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Rachel Dolezal: "Well, I definitely am not white"

NBC News

  1. Rachel Dolezal, the Spokane NAACP chapter president whose parents accuse her of presenting herself as a black woman when she is actually white, stepped down Monday.
  2. Dolezal, 37, is a graduate of the historically black Howard University. In addition to her previous role as NAACP chapter president, Dolezal is the chair of Spokane's police oversight commission. She reportedly stated on her application for this position that her racial identity was black, white, and American Indian/Alaskan Native, and two or more races.
  3. She made the announcement of her resignation in a statement to the NAACP executive committee and members, which was released in full by the Spokane NAACP.
  4. She did not specifically address her race in the statement, but reaffirmed her commitment to racial justice causes including voting rights and criminal justice.
  5. Shortly after her resignation, the Smoking Gun reported Monday that Doleza once sued Howard University for denying her teaching posts, claiming "discrimination based on race, pregnancy, family responsibilities and gender" and that a decision to remove her artwork from an exhibit was"motivated by a discriminatory purpose to favor African-American students over" her. The complaint was dismissed in 2004.
  6. In an interview with Matt Lauer on NBC's Today show Tuesday morning, Dolezal doubled down on her racial identity, saying, "I identify as black." She implicitly acknowledged that this choice was based not on ancestry, but rather on a cultural identity related in part to assumptions about her appearance and having custody of her black adopted brother.
  7. In an interview with NBC News's Savannah Guthrie that aired Tuesday evening, Dolezal insisted that she was not white. But she told NBCBLK's Amber Payne, "I am willing to acknowledge there is a privilege available to people with lighter skin."
  8. In another Tuesday evening interview with MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry, she reaffirmed "I am black" and explained what she said was the childhood origins of her affinity for African-American culture and claim to a black identity.

NBC interviews: "I definitely am not white" (and yes, it's a weave)

Here's how Dolezal responded to a question about her racial identity by NBC's Savannah Guthrie: "Well, I definitely am not white. Nothing about being white describes who I am. So, you know. What's the word for it?  You know what I mean? The closest thing that I can come to is if — if you're black or white, I'm black. I'm more black than I am white.  So on a level of values, lived experience, currently, I mean, in this moment, that's — that's the answer. That's the accurate answer from my truth."

For the first time, she also suggested that the people who've identified themselves as her parents may not be her biological relatives, seemingly leaving room for the possibility that she does in fact have African ancestry. "Up to this point, I know who raised me," Dolezal said. "I haven't had a DNA test. There's been no biological proof that Larry and Ruthanne are my biological parents."

In a separate conversation with NBCBLK's Amber Payne, she evaded a question about the extent to which white privilege played a role in her choice to be black. (Payne, asking the question, pointed out that she, a black woman, would have a hard time convincing people that she was white.) Dolezal instead answered very generally, "I'm willing to acknowledge that there is privilege available to people with lighter skin."

She also responded to a question about her hair, confirming that it is, in fact, a weave.

MSNBC interview: "I have really gone there with the experience"

Melissa Harris-Perry asked Dolezal directly, "Are you black?" and she replied, "Yes."

"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 blackness," she explained. "From a very young age I felt a spiritual, visceral, instinctual connection with black as beautiful, just the black experience, and wanting to celebrate that."

She said she was "socially conditioned to not own that and to be limited to whatever biological identity was thrust upon me and narrated to me."

Asked whether she could understand the anger of observers — especially black women — who are enraged by her claim to a black identity, she said yes, but "they don't know me." Her response to people who accuse her of cultural appropriation (a topic she said she is familiar with and covers with her students): "I get it."

Today show interview: "I identify as black"

The theme of Dolezal's message in the Tuesday morning interview seemed to be that her choice to identify as black was more nuanced than the public understood. After reaffirming that she thinks of herself as black, she admitted, "I did feel that at some point I would need to address the complexity of my identity."

