Nkechi Amare Diallo[pron 1] (born November 12, 1977), born and still commonly known as Rachel Anne Dolezal[pron 2] is an American multimedia artist and former civil rights activist known for claiming to be a black woman while being of European ancestry and having no known African ancestry.
Nkechi Amare Diallo
Dolezal in 2015
Rachel Anne Dolezal
November 12, 1977
Lincoln County, Montana, U.S.
|Residence||Spokane, Washington, U.S.|
|Relatives||Joshua Dolezal (brother)|
Dolezal was president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter in Spokane, Washington from 2014 until June 2015, when she resigned in the midst of controversy over her racial identity. She received further public scrutiny when her white parents publicly stated that Dolezal was passing as black. The statement by Dolezal's parents in June 2015 followed Dolezal's reports to police and local news media that she had been the victim of race-related hate crimes; however, a subsequent police investigation cast doubt on Dolezal's allegations. In a November 2015 television interview, Dolezal publicly stated for the first time since the controversy began that she was born white, but still identified as black. In the aftermath of the controversy, Dolezal was dismissed from her position as an Instructor in Africana Studies at Eastern Washington University and removed by the Spokane City Council as Chair of the Police Ombudsman Commission over "a pattern of misconduct."
Dolezal has fueled a national debate in the United States about racial identity. Dolezal's critics state that she has committed cultural appropriation and fraud; Dolezal and her defenders assert that her self-identification is genuine, even though it is not based on race or ancestry. In 2017, Dolezal published a memoir, In Full Color, where she defended her claims. Netflix has released a documentary on Dolezal, The Rachel Divide, which describes her history and self-identification and examines the arguments made by her and her critics.
Dolezal was charged by the State of Washington with felony theft by welfare fraud and second degree perjury in May 2018. Prosecutors claim that she lied about her assets and was financially secure (with tens of thousands of dollars in donations and other revenue) at the time she was receiving welfare and claiming to be indigent.
Dolezal was born in Lincoln County, Montana, on November 12, 1977, to parents Ruthanne (née Schertel) and Lawrence "Larry" Dolezal, who are white and primarily of German, Czech and Swedish origin; she was born as a blue-eyed blonde. Dolezal's parents have been married since 1974. Rachel has an older biological brother, Joshua, who authored a book about their upbringing in Montana. He currently serves as a full Professor of English Studies at Central College in Iowa. When Dolezal was a teenager, her parents adopted three African-American children and one black Haitian child.
Dolezal has said she was born and lived in a teepee and that the family had hunted for their food with bow and arrow. Her mother stated that she and Dolezal's father briefly lived in a teepee in 1974, three years before their daughter was born, and that Dolezal's claims were "totally false". From 2002 to 2006, her parents and adopted siblings lived in South Africa as Christian missionaries. Dolezal said she lived in South Africa as a child, but her family disputes the claim.
Dolezal was raised as a Pentecostal. She has contended that her parents frequently abused her; in a 2017 interview, she claimed she was taught to believe that "everything that came naturally, instinctively was wrong"—a point that was "literally beaten into us". Her biological brother, Joshua, and her adoptive brother, Izaiah, have also claimed that they were abused by their parents. Izaiah sought to be emancipated at the age of 16 after claiming that Larry and Ruthanne not only beat him and his siblings, but also threatened to send them to group homes if they didn't obey. Her brother Ezra, who is about 15 years younger than his sister, has denied the accusations of physical punishment in an interview with CNN, and in an interview to BuzzFeed he acknowledged that his adoptive parents were strict and sometimes used corporal punishment.
Dolezal was homeschooled via the Christian Liberty Academy CLASS program, achieving a 4.0 GPA. She was one of several co-valedictorians upon graduation in 1996. She won a $2,000 scholarship for college awarded by Tandy Leather for her entry in their 1996 Leather Art contest. In 1998 she entered art works at Spokane's annual Juneteenth celebration; she expressed African-American themes through collages and mixed-media works. Her family drove three hours from their home in Montana to enable her to display her work in Spokane. Dolezal's father told a Spokesman-Review newspaper reporter that Rachel had never heard of Juneteenth, the event commemorating the abolition of slavery, until she learned of it via an Internet search while looking for a venue to show her art work.
Following the completion of high school, Dolezal attended Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi, receiving her bachelor's degree in 2000. After Belhaven, she attended Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, D.C.; she received a Master of Fine Arts, summa cum laude, from Howard in 2002.
Her parents and brother said that when Dolezal applied to Howard, because of her art work, the admissions office assumed she was black and awarded her a scholarship. Her younger brother, Ezra Dolezal, said that "because of her work in African American art, they thought she was a Black student during her application, but they ended up with a White person". Her father said, "eyes were popping and jaws were dropping because they couldn't believe they had given a full scholarship to a white girl", although he stressed that "she didn't pose as black; she just sounded black on the phone". Her thesis at Howard was a series of paintings presented from the perspective of a black man, and sparked a controversy. Dean Tritobia Hayes Benjamin, a specialist on black women in the arts, questioned whether Dolezal was qualified as a white woman to tell this type of story. Dolezal later said that she was drugged and sexually assaulted by a "trusted mentor" when attending Howard University, and that "suing was nearly impossible". In 2002, Dolezal unsuccessfully sued Howard University for discrimination based on "race, pregnancy, family responsibilities and gender, as well as retaliation".
