Nation & World

Civil rights activist Rachel Dolezal: ‘I identify as black’

By J. Freedom du Lac and Abby Ohlheiser, The Washington post

Rachel Dolezal, who resigned Monday as president of the Spokane, Wash., chapter of the NAACP amid a furor over racial identity, sued historically black Howard University in 2002, claiming it discriminated against her because she is white. The case was dismissed.
Rachel Dolezal, who resigned Monday as president of the Spokane, Wash., chapter of the NAACP amid a furor over racial identity, sued historically black Howard University in 2002, claiming it discriminated against her because she is white. The case was dismissed. The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.)/AP

“I identify as black,” Rachel Dolezal, the civil rights activist whose identity touched off a contentious national debate about race, said Tuesday.

But the former president of the NAACP’s Spokane chapter, who is accused of lying about her race, told NBC’s “Today” show: “I did feel that at some point, I would need to address the complexity of my identity.”

In her first interview since she was thrust into the national spotlight, the 37-year-old Dolezal, who is accused of lying about her race, answered a series of questions about her race with comments about her self-identification.

She never corrected a local news report that identified her as a black woman, for instance, she said, “because it’s more complex than being true or false.”

“It’s a little more complex than me identifying as black,” she said.

Dolezal rose to prominence as a black woman, but was unmasked last week as white by her parents.

“I don’t see why they’re in such a rush to whitewash the work that I have done and who I am and how I have identified,” she said Tuesday. The timing of the revelation, she said, “was a shock. I mean, wow.”

Dolezal announced Monday that she would step down as head of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, citing concern that the controversy was hampering the group’s larger mission.

In a message posted on the chapter’s Facebook page, Dolezal wrote that that she was resigning after the “unexpected firestorm” that erupted over whether she misrepresented her race.

But Dolezal, a blue-eyed blonde from western Montana, did not explain in her statement why she had dyed her hair, darkened her skin and misrepresented herself as a mixed-race black woman for much of the past decade.

In previous interviews, Dolezal said she considers herself to be black, and she described choosing the black community over white culture during her college years in Mississippi.

On Tuesday, she told Matt Lauer that her “self-identification with the black experience” began as a young child, at about the age of 5.

“I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon and the black curly hair. That was how I was portraying myself.”

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