“I identify as black,” Rachel Dolezal, former head of the Spokane NAACP chapter, told NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday when asked if she was an African-American woman.
She said that she began to identify herself in some way as African-American when she was 5 years old. When she drew self-portraits, Dolezal said, she used a brown crayon instead of a peach one, and she drew herself with black, curly hair.
When asked what her sons would say about her race, Dolezal said one of them recently told her, “‘Mom, racially you’re human, and culturally you’re black.'”
Dolezal said that while she may have conducted some interviews differently, overall she’d do it all again when it comes to how she has portrayed herself racially.
“My life has been one of survival,” she said. “And the decisions that I have made along the way have been to survive and to carry forward in my journey and life continuum.”
Dolezal resigned from her post in Spokane’s chapter of the NAACP Monday amid allegations she lied about her race. She stepped down and released a statement that did little, if anything, to suppress the storm brewing around her and her family.
Dolezal’s parents, who are white, allege that she has been presenting herself as black when she is not.
Dolezal did not address the allegations.
“Please know I will never stop fighting for human rights and will do everything in my power to help and assist, whether it means stepping up or stepping down, because this is not about me. It’s about justice,” she wrote in the statement posted on the NAACP Spokane Facebook page. “This is not me quitting; this is a continuum,”
Dolezal said that she’s “waited in deference while others expressed their feelings, beliefs, confusions and even conclusions — absent the full story.”
The president of the national NAACP weighed in following Dolezal’s resignation.
“Our members who looked up to her, appreciated her leadership, are pained, very disappointed,” said Cornell William Brooks. “This is a distraction from the work.”
People on Twitter also made their pronouncements.
“#RachelDolezal stepped down (Monday),” tweeted Sierra Dennis. “She would have been more honorable if she had just been herself and worked with NAACP.”
“#RachelDolezal congratulates herself 4 giving all of us a voice & success of the Spokane NAACP but it’s not bout her,” Alicia Walters posted.
Dolezal’s parents, adopted brother speak out
The developments left family members shaking their heads, wondering why she chooses to misrepresent her ethnicity.
“I think there’s demonstration of being irrational and very disconnected from reality,” her mother Ruthanne Dolezal told CNN’s Don Lemon Monday night.
Her father, Larry, agreed.
“Many of the things she’s done are not rational and a normal sane person wouldn’t take the approach she’s taken,” he said.
Dolezal has identified herself as at least partly African-American, but her Montana birth certificate states she was born to two parents who say they are Caucasian.
They shared that document and old photos with CNN.
She began identifying herself more with the African-American community in 2007, according to her parents. Four of her adopted siblings are black.
Her adopted brother, Ezra Dolezal, said she took him aside three years ago and asked him “not to blow her cover” about her alternate identity.
“She said she was starting a new life … and this one person over there was actually going to be her black father,” he said.
Dolezal said he thinks his sister “is doing this … for attention,” but didn’t say why.
“I think she has an integrity issue,” he said.
A family “legal dispute”
CNN tried to reach Rachel Dolezal for comment, but has been unsuccessful. The Spokane Spokesman-Review newspaper reported, though, that she has framed the controversy surrounding her racial identity in the context of litigation over guardianship of her adopted brother.
According to court documents obtained by CNN, Rachel Dolezal’s adopted brother, who is black, sought emancipation from Ruthanne and Lawrence Dolezal in 2010. The adopted brother, now 21, said the Dolezals used “physical forms of punishment” and had sent his brother and sister away to group homes because they didn’t cooperate with the couple’s religion and rules.
The adopted brother wanted to live with Rachel Dolezal “in a multiracial household where black culture is celebrated and I have a connection to the black community,” the court papers said. The papers did not specify Rachel Dolezal’s race.
The petition for emancipation was dropped. In a separate legal action in 2010, the court appointed Rachel Dolezal to be the adopted brother’s guardian with the consent of Ruthanne and Lawrence Dolezal.
On Friday, the Dolezals told CNN they didn’t want to comment on a possible “legal dispute” their daughter or the NAACP had mentioned.
Dolezal sued Howard for discriminating against her for being white
In 2002, Dolezal — who studied at Howard University — sued the historically black college claiming she was discriminated against on the basis of race, pregnancy, family responsibilities and gender.
She specifically alleged that the decision to remove some of her artwork from a student exhibition was motivated by a discriminatory desire to favor black students over her. The suit was dismissed.
Howard spokeswoman Rachel Mann said Monday the school considers the case closed and declined further comment.
Separately, Dolezal has said she received threatening hate mail in the past, but the Spokane Police Department told CNN’s Poppy Harlow that it dropped its investigation of the letters because of a lack of leads.
The investigation was dropped before the controversy about her race became public.
In the midst of that storm, Kitara Johnson, a member of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, says her concern isn’t that Dolezal may be white, but rather that she was perhaps untruthful about that.
“We have never called (whether she should lead) into question in terms of race,” Johnson said. “Martin Luther King said we don’t want to be judged by the color of our skin, (but) … on the content of our character.”