A civil rights activist accused of masquerading as an African-American woman has insisted: “I identify as black.”
Rachel Dolezalquit as President of the Spokane branch of the NAACP on Monday amid allegations she had “disguised” herself as a black woman.
Her parents have spoken to the press of their daughter’s “dishonesty” and have produced pictures of her as a blonde, blue-eyed teenager with fair skin. They say she is white with a trace of Native American heritage and that she began to alter her appearance after they adopted four African-American children.
On Tuesday Dolezal appeared on the Today show with Matt Lauer to discuss the race storm that has engulfed her life, admitting: “I did feel that at some point I would need to address the complexity of my identity.”
Upon being asked by Lauer: “Are you an African-American woman?” Dolezal nodded and smiled, stating: “I identify as black.”
Lauer then presented the 37-year-old with a photograph of herself aged 16 with long blonde hair and asked: “Is this an African American woman or is this a Caucasian woman?” to which Dolezal conceded: “Visually she would be identified as white.”
When asked if she had purposely darkened her complexion, Dolezal replied: “I certainly don’t stay out of the sun.”
Dolezal claimed to have identified as African American from the age of five, recalling she drew "self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon and black curly hair.”
The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines blackface as: 'The make-up used by a non-black performer playing a black role.'
And she says misunderstandings about her race can in part be attributed to media reports about her civil rights work, where she has been variously identified as transracial, black and biracial – descriptions she has never bothered to correct.
Dolezal, who has been credited with reinvigorating Spokane's moribund NAACP branch, also denied allegations she has put on a “blackface” – something Washington Post journalist Jonathan Capehart describes as: “Highly racist, no matter how down with the cause a white person is.”
Dolezal has faced the same allegation from her adopted brother Ezra.
Ezra told CNN his sister’s physical transformation via a gradual darkening of her skin and hair began in 2011 and likened it to “blackface”.
Ezra, whose biological mother was white and father half-black, said: "It's kind of a slap in the face to African-Americans because she doesn't know what it's like to be black.
"She's only been African-American when it benefited her. She hasn't been through all the struggles. She's only been African-American the last few years."
Dolezal told Lauer: “I have a huge issue with blackface. This is not some freak birth of a nation mockery blackface performance, this is on a very real, connected level. How I've had to go there with the experience, not just a visible representation, but with the experience."