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‘I identify as black,’ Rachel Dolezal says of her race

Former head of the Spokane NAACP gives interview on NBC’s ‘Today’ show

Rachel Dolezal, the former leader of the Spokane NAACP who resigned her position over a controversy about her racial identity, says she identifies herself as “black.”

Dolezal sat down with Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today” show to discuss her racial background, and the fallout after her biological parents revealed that she is white but had been falsely portraying herself as African-American.

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“I did feel that at some point I would need to deal with the complexity of my identity,” Dolezal said in the interview.

“Are you an African-American woman?” Lauer asked.

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“I identify as black,” Dolezal said.

Dolezal, a 37-year-old woman with a light brown complexion and dark curly hair, graduated from historically black Howard University and was married to a black man. For years, she publicly described herself as black and complained of being the victim of racial hatred.

In the interview, Lauer showed Dolezal a photo of herself as a young woman that her parents produced last week. The photo was of her as a girl with fair skin and straight blond hair.

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“I’d say she is a Caucasian woman . . . visibly she would be identified as white,” Dolezal said of the photo.

When asked about her parents, Dolezal said she was shocked by their decision to talk about her racial identity with the media. “I really don’t see why they are in such a rush to white-wash the work I’ve done and who I am,” she said.

The former head of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP said she began identifying herself as “black” as early as 5. “I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon,” she said.

Lauer also asked about Dolezal’s transformation from the blond-haired young woman to her current appearance, “Have you done something to darken your complexion?”

“I certainly don’t stay out of the sun, but I don’t put on blackface as a performance,” Dolezal said.

Her mother, Ruthanne Dolezal of Troy, Montana, said Rachel began to ‘‘disguise herself’’ as black after her parents adopted four black children years ago.

She said published depictions described her first as ‘‘transracial,’’ then ‘‘biracial,’’ then as ‘‘a black woman.’’ ‘‘I never corrected that,’’ she conceded, adding that ‘‘it’s more complex than being true or false in that particular instance.’’

When asked about Albert Wilkerson, the African-American man that she claimed was her father, and whether he was used to boost her credentials as an African-American woman, Dolezal said he was “family.”

“Albert Wilkerson is my dad,” she said.

Dolezal said, despite the controversy, she would have made the same choices in her life. “As much as this discussion had been at my expense, the discussion is really about what it means to be human,” she said.

“There are probably a couple interviews that I would do a little differently, but overall, my life has been one of survival, and the decisions I’ve made along the way, including my identification, have been to survive,” Dolezal said.

Dolezal has resigned as president of the local branch of the NAACP, lost her position as a part-time African studies instructor at a local university, lost her job as a freelance newspaper columnist, and become the subject of a probe by the city Ethics Commission.

The furor has touched off national debate over racial identity and divided the NAACP itself.

‘‘In the eye of this current storm, I can see that a separation of family and organizational outcomes is in the best interest of the NAACP,’’ Dolezal, who was elected the Spokane chapter’s president last fall, wrote on the group’s Facebook page Monday. ‘‘Please know I will never stop fighting for human rights.’’

In 2002, Dolezal sued Howard University, where she attended graduate school, for discrimination based on ‘‘race, pregnancy, family responsibilities and gender, as well as retaliation,’’ according to a 2005 District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruling in the case.

Dolezal, who then went by her married name, Rachel Moore, claimed the university blocked her appointment as a teaching assistant, failed to hire her as an art teacher upon graduation and removed some of her pieces from a student art exhibition in favor of works by African-American students. The appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling throwing out the lawsuit.

Watch the interview below:

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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