White NAACP leader posing as black to speak on racial furore

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Rachel Dolezal as she is now (right) and in an earlier photo. (Photo: CNN)

WASHINGTON, United States, Monday June 15, 2015 – Light is expected to be shed tonight on the strange case of a US civil rights worker accused of falsely portraying herself as black.

Spokane NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) leader Rachel Dolezal says she will speak about the furore over racial identity triggered by her parents’ revelation that she has been “pretending to be black for years”.

According to a KHQ-TV report, Dolezal sent a message to NAACP members saying she would address the situation at a Monday night meeting of the group.

“As you probably know by now, there are questions and assumptions swirling in national and global news about my family, my race, my credibility, and the NAACP,” Dolezal’s message said. “I have discussed the situation, including personal matters, with the Executive Committee.

“I support their decision to wait until Monday to make a statement. The Executive team asked that I also release my response statement at the same time, which will be during the 7-9 p.m. monthly membership meeting.

“My sons and I would appreciate your thoughts, prayers and support during the interlude,” Dolezal also said in her message.

On Friday, the NAACP issued a statement supporting Dolezal, who has been a long-time figure in Spokane’s human-rights community and teaches African studies to college students. “One’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership,” the group said. “In every corner of this country, the NAACP remains committed to securing political, educational and economic justice for all people.”

Last week, Ruthanne Dolezal of Troy, Montana, told reporters that she has had no contact with her daughter in years. She said Rachel began to “disguise herself” after her parents adopted four children, two of whom are black, more than a decade ago.

Rachel went on to marry and subsequently divorce a black man, and graduated from historically black Howard University.

Ruthanne Dolezal said the family’s ancestry is Czech, Swedish and German, with a trace of Native American heritage. She produced a copy of her daughter’s Montana birth certificate listing herself and Larry Dolezal as Rachel’s parents.

Mrs Dolezal also showed reporters pictures of her daughter as a child, with straight blonde hair and blue eyes.

Now 37, Rachel sports dark, tightly curled hair and light-brown skin.

On Thursday, she avoided answering questions directly about her race and ethnicity in an interview with The Spokesman-Review newspaper.

“That question is not as easy as it seems,” she said. “There’s a lot of complexities … and I don’t know that everyone would understand that.

“We’re all from the African continent,” she added.

The BBC reported that she came out fighting in an interview at her office on Friday.

Asked what she would say to those questioning her ethnicity, she replied: “Really, it was the article that was questioning, and Larry and Ruthanne [her parents], so what I say to them is, you know, I don’t give two [expletive] what you guys think, you know, you’re so far done and out of my life.”

“I can understand that [it sounds like a misrepresentation], but like I said it is more important for me to clarify that with the black community and with my executive board than it is to explain it to a community that I quite frankly don’t think really understands the definitions of race and ethnicity.”

Asked directly if she identified herself as an African-American, Ms Dolezal said: “I actually don’t like the term African-American, I prefer black, and I would say that if I was asked I would say that… I do consider myself to be black.”

On Saturday, The Spokesman Review in Spokane reported that the black man she claims is her father implied otherwise in a brief telephone interview.

Albert Wilkerson Jr said that he has “nothing negative to say about Rachel” and was reluctant to get involved in the controversy.

“I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus,” Wilkerson said.

Asked about social media postings in which Dolezal identifies him as her father, Wilkerson replied: “You know the answer to that, and that’s all I’m going to say,” then hung up.

Meanwhile, an inquiry was opened at Spokane City Hall, where Dolezal identified herself in her application to the Office of Police Ombudsman Commission as having several ethnic origins, including white, black and American Indian.

While there have been some supporting voices in the strange case of Rachel Dolezal, most commentators have vilified her for “cultural appropriation”, placing her in the context of recent US debates over transgender identity and police treatment of black people.

One tweet gained a particular amount of traction. Twitter user Godfrey Elfwick claims he was born in the wrong skin and identifies as being black.

Genuine or not, the post sparked conversation about the idea of a “transracial” identity, and over the tone and subtext of much of the commentary. In the meantime, two of Dolezal’s adopted brothers said that she asked them to keep quiet about her racial origins.

Her brother Zach told the Washington Post that his adopted sister asked him not to speak of Lawrence and Ruthanne Dolezal as their parents.

Her brother Ezra told Buzzfeed News that she asked him “not to blow her cover.”

“His sister did not offer ‘any logical explanation’ for why she was changing her identity, and Ezra never confronted her about it,” the article said.

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