Updated Friday, June 12, 12:35 p.m. EDT: The NAACP has responded to the backlash and media frenzy surrounding reports that one of its chapter presidents “disguised herself” as black for years. In a statement posted to its website, the organization stood firmly behind Spokane NAACP President Rachel Dolezal’s advocacy record, pointing out that a person’s racial identity is not a qualifier for NAACP leadership:
For 106 years, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has held a long and proud tradition of receiving support from people of all faiths, races, colors and creeds. NAACP Spokane Washington Branch President Rachel Dolezal is enduring a legal issue with her family, and we respect her privacy in this matter. One’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership.
The NAACP Alaska-Oregon-Washington State Conference stands behind Ms. Dolezal’s advocacy record. In every corner of this country, the NAACP remains committed to securing political, educational, and economic justice for all people, and we encourage Americans of all stripes to become members and serve as leaders in our organization.
This is not a drill.
A Washington state NAACP president is in the midst of controversy concerning, mainly, her race, with her biological, white parents accusing her of falsely portraying herself as black for almost a decade, the Spokesman-Review reports.
“It’s very sad that Rachel has not just been herself,” Rachel Dolezal’s mother, Ruthanne Dolezal, told the news site. “Her effectiveness in the causes of the African-American community would have been so much more viable, and she would have been more effective, if she had just been honest with everybody.”
Rachel Dolezal’s mother said that she hasn’t had any contact with her daughter in years, but acknowledged that her daughter began to “disguise herself” in 2006 or 2007, after the family adopted four young black children, one of whom her daughter eventually began passing off as her own son.
Dolezal, 37, who also is a part-time professor in the Africana-studies program at Eastern Washington University, had initially evaded questions regarding her race and alleged deceit, telling the Spokesman-Review Thursday that she feels as if she owes the “executive committee a conversation” before broadening her engagement in the “multilayered” issue.
“That question is not as easy as it seems,” she told the site. “There’s a lot of complexities … and I don’t know that everyone would understand that.”
In an interview with KREM2, Dolezal said that it was more important for her to hash out her racial identity and ethnicity with her employers and the black community. “It’s more important for me to clarify that with the black community and with my executive board than it really is [to] explain it to a community that I quite frankly don’t think really understands the definitions of race and ethnicity.”
When asked by the KREM2 reporter if she identified as an African American, Dolezal answered, “I do not like the term ‘African American.’ I prefer black, and I would say that if I was asked, I would definitely say that yes, I do consider myself to be black.”
Dolezal also pointed out to the Spokesman-Review that “we’re all from the African continent.”
Dolezal has claimed to be the victim of hate crimes in the past, most recently in February and March of this year, when she reported receiving a hate-mail package. Police records note that the initial package that Dolezal said she received did not have a date stamp or a bar code, which she acknowledged to the police when she first reported it. However, postal workers interviewed by investigators have said that it was very unlikely—nearly impossible—that the package would have been processed through the post office, concluding that the only other way for it to have been delivered to Dolezal was if someone who had a mailbox key put it there.
However, the Spokesman-Review reported other pieces of mail with the same handwriting and style, sent by the same person identifying him- or herself as “War Pig (Ret.),” had been previously received by Dolezal, probably date-stamped and postmarked from Oakland, Calif.
When asked if she planted the hate mail herself, Dolezal said, ““That’s such [bulls—t]. What mother would terrorize her own children?”
According to the Spokesman-Review, Dolezal has been credited with re-energizing the local NAACP and also serves as chairwoman of the Spokane Office of Police Ombudsman Commission, where she identified herself as white, black and American Indian on her application for the volunteer appointment.
Ruthanne Dolezal said that the family’s background is mostly Czech, Swedish and German, with some “faint traces” of Native American ancestry.
“We are gathering facts to determine if any city policies related to volunteer boards and commissions have been violated,” Mayor David Condon and Council President Ben Stuckart said in a joint statement, according to the news site. “That information will be reviewed by the City Council, which has oversight of city boards and commissions.”
When asked about the allegations against Dolezal, Eastern University spokesman Dave Meany said, “It’s not appropriate for us to comment on a personal issue.”