The race of a Washington state NAACP leader has come under scrutiny after the woman's family told the press she has been falsely presenting herself as a black woman for years.
Rachel Dolezal, 37, is president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, works as a part-time professor of the Africana Studies Program at Eastern Washington University and is dubbed "one of the Inland Northwest’s most prominent civil rights activists," according to the Spokesman-Review. She is chairwoman of the city’s Office of Police Ombudsman Commission, and identified herself as white, black and American Indian on her application. She also has published numerous blogs about being black in America on the Inlander.
However, her family is saying she is actually a white woman of European descent. Photos from her childhood show her as a blond, white child.
"It’s very sad that Rachel has not just been herself,” her mother, Ruthanne Dolezal, told the Spokesman-Review, revealing that Rachel began to "disguise herself" as a black woman in 2006 or 2007 after the family adopted four African-American children. “Her effectiveness in the causes of the African-American community would have been so much more viable, and she would have been more effective if she had just been honest with everybody.”
Her father, Lawrence Dolezal, said his daughter was a part of a "racial reconciliation community" while at Belhaven University, according to The Washington Post. She then applied to Howard University, a predominantly African-American institution, to study art, submitting “exclusively African American portraiture." The school “took her for a black woman” and she received a full scholarship. At Howard, she "assimilated into that culture so strongly that that’s where she transferred her identity.”
KXLY's Jeff Humphrey pressed Rachel Dolezal on the issue of her background. He presented her with a photo of her standing next to an older African-American man who she claimed was her father in promotions ahead of an NAACP ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier this year.
"Are you African-American?" Humphrey asked.
"I don't understand the question," she responded. "I did tell you that, yes, that's my dad and he wasn't able to come in January."
When Humphrey asked her if her parents are white, she removed her microphone and walked away.
Lawrence Dolezal told BuzzFeed he and his wife are estranged from their daughter because she “doesn’t want us visible in the Spokane area in her circle because we’re Caucasian.”
Rachel Dolezal quashed her parents' claims while speaking to the Spokesman-Review, saying, "We’re all from the African continent." She said the story surfaced merely because of a legal dispute. Apparently, she alleged abuse within the family and obtained custody of her 21-year-old adopted brother, Izaiah, who is black, according to The Washington Post. He lives with her in Spokane and Dolezal apparently claims he is her son.
In February, the NAACP Spokane president claimed she received hate mail in her NAACP post office box with photos of lynchings and words like "war pig," according to KXLY. However, detectives determined the envelope had never been processed through the post office channels and that it was likely placed there by someone with a key to the box.
She also claimed she had found nooses around her home.
The NAACP released a statement in response to the controversy Friday.
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.
The group also called the reported threats "credible."
Rachel Dolezal and Eastern Washington University did not immediately respond to requests for comment.