Ex-NAACP leader answers critics
Rachel Dolezal says, ‘I identify as black,’ and she claims she’s unsure who her parents are.
NEW YORK — Rachel Dolezal’s daylong media blitz in which she denied that she is a white woman posing as black culminated Tuesday night with a claim that she’s not sure her white parents are her real parents.
“I haven’t had a DNA test. There’s been no biological proof that Larry and Ruthanne are my biological parents,” Dolezal said on “NBC Nightly News.”
“There’s a birth certificate that has your name on it and their names on it,” interviewer Savannah Guthrie responded.
“I’m not necessarily saying that I can prove they’re not,” Dolezal said. “But I don’t know that I can actually prove they are. I mean, the birth certificate is issued a month and a half after I’m born. And certainly there were no medical witnesses to my birth.”
Earlier Tuesday, Dolezal, a former Spokane, Wash., NAACP leader, said she had viewed herself as black since childhood and knows what it’s like to “live black,” despite critics’ allegations she is a poseur.
In back-to-back morning interviews with NBC’s “Today” show and MSNBC, Dolezal did not offer any apologies and said she was being attacked in a “viciously inhumane way,” even as she remained committed to fighting for human rights.
Dolezal also denied switching racial identities for opportunistic reasons, even though she sued How- ard University for allegedly discriminating against her when she was a white graduate student there, and years later described herself as black on job applications.
“I identify as black,” Dolezal said on “Today,” less than 24 hours after she resigned as president of the NAACP’s chapter in Spokane.
She also said she hoped the passions aroused by the episode would be channeled into a deeper conversation on ethnicity and race.
“The discussion really is what it is to be human,” she said.
Asked whether she would again make the same choices that led to the uproar, Dolezal replied, “I would.”
Later, on MSNBC, she was asked what it meant to identify herself as black.
“I have really gone there with the experience, in terms of being a mother of two black sons and really owning what it means to experience and live black, blackness,” she said.
Dolezal, 37, said that from a young age she had felt isolated and grew to feel a connection with black people. “Just the black experience, and wanting to celebrate that,” she said.
“But certainly that was shut down,” Dolezal said. “I was socially conditioned to not own that and to be limited to whatever biological identity was thrust upon me and narrated to me.”
She said that when her parents adopted four younger black children, she saw herself as a helpful link between the children and their new, mainly white environment.
The controversy erupted last week after Dolezal’s parents said their daughter was white and produced photographs of her from years ago. The pictures show Dolezal with fair skin and straight, blond hair, with coloring similar to that of her mother and father.
On “Today,” Dolezal looked at one of the pictures, which she said was taken when she was about 16. She said that people looking at it would identify her as white and that she was not publicly identifying herself as African American at the time the picture was taken.
But Dolezal also said she had thought of herself as black since about age 5.
“I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon,” she said.
Her parents denied that claim on Fox News.
“That is a fabrication. That’s false. That did not happen. She has never done anything like that as a child, although she was always attracted to the black people,” Ruthanne Dolezal said, noting that the family had close African American friends. “She was used to relating to people of diversity. But she did not ever portray herself ” as black.
Larry Dolezal said “we don’t know” why their daughter was portraying herself as black. He said she had told them over the years not to contact her.
By the time Dolezal emerged as a civil rights activist in northern Idaho, she said news stories began de- scribing her as biracial or mixed race, and she did not correct them. By then, her skin was noticeably darker.
“I certainly don’t stay out of the sun,” she replied when asked whether she had done something to change her skin color.
Dolezal did not say why for years she chose not to correct the news stories that described her as biracial.
She was asked why she had publicly identified a black man as her father while working in Spokane for the NAACP, and whether it was done to bolster her reputation as a black activist.
Dolezal said she and the man had connected “on a very intimate level, as a family,” and she again described him as her “dad.”
“Every man can be a father. Not every man can be a dad,” said Dolezal, whose birth parents say she has shunned them for years.
In response, Larry Dolezal said on Fox News, “That hurts deeply because for over 20 years, Rachel fondly referred to me as ‘papa.’ ”
Dolezal cast herself as the victim of a difficult life — something her parents have denied.
“My life has been one of survival, and the decisions I have made along the way, including my identity, have been to survive and to carry forward in my journey,” Dolezal said.
She had anticipated going public with her background at some point, she said. “Clearly, I wasn’t expecting it to be thrust upon me right now,” Dolezal said.
RACHEL DOLEZAL, whose parents said she’s posing as black, told “Today” show host Matt Lauer that at a young age, “I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon.”