AFRICANGLOBE – Rachel Dolezal, the civil rights activist accused of misrepresenting her race, declared on Tuesday that she still identifies as Black – and that she does not “put on blackface as a performance”.
Speaking publicly for the first time since her white parents revealed she was not of African American descent, Dolezal continued to speak in the unapologetic tone of her Monday resignation as president of the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the NAACP.
Rebutting accusations from her brother and a legion of commenters across the world that she is guilty of blackface, Dolezal said resolutely: “I don’t, as some of the critics have said, put on blackface as a performance.
“I have a huge issue with blackface. This is not some freak, Birth of a Nation mockery blackface performance,” she said in an interview with NBC’s Today show, referring to the 1915 film that portrays Ku Klux Klansmen as heroes. “This is on a very real, connected level how I’ve actually had to go there with the experience, not just a visual representation.”
“I identify as Black,” she said, repudiating her parents, who revealed last week that Dolezal grew up as a blonde white woman with adopted Black family in Mississippi. “She’s clearly our birth daughter, and we’re clearly Caucasian,” her parents said earlier this week.
“I really don’t see why they’re in such a rush to whitewash some of the work that I have done, and who I am and how I’ve identified,” Dolezal said on Tuesday, adding that at age five she “was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon”.
Dolezal disputed accusations that she had deceived people about her identity, saying that the issue was “a little more complex than me identifying as Black or answering a question of are you Black or white”.
Shown a photo of herself as a pale, freckled and blonde teenager, Dolezal admitted that “in that picture during that time” she did not identify as Black. “I would say that visibly she would be identified as white.”
“I was actually identified when I was doing human rights work in north Idaho as first trans-racial,” she said. Subsequent news stories identified her as “biracial” and finally as Black, she said. “I never corrected that.”
Dolezal did not directly answer a question about whether she took steps to physically alter her appearance, for instance with makeup.
“I certainly don’t stay out of the sun,” she said. She admitted that “black hair stylists have styled my hair in many different ways” and asked her about her appearance.
“My life has been one of survival,” she continued, “and the decisions I have made along the way, including my identification, have been to survive.”
Dolezal also defended her decision to sue Howard University in 2002, on the basis that officials had denied her scholarship aid “by a discriminatory purpose to favor African American students” over her.
The activist said that officials told her “you probably have white relatives who can help you with your tuition” and revoked her full-tuition scholarship and her TA position. “I thought that was an injustice,” she said.
A judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2004.
Dolezal is engaged in a civil lawsuit with her biological parents, and during the Tuesday interview – one of several scheduled with NBC – she repeated a disavowal of her father, saying that she considers an African American man her “dad”.
“Rachel has not wanted to talk to us,” Dolezal’s mother Ruthanne told NBC on Monday. “She’s distanced herself from us, made it very clear she does not want us around or in communication.”
“We’re puzzled,” her father Larry said. “We taught our children, as we raised all six of them, tell the truth.”
Her parents also rejected Dolezal’s claims that she was born in a teepee and grew up hunting with a bow and arrow. “Those are all false claims,” her mother said.
Dolezal gained custody of her adopted brother Izaiah in 2010, and has since portrayed him as her son, telling the Today show that it was around this time that her self-identification as a Black woman “really solidified”.
“He said, ‘Well, you’re my real mom,’ and he’s in high school, and for that to be something that is plausible I certainly can’t be seen as white and be Izaiah’s mom,” Dolezal said.
The revelations of Dolezal’s background versus her self-portrayal have prompted international conversations about racial identity, politics and appropriation, especially in the unusual context of a white woman representing herself as Black for years.
Although Dolezal said she was glad for the discussion about racial identity and politics that had come from the controversy, she said it had happened “in a really sort of viciously inhumane way” and “at my expense”.
The NAACP is “not concerned with the racial identity of our leadership”, president Cornell William Brooks said on Monday. “Our focus must be on issues, not individuals.”
“The discussion’s really about what it is to be human,” Dolezal said on Tuesday.
By: Alan Yuhas