in Montana, Rachel Dolezal once lived in Mississippi.
Rachel Dolezal has said that she is estranged from her parents because of a lawsuit involving two siblings. She has received hate mail that she asserts is linked to a violent group known as “War Pig” that is associated with drug dealers.
A reporter for the BBC, Mike Wendling recalled in an article that he found it “easy to accept her description of her ethnicity.” Dolezal told Wendling that she had been subjected to various racist threats and break-ins. Along with BBC correspondent Jonny Dymond, I talked to Dolezal in 2011 in a coffee shop in Spokane, Washington, while producing a BBC World Service documentary on a surge in extremist militia activity in America. She told us that she was of mixed racial heritage but that she primarily identified with her black ancestors. She matter-of-factly listed the abuse she says she received at the hands of racists, including threats, break-ins, and nooses being left at her workplace.
Twitter was racked with comment about the controversy. For example, Kim Moore tweeted, "Don't talk to me about how #RachelDolezal understood/knew the Black struggle when she could pick & choose when to be 'Black'," says Kim Moore, while Broderick Greer commented: "Only a white person could get this much attention for being black. :)." Some compared Dolezal’s situation to reaction to the saga of Bruce Jenner, a.k.a. Caitlyn Jenner. "There is nothing 'trans' about #RachelDolezal. Stop w/ the false equivalencies to transpeople. Rachel is a lying, deceitful fraud. The end." tweeted @ReignOfApril.
Dolezal reported nine instances of hate crime over the last ten years. After resigning her position as director of the Director of Human Rights Education Institute in Kootenai County, Idaho, in 2010, Dolezal said she was the victim of discrimination. During her tenure at the Human Rights Education Institute, local police did not find or arrest anyone in association with two of Dolezal’s discrimination claims. In 2010, she claimed that a noose was found at her home.
Dolezal is a part-time professor of the Africana Studies Program at Eastern Washington University and has been called one of the region’s most prominent civil rights activists. As chairwoman of Spokane’s Office of Police Ombudsman Commission, she had identified as white, black and American Indian on her job application. She also has published numerous blogs about being black.
The City of Spokane is investigating whether Dolezal violated its code of ethics in her application to serve on the citizen police ombudsman commission. Public records, including her birth record, show her biological parents are Ruthanne and Lawrence Dolezal. In a joint statement, Spokane Mayor David Condon and City Council President Ben Stuckart said on June 11, "We are committed to independent citizen oversight and take very seriously the concerns raised regarding the chair of the independent citizen police ombudsman commission," adding, "We are gathering facts to determine if any city policies related to volunteer boards and commissions have been violated. That information will be reviewed by the City Council, which has oversight of city boards and commissions."
In response to the controversy, the NAACP released a statement citing the reports of Dolezal’s earlier identity as “credible.” The statement said, in part:
For 106 years, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has held a long and proud tradition of receiving support from people of all faiths, races, colors and creeds. NAACP Spokane Washington Branch President Rachel Dolezal is enduring a legal issue with her family, and we respect her privacy in this matter. One’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership. The NAACP Alaska-Oregon-Washington State Conference stands behind Ms. Dolezal’s advocacy record. In every corner of this country, the NAACP remains committed to securing political, educational, and economic justice for all people, and we encourage Americans of all stripes to become members and serve as leaders in our organization.
Comments at BoxDen.com - a website dedicated to hip-hop - concerning the controversy were largely negative. On an article entitled "Rachel Dolezal, Spokane NAACP Leader, falsely portrays herself as black," Fedor Christ wrote: "The NAACP was started by white people BUT the problem here is she's portraying herself as somebody she is NOT. yeah she is a white woman." Ogballer32 wrote: "naacp is run by white people so this isn't really surprising."