Civil rights activist Rachel Dolezal misrepresented herself as black, claim parents
The biological parents of a prominent civil rights activist in Washington state have claimed that she has been misrepresenting herself as a black woman when her heritage is white.
Rachel Dolezal is an academic, chair of the office of the police ombudsman commission in the city of Spokane and president of its chapter of the African American civil rights organisation NAACP. Dolezal, a professor of Africana studies at Eastern Washington University, where she specialises in black studies and African American culture, has spoken out regularly on local media about racial justice. This week, however, in an interview with the local Spokane news channel KREM 2 News, Ruthanne and Larry Dolezal said their daughter’s biological heritage was not African American but German and Czech, with traces of Native American ancestry.
They said their daughter had adopted black siblings and had attended school in Mississippi, where her social circle had primarily been African American. She later married and subsequently divorced an African American man, they said. They claim that she began to adapt her appearance following her divorce in 2004. “Rachel has wanted to be somebody she’s not. She’s chosen not to just be herself, but to represent herself as an African American woman or a bi-racial person and that’s simply not true,” Ruthanne Dolezal said.
In the video, the Dolezals showed pictures of their daughter as a blonde child, and at her wedding several years ago. The couple later provided a copy of their daughter’s birth certificate to the SpokesmanReview newspaper.
Rachel Dolezal has since told local media she is not in touch with the couple because of an ongoing lawsuit, and that she does not view them as her real parents.
The 37-year-old told the Spokesman-Review on Thursday that she would prioritise speaking to her executive committee before commenting on speculation in the media. “The question is not as easy as it seems. There’s a lot of complexities … and I don’t know that everyone would understand that. We’re all from the African continent.”
A statement from Spokane city hall said she had listed her ethnicity as a mix of white, black, Native American and a number of others in her application to the office of the police ombudsman commission. “We are gathering facts to determine if any city policies related to volunteer boards and commissions have been violated,” Spokane’s mayor, David Condon, and the council president, Ben Stuckart, said in a joint statement. “That information will be reviewed by the city council, which has oversight of city boards and commissions.”
James Wilburn, a former president of the Spokane NAACP chapter, told the Coeur d’Alene Press that Dolezal’s race was not what had qualified her for the position in the organisation.
“It is traditional to have a person of colour in that position, but that hasn’t always been the case in Spokane,” he said. A woman of European descent was president in the 1990s, he added, and half of the chapter members were not black. “That is probably a result of the fact that only 1.9% of the population in Spokane is African American,” he said.
In a statement on Friday, the NAACP said its local coalition “stands behind” Dolezal’s record.
“One’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership,” the national group said.
Dolezal does not discuss her own ethnicity in detail in her numerous writings on civil rights issues, but in several pieces she uses idioms such as “our cultural memory” when speaking about African American history.
Since the current furore began, Dolezal has closed down her Facebook page, having been an active user of the site to post commentary on African American issues and culture. In a post about the Oscar-winning film “12 Years a Slave”, she said it was “not the best film to take a white partner to on a first date”. She advocates sitting in the back row of the cinema so that “if white people are inclined to stare, they have to turn all the way round to do it … so that during the movie people aren’t constantly looking at you to monitor the ‘black response’ to the film”.
Dolezal’s parents also allege she has portrayed her adopted black sibling Izaiah as her son in pictures on social media. Dolezal confirmed later to the CDA Press that Izaiah is an adopted brother. “But I have full custody of him now,” she added. Spokane NAACP’s Facebook page has an image of Dolezal with an older black man, whom it describes as her father. The CDA Press, however, names the man as Albert Wilkerson, a volunteer at the Human Rights Education Institute in north Idaho, where Dolezal previously worked.
In an interview about her portrait art with the Easterner magazine, Dolezal described a traumatic upbringing during which her parents would “punish us by skin complexion”. She also described being raised in a teepee and hunting for food with a bow and arrow. Her parents have confirmed that they lived in a teepee, but before their daughter was born. Dolezal has been a regular face at local demonstrations and on TV channels, and has made the news on numerous occasions for the graphic hate mail she has received, including nooses left at her home.
In one of the most recent incidents, she found an envelope containing pictures of lynchings in Spokane NAACP’s postbox at the local sorting office. Postal workers later told police the envelope had never been posted, and had been placed in the box by someone who had an access key.
Joyce Mitchell, the prison worker who has fallen under suspicion in the escape of two killers in New York, did not provide the two men power tools, but she did take contraband into the prison, the local prosecutor said Friday.
Andrew Wylie, the Clinton County district attorney, declined to say what the contraband was. Speaking generally, he said that contraband could be anything from toothpaste to blades and drugs.
Asked whether bringing in contraband would be considered criminal activity, he said: “Of course it is.”
Wylie also said that Mitchell was previously investigated because of a complaint that she was too close to one of the escaped inmates, David Sweat, but he said there was no evidence to discipline her.
Sweat and Richard Matt escaped almost a week ago from maximum-security Clinton Correctional Facility in the town of Dannemora, sawing out of their cells with power tools before clambering through the works of the building and out through a manhole.
On Friday, the hunt expanded to include more than 800 law enforcement officers, working with search dogs and helicopters. More than 700 leads have been called in, the New York State Police said. Sources close to the investigation told NBC News on Thursday that Mitchell was charmed by Matt, to the point that “she thought it was love,” and planned to be the men’s getaway driver before she got cold feet.
Wylie said that investigators are still questioning Mitchell, who is a supervisor in the prison’s tailor shop. He said that she is under surveillance but not in protective custody. He said that she does not have a lawyer.
Joyce Mitchell allegedly assisted convicts with