Dolezal created a fountain sculpture titled "Triumph of the Human Spirit" consisting of a tall column with troubled, sad figures at its base and dancing, celebrating figures further up the column. Clear water flowed down the column and a bench for seating encircled the base. It was installed in a downtown Spokane location in June 2005. The sculpture was on display until the end of that summer when it was auctioned off to benefit the Human Rights Education Institute.
In 2007, while working as an art teacher at School Indigo in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Dolezal collaborated with children to make five works for a "Rights of the Child" exhibit, by the Human Rights Education Institute.
In June 2015, Priscilla Frank at The Huffington Post and Sarah Cascone at artnet made accusations of plagiarism against Dolezal over the painting "The Shape of Our Kind," for being a nearly identical copy of J.M.W. Turner's 1840 work The Slave Ship. Frank accused Dolezal of plagiarism for not crediting Turner. Cascone obliquely accused Dolezal of plagiarism because, while she acknowledged it is a common and widely accepted practice for painters to copy well-known works, Cascone said Dolezal should have mentioned Turner when offering the painting for sale online.
Civil rights activismEdit
NAACP branch presidentEdit
Dolezal was elected president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP in 2014, replacing James Wilburn. She was noted during her brief tenure for revitalizing the chapter. Her resignation from the civil rights organization was announced on June 15, 2015 after her parents, family members, and numerous media reports over many days had exposed her stated biography and ethnicity to be untrue.
Chair of Police Ombudsman CommissionEdit
Dolezal applied for the position of Chair of the Office of the Police Ombudsman Commission in Spokane in May 2014, and was subsequently appointed by Mayor David Condon. In her application, she identified herself as having several ethnicities, including black. In June 2015, City Council President Ben Stuckart said the city had opened an investigation of the truthfulness of her application.
On June 17, 2015 an investigation into her behavior as chair of the commission concluded that she had acted improperly, violated government rules and abused her authority, and the report said the evidence and interviews confirmed workplace harassment allegations and "a pattern of misconduct" by Dolezal. Dolezal was asked to resign by mayor David Condon and city council president Ben Stuckart due to "intimidating and harassing" behavior. On June 18, 2015 the Spokane City Council voted unanimously to remove Dolezal from her position as chair of the Police Ombudsman Commission.
Teaching and writingEdit
She was the education director of the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, until 2010 when she resigned after being passed over for promotion to the institute's top job. From 2005 to 2013, she was an instructor at North Idaho College, a community college in Coeur d'Alene. Eastern Washington University released a statement which said that "since 2010, Rachel Dolezal has been hired at Eastern Washington University on a quarter by quarter basis as an instructor in the Africana Education program. This is a part-time position to address program needs. Dolezal is not a professor." She taught "The Black Woman's Struggle", "African and African American Art History", "African History", "African American Culture", and "Intro to Africana Studies". A statement by university officials on June 15, 2015, said Dolezal was "no longer an employee of Eastern Washington University". Despite not being a professor, she used the title "professor" on several websites. Dolezal herself describes her teaching as "race and culture classes", "black studies" and "black feminism".
Dolezal was a frequent contributor to The Inlander, an alternative weekly newspaper in Spokane. On June 15, 2015 The Inlander announced that it had cut ties with Dolezal, saying that as one of the many organizations that had trusted her "we, too, feel manipulated and deceived."
In April 2016, Dolezal announced on the Today Show that she was writing a book on her racial identity. This memoir, called In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World, was released by BenBella Books in March 2017. Dolezal said 30 publishing houses turned her down before she found a smaller publishing company willing to print it. The New York Post states that "she compares her travails to slavery" in her book.
Racial identity controversyEdit
Dolezal's self-identification as black became the subject of controversy in June 2015, after Dolezal was asked by KXLY-TV reporter Jeff Humphrey about a photo on the Facebook page of the Spokane NAACP chapter of a black man identified as Dolezal's father. After being asked if the man was really Dolezal's father, she said he was but would not answer when asked if she was African American. She then walked away during the on-the-sidewalk interview.
Dolezal's parents later stated that their daughter had been trying to "disguise herself" as African American. They presented a copy of their daughter's Montana birth certificate, and said that she is of German and Czech heritage, with "faint traces" of Native American ancestry. The birth certificate declares that she was born at home and the person in attendance at birth is given as "Jesus Christ". Her parents said Dolezal began to identify herself more with the African American community around 2007. Dolezal alleged that the Spokane police chief had tired of dealing with her, and the chief had asked a private investigator to find out more information on her. The investigator got in touch with Dolezal's parents, and discovered that she was really a white woman. However, the private investigator and the attorney for the police chief rejected Dolezal's allegations and stated they were untrue.
In subsequent interviews, Dolezal stated, "If, you know, I was asked, I would definitely say that yes I do consider myself to be black", and that "I would definitely consider myself to be black". Dolezal has listed herself as black on at least one application, and has said she is of "African American, Native American, German, Czech, Swedish, Jewish and Arabic" heritage. In an article she wrote for The Inlander in March 2015, Dolezal included herself when discussing black women through use of the "we" and "our" pronouns.
In a November 2, 2015 interview on The Real, Dolezal publicly acknowledged for the first time since the controversy began that she was white. She said, "I acknowledge that I was biologically born white to white parents, but I identify as black".
In a February 2017 interview with The Guardian, Dolezal said that she sees race as a social construct. At Howard, she was introduced to the theory that racial identity had been devised in colonial times as a method of control. She embraced this concept wholeheartedly after her divorce, and decided to "flee from feeling like I had to do things in a way that was acceptable to other people." Soon afterward, she began sunbathing to darken her skin, applying bronzers to maintain the look. She also began wearing her hair in dreadlocks and weaves, and checked the box for "black" or "African American" on employment and medical history forms. According to her adoptive brother, Ezra, Rachel began changing her appearance as early as 2009, when she began using hair products that she'd seen Ezra's biological sister use. She began darkening her skin and perming her hair sometime around 2011. When Ezra moved in with Rachel in 2012, she told him that Spokane-area residents knew her as black, and told him, "Don't blow my cover."
Claims about her fatherEdit
Her uncle Dan Dolezal said that his niece first claimed that a black friend named Albert Wilkerson was her real father around 2012–13, saying that "it caused my brother quite a bit of pain".
Dolezal has in interviews referred to her father as her "stepfather", and said her "black father" had fled the Deep South "because a white cop was hunting him". Dolezal's mother said she has never met Albert Wilkerson and that Rachel Dolezal does not have a stepfather. In a 2015 interview, Dolezal said she was "punished by skin complexion" by her mother and "white stepfather", and compared this alleged punishment to the punishment suffered by black slaves. Her brother Ezra Dolezal, who is about 15 years younger than his sister, said that the accusations of physical punishment were false in an interview to CNN, and in an interview to BuzzFeed he acknowledged that his adoptive parents were strict and sometimes used corporal punishment.
Reactions to the controversyEdit
The revelations about Dolezal's ancestry and her other claims provoked a range of reactions. Angela Schwendiman, a colleague of Dolezal's at Eastern Washington University, expressed her belief that Dolezal perceived herself as black internally, and that "she was only trying to match how she felt on the inside with her outside." Similarly Cedric Bradley, a colleague of hers at Spokane's NAACP, suggested it mattered little to him whether Dolezal was actually black or not. What did matter to him was her proven track record in social justice work. "It's not about black and white," Bradley stated, "it's about what we can do for the community."
Psychologist Priscilla Dass-Brailsford stated: "Because of a familiarity with black culture, she [may] regard herself as 'transracial'". Psychologist Halford Fairchild said "Rachel Dolezal is black because she identifies as black. Her identity was authentic, as far as I could tell." Sociologist Ann Morning also defended Dolezal, saying: "We're getting more and more used to the idea that people's racial affiliation and identity and sense of belonging can change, or can vary, with different circumstances." Washington Post journalist Krissah Thompson described her behavior as "white guilt played to its end". Thompson discussed the issue with psychologist Derald Wing Sue, an expert on racial identity, who suggested that Dolezal had become so fascinated by racism and racial justice issues that she "over-identified" with black people.
Gender studies scholar Samantha Allen said, "Rachel Dolezal seems determined to appropriate not just blackness but the rhetoric of transgender identity as well" and called the analogy "spurious". Washington Post journalist Jonathan Capehart suggested, "blackface remains highly racist, no matter how down with the cause a white person is." Her adopted brother Ezra Dolezal also compared his sister's behavior to blackface and said "she's basically creating more racism".
On June 16, 2015, Touré Neblett, a commentator for MSNBC, said on the TV program The Cycle: "When I did my book about blackness, I talked to a hundred folks, academics, all sorts of people and the one thing that binds black people is the experience of racism. There's not a cultural thing that binds all of us but the experience of racism. From systemic, stereotypical microaggressions, whatever it is, and, no, she has not experienced anti-black racism and with the Howard suit, she sues Howard because she doesn't get a job because she's a white woman, you see that she wants to have it both ways." Introducing the category of "cisracial" has been suggested by former MSNBC commentator Melissa Harris-Perry.
Leslie Bow, an expert on racial relations, criticized Dolezal for "taking the place of faculty of color by allowing her colleagues to assume that she's black".
A petition calling for Dolezal to resign her position in the NAACP was launched by Kitara McClure, the former multicultural director at Spokane Community College and a member of the NAACP. McClure said "you cannot lead without honesty", and that "for the local and the national NAACP to say they stand behind her is appalling".
The case made international news. German Süddeutsche Zeitung referred to Dolezal reverting to a classical passing scheme, as in passing novel examples like The Human Stain (2000), and mentioned Norman Mailer's 1957 essay "The White Negro" and historical cases like Grey Owl. The