She pushed back against Lauer's suggestion that she had been "deceiving people," saying, "It's a little more complicated than that." She similarly challenged the notion that the physical changes she made to allow people to believe she was black or biracial constituted blackface. "This is not some freak Birth of a Nation mockery blackface performance," she said. "I've actually had to go there with the experience. Not just the visual representation but the experience."

Dolezal explained her lawsuit against Howard — she sued the school for racial discrimination when she still publicly identified as a white woman, in a case that was dismissed — as her response to "an injustice."

She was unclear about the exact origins of her decision to publicly call herself black. At one point she said that at age 5, she identified with the black experience and was "drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon." Later, she said she'd first been described as biracial and black in newspaper accounts and did not challenge this description. She also suggested that she felt as if she could not be the mother of a black child — the adopted brother who's in her custody — if she herself was not black.

In her resignation, she did not make a definitive statement about her racial identity

(YouTube)

(YouTube)

In the statement released Monday, Dolezal wrote, "And yet, the dialogue has unexpectedly shifted internationally to my personal identity in the context of defining race and ethnicity" and said, "...challenging the construct of race is at the core of evolving human consciousness." But she neither reaffirmed her black identity nor denied her parents' allegations that she is white.

Dolezal's full statement

Dear Executive Committee and NAACP Members,

It is a true honor to serve in the racial and social justice movement here in Spokane and across the nation. Many issues face us now that drive at the theme of urgency. Police brutality, biased curriculum in schools, economic disenfranchisement, health inequities, and a lack of pro-justice political representation are among the concerns at the forefront of the current administration of the Spokane NAACP. And yet, the dialogue has unexpectedly shifted internationally to my personal identity in the context of defining race and ethnicity.

I have waited in deference while others expressed their feelings, beliefs, confusions and even conclusions - absent the full story. I am consistently committed to empowering marginalized voices and believe that many individuals have been heard in the last hours and days that would not otherwise have had a platform to weigh in on this important discussion. Additionally, I have always deferred to the state and national NAACP leadership and offer my sincere gratitude for their unwavering support of my leadership through this unexpected firestorm.

While challenging the construct of race is at the core of evolving human consciousness, we can NOT afford to lose sight of the five Game Changers (Criminal Justice & Public Safety, Health & Healthcare, Education, Economic Sustainability, and Voting Rights & Political Representation) that affect millions, often with a life or death outcome. The movement is larger than a moment in time or a single person's story, and I hope that everyone offers their robust support of the Journey for Justice campaign that the NAACP launches today!

I am delighted that so many organizations and individuals have supported and collaborated with the Spokane NAACP under my leadership to grow this branch into one of the healthiest in the nation in 5 short months. 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.

It is with complete allegiance to the cause of racial and social justice and the NAACP that I step aside from the Presidency and pass the baton to my Vice President, Naima Quarles-Burnley. It is my hope that by securing a beautiful office for the organization in the heart of downtown, bringing the local branch into financial compliance, catalyzing committees to do strategic work in the five Game Changer issues, launching community forums, putting the membership on a fast climb, and helping many individuals find the legal, financial and practical support needed to fight race-based discrimination, I have positioned the Spokane NAACP to buttress this transition.

Please know I will never stop fighting for human rights and will do everything in my power to help and assist, whether it means stepping up or stepping down, because this is not about me. It's about justice. This is not me quitting; this is a continuum. It's about moving the cause of human rights and the Black Liberation Movement along the continuum from Resistance to Chattel Slavery to Abolition to Defiance of Jim Crow to the building of Black Wall Street to the Civil Rights and Black Power Movement to the ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ movement and into a future of self-determination and empowerment.

With much love and a commitment to always fight for what is right and good in this world,

Rachel Dolezal

A new look

(Facebook)

(Facebook)

On Sunday, in advance of the release of her statement stepping down from the NAACP, Dolezal updated her Facebook cover photo to show this 2004 photo of herself, her son, and one of her adopted brothers. In it, the curly, light brown hair seen in many of her recent social media photos, and in a video in which she's confronted by a local news reporter about the questions about her African-American identity, is replaced by straight, dark hair.

Watch: Debunking race in 3 minutes