Black leaders and prominent African-American media figures are weighing in on the controversy surrounding Rachel Dolezal, the former NAACP leader who resigned after being accused of lying about her race.
“I identify as black,” Dolezal told NBC's Matt Lauer on the “Today” show Tuesday.
“I definitely am not white,” she said in an interview with NBC's Savannah Guthrie later in the day. “Nothing about being white describes who I am.”
Montel Williams, the former daytime talk-show host and father of four biracial children, slammed Dolezal’s deception.
“The truth is she lied,” Williams wrote in a Facebook post. “I hope she gets the help she so clearly needs. This isn’t trans-race as much as it’s sans-honesty.”
He elaborated in a guest column published by TVNewser.com:
While she was living as white, Dolezal sued Howard University for discrimination based on the fact she was a white pregnant woman. Then while she was living as black, she reported numerous hate crimes which law enforcement believes may have been fabricated. She’s been flip-flopping her race and fabricating bias in every identity she chooses. And yet instead of asking “Have you been dishonest?” Today preferred to focus on, “What race are you today?” That’s like Wells Fargo asking a bank robber, “Are you withdrawing or depositing?”
“My kids could identify as white, black or biracial and be honest in doing so,” Williams added. “I think people should have some freedom of self-identification, provided that identification is built on a platform of honesty.”
NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar defended Dolezal.
“Does it really matter whether Rachel Dolezal is black or white?” Abdul-Jabbar wrote in an online column for Time magazine:
You can’t deny that Dolezal has proven herself a fierce and unrelenting champion for African-Americans politically and culturally. Perhaps some of this sensitivity comes from her adoptive black siblings. Whatever the reason, she has been fighting the fight for several years and seemingly doing a first-rate job. Not only has she led her local chapter of the NAACP, she teaches classes related to African-American culture at Eastern Washington University and is chairwoman of a police oversight committee monitoring fairness in police activities. Bottom line: The black community is better off because of her efforts.
He added: “Let’s give her a Bill Clinton Get Out of Jail Free card on this one (#Ididnothavesex) and let her get back to doing what she clearly does exceptionally well — making America more American.”
In the New York Times, author Tamara Winfrey Harris pointed out that according to 23andMe, the average African-American “is roughly a quarter white.”
“But even brown-skinned black people with significant European ancestry cannot become white,” Harris wrote. “Who would accept President Obama, raised by a biological white mother and grandparents, as a white man? Precisely no one.”
Harris added: "I will accept Ms. Dolezal as black like me only when society can accept me as white like her."
Last week, Dolezal’s biological parents, who are white, disclosed that their daughter is white but had been posing as African-American, sparking an ethics investigation at the NAACP and touching off a national debate over racial identity.
“On one level, you’ve got to say to her, ‘You’re misleading us,’ but on another level, mom and dad, come on,” the Rev. Al Sharpton told TMZ on Friday. “Are we gonna have this dysfunctional family stuff play out and distract us from key civil rights causes?”
Comedian Dave Chappelle addressed the controversy Sunday while delivering the commencement speech at his alma mater, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C.
“The world’s become ridiculous,” Chappelle said. "There's a white lady posing as a black lady. There is not one thing that woman accomplished that she couldn’t have done as a white woman. There’s no reason! She just needed the braids!”
Blair L.M. Kelley, associate professor and assistant dean at North Carolina State University, agreed.
“Race is a social construct,” Kelley wrote in the Washington Post. “But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real as a lived experience in America, and it wasn’t constructed out of thin air. On this broken foundation, African Americans led, created communities and built a movement that transformed, and strives to further transform, America for the better. There may have been a role for Dolezal to play as ally in that movement if she had pursued it — but not as a white woman masquerading as a black woman.”
On MSNBC, Dolezal said being the mother of two black sons has shown her “what it means to experience and live black ... blackness.”
“From a very young age,” Dolezal explained, “I felt a very, I don’t know, spiritual, visceral, just very instinctual connection with ‘Black is beautiful’ and, you know, just the black experience and wanting to celebrate that — and I didn’t know how to articulate that as a young child.”
“She’s said she identifies as black,” rapper and activist Talib Kweli told Rolling Stone. “Cool story, but that’s not a real thing — because at any time, she could go back. That is a privilege that people of color do not have. You cannot just jump back and forth between those worlds. It’s very disrespectful to the people of color that she claims to identify with to say something like that. When you say something like that, you are not identifying with us, at all, in any way, shape, or form.”