In an interview with NBC, Rachel Dolezal says she started identifying as black at age 5 and drew herself using dark crayons. Also Tuesday, the Spokane NAACP branch said it wants police to keep investigating whether, as Dolezal had claimed, hate mail was sent to the organization.
NEW YORK — The Spokane NAACP chapter president who resigned after her parents said she is white said Tuesday she started identifying as black around age 5, when she drew self-portraits with a brown crayon, and she “takes exception” to the contention she tried to deceive people.
Rachel Dolezal said on NBC’s “Today” that some of the discussion about her has been “viciously inhumane.”
Asked by Matt Lauer if she is “an African-American woman,” Dolezal said: “I identify as black.”
Dolezal’s career as a civil-rights activist in the Pacific Northwest crumbled in the past few days.
She resigned Monday as president of the Spokane branch of the NAACP, was fired as a freelance newspaper columnist and is being investigated by the city Ethics Commission over whether she lied about her race on her application when she landed an appointment to Spokane’s police-oversight board. In addition, it’s unclear whether her contract as a part-time Africana Studies instructor at Eastern Washington University will be renewed.
The furor has touched off national debate over racial identity and divided the NAACP itself. The civil-rights organization has said leadership jobs don’t require a person to be black.
Kitara Johnson, an NAACP member who had organized a petition asking Dolezal to resign from the group, said she felt that Dolezal failed to answer many of the direct questions in the interview. “They were deflections,” she said. “I think the entire interview gave some insight that there are truly some psychological issues at play.”
Former Spokane NAACP leader James Wilburn agreed. “It’s a poke in the eye of other leaders who had been working in the trenches and doing things,” he said.
Dolezal, a 37-year-old woman with a light brown complexion and dark curly hair, graduated from historically black Howard University and was married to a black man. For years, she publicly described herself as black or partly black.
The uproar that led to her resignation began last week after her parents said she is white with a trace of Native American heritage. They produced photos of her as a girl with fair skin and straight blond hair.
“I really don’t see why they’re in such a rush to whitewash some of the work I have done, who I am, how I have identified,” she said Tuesday.
Asked when she started “deceiving people,” she replied, “I do take exception to that.”
Shown a photo of herself with a much lighter complexion in her youth, she said: “I certainly don’t stay out of the sun.” But she added, “I also don’t … put on blackface as a performance.”
“I have a huge issue with blackface,” she said. “This is not some freak ‘Birth of a Nation’ mockery blackface performance. This is a very real, connected level. … I’ve had to actually go there with the experience, not just the visible representation, but with the experience.”
‘The truth or a lie’
Johnson said Dolezal’s comments about blackface were “a horrible cop-out. … I found that ridiculous.”
Dolezal said published accounts described her first as “transracial,” then “biracial,” then as “a black woman.”
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“I never corrected that,” she conceded, adding that “It’s more complex than being true or false in that particular instance.”
“Whenever she was posed with a question where she was supposed to tell the truth, she responded with ‘It’s much more complex than that,’ ” Johnson said. “No, it’s not. It’s very simple. The truth or a lie.”
Dolezal said she told people that a black friend was her father because that’s how she thinks of him.
Her sons are supportive, she said. One told her he views her as culturally black and racially “human.”
Dolezal’s parents denied that their daughter identified as black from a young age.
“No, that is a fabrication,” Ruthanne Dolezal said in an interview with her husband on Fox News on Tuesday.
Asked about Dolezal’s claim that she thought of a black family friend as her father, Larry Dolezal said: “That hurts deeply because for over 20 years Rachel fondly referred to me as ‘Papa.’ ”
The Dolezals said they have not spoken to their daughter for more than two years.
“We are very alarmed at the level of dishonesty that Rachel is exhibiting,” Ruthanne Dolezal said.
Meanwhile, the Spokane NAACP branch wants police to continue investigating whether hate mail was sent to the organization.
Police last week said they were closing an investigation into a report made by Dolezal that she recently received a package of threatening material in the branch’s post-office box.
The Spokesman-Review reported Tuesday that the local NAACP wants police and the U.S. Postal Service to continue the investigation.