“Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” That is the tagline from a classic episode of “Seinfeld” in which Jerry and George were mistaken for gay partners. So the head of the Spokane branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is actually white. If she has been an effective leader and advocate, does the color of her skin matter more than the content of her character?
Rachel Dolezal, who is also a professor at Eastern Washington University and chairs Spokane’s Office of Police Ombudsman Commission, has dutifully led the Spokane chapter of the civil rights organization for several years. She has even been the victim of multiple hate crimes, she maintains. All the while she has been “passing” for black.
Ironically, it was her own parents that blew the whistle on her.
“It is very disturbing that she has become so dishonest,” Rachel’s mother Ruthanne Dolezal told the Cour d’Alene Press, which broke the story. According to mom, Rachel has Czech, German, and Swedish roots, with a trace American Indian blood thrown in for good measure.
But the deception has run more than skin deep. Rachel has been deliberately altering her appearance to look black, her parents say. They have backed up this claim by producing several older photos of Rachel, including one of her from her 2001 wedding reception, where she appears to be trés white:
A tweet that is getting a good bit of play purportedly shows before and after pictures of Dolezal that highlight the difference in her appearance:
— Charles Wade (@akacharleswade) June 12, 2015
The only problem with this tweet is that the picture on the left is not Dolezal and is, thus, just amounts to piling on, no matter how unintentional.
In the meantime, Dolezal has posted photos on Facebook of herself standing alongside a black she claims is her father but to whom she is in fact unrelated. She has also appeared in pictures with a black child named Izaiah, whom she has said is her biological son — a claim that Ruthanne Dolezal disputes.
Dolezal is nevertheless defiant, telling the Cour d’Alene Press:
They can DNA test me if they want to. I would caution you on all of this. This is ridiculous.
But in a separate interview with the Spokesman-Review, Dolezal was more circumspect, claiming only “We’re all from the African continent,” which is an apparent reference to the scientific theory that the species homo erectus from which modern humans are descended originated in Africa.
Dolezal’s claims to black roots could lead to more than just casual charges of deceit. The city of Spokane has launched an investigation into an application Dolezal filed with the police ombudsman commission on which she identified her race as African American. She could face criminal charges or civil penalties if it is confirmed that she lied about her heritage.
*UPDATE* Apparently my assumption that the color of Rachel Dolezal’s skin mattered more than the content of her character was wrong. The NAACP released a statement that follows in its entirety:
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.
Of course, it’s still probably a stretch to say the organization stands behind the content of her character, since it includes lying about her race and about being the victim of fake hate crimes.