Shaun King’s critics compare him to Rachel Dolezal, the civil-rights activist in Spokane, Wash., who was discredited after her parents, both white, said she was lying about being black.
A prominent Black Lives Matter activist who has been accused of lying about his race was forced to discuss personal issues after reporters pointed out that the father named on his birth certificate is white.
The controversy surrounding Shaun King has become a proxy for a wider culture war over race and policing.
Supporters of King say conservative bloggers who first questioned his race are using it to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement.
His critics compare him to Rachel Dolezal, the civil-rights activist in Spokane, Wash., who was discredited after her parents, both white, said she was lying about being black.
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After conservative bloggers, as well as journalists at The Daily Beast, reported that a white man was listed as his father on his birth certificate, King — whose mother is white — wrote a blog post admitting that he doesn’t know who his father is.
“Until this past week, never has anyone asked me who my father was during these 35 years of mine,” he wrote on the website Daily Kos. “It occurs to me now that I’ve never asked anyone that question either.”
King, who has long identified as black, said he had been told for most of his life that his father was a light-skinned black man.
Conservative bloggers also accused King of falsifying a story in which he claimed to have been assaulted by white students in high school.
The police detective who investigated the altercation told The New York Times that he had assumed King was white by observing him and his white mother. That detective, Keith Broughton, also said that witnesses described the incident as a one-on-one fight, not a beating by a white mob, as King claimed.
In his blog post, King, who maintained that he underwent spinal surgeries after the altercation, pointed to other witnesses who remember it differently.
On social media, the question over King’s race has drawn multiple comparisons to Dolezal, who resigned her position with the Spokane chapter of the NAACP after her parents said she was white. The Dolezal case set off a national debate over racial identity and white privilege.
Like Dolezal, King attended a historically black college. He matriculated at Morehouse College, a college in Atlanta for men, with the help of a scholarship sponsored by Oprah Winfrey.
Responding to a report asking whether he misled Winfrey, King said he “did not concoct a lie” about his race to gain admission to Morehouse or to get the scholarship.
Morehouse officials said on Twitter that the college did not grant admissions or scholarships based on race.
King has founded several startups promoting philanthropy through technology, according to his website 100 Life Goals. He is a justice columnist for the Daily Kos website and has written for publications including The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and Vox.
King has said he comes from a blended family and that none of his siblings have the same sets of parents.
He has many online detractors, consisting of conservative bloggers and black activists.
But, unlike Dolezal, King also has a large online following, which has risen up to defend him.
Derrick Clifton, a writer for The Daily Dot, says the difference between King and Dolezal (who continues to identify as black) is biology.
“The disgraced NAACP leader also took deliberate steps to conceal her true physical appearance, altering it with traditionally black hairstyles and spray tans,” Clifton wrote. “That’s different from being biracial and referring to oneself as either black or biracial: Racial identity is not a game of pick-and-choose.”