Controversy has erupted over the racial identity of an NAACP leader in Washington state, after her parents told media outlets that their daughter is white and has been pretending to be black for years.
Rachel Dolezal, 37, is president of the civil rights organization’s Spokane chapter and teaches Africana studies at Eastern Washington University.
Lawrence and Ruthanne Dolezal, a white couple from Montana, have said in interviews that they are her biological parents. Rachel Dolezal has described herself publicly as biracial and has posted photos of herself online with a black man she identified as her father.
“She’s our birth daughter, and we’re both of European descent,” Larry Dolezal told BuzzFeed. “We’re puzzled, and it’s very sad.”
The Dolezals said their daughter started to change her appearance after her divorce from an African-American man in 2004, KREM reported.
“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,” Ruthanne Dolezal told the station.
The couple added that they see nothing wrong with their daughter advocating for African-American rights but do not think she should deceive anyone about her own ethnic background, which they say is mainly German and Czech.
On Wednesday, KXLY reporter Jeff Humphrey confronted Dolezal on her identity, asking about a picture posted to the Spokane NAACP Facebook page. The photograph shows Dolezal standing with an African-American man that the caption identifies as her father.
She replied yes when asked, “Is that your dad?” When Humphrey pressed, and asked again, “I was wondering if your dad really is an African-American man,” Dolezal appeared to get defensive and responded, “That’s a very... I mean, I don’t know what you're implying.”
Reports covering the question of Dolezal’s identity went viral Thursday, after the City of Spokane announced that it was investigating whether she had lied in identifying herself as African-American on her application to serve on the city’s police oversight commission, according to the ABC affiliate.
#RachelDolezal became a trending topic on social media.
Dolezal avoided answering questions about her ethnicity, which she called a “multilayered” issue, in a conversation with The Spokesman-Review.
“That question is not as easy as it seems,” she told the local paper. “There’s a lot of complexities… and I don’t know that everyone would understand that.”
Referencing the evolutionary origins of human life, Dolezal added, “We’re all from the African continent.”
According to her faculty biography, she received her master’s degree from Howard University.
“Her scholarly research focuses on the intersection of race, gender and class in the contemporary Diaspora with a specific emphasis on Black women in visual culture,” it reads.
Dolezal has reportedly claimed to have been the victim of hate crimes numerous times. In the most recent instance, she claims to have found an envelope with photos of lynchings and references to local cases involving race in the PO box for her NAACP chapter.
But authorities said that it was missing a date stamp or barcode and that postal workers would never put an envelope in a mail box without those details.
The NAACP’s national headquarters released a statement saying that Dolezal is currently enduring a legal issue with her family and that they respect her privacy on this issue.
“One’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership,” the statement continues. “The NAACP Alaska-Oregon-Washington State Conference stands behind Ms. Dolezal’s advocacy record.”
Dolezal and the Spokane chapter of the NAACP did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Yahoo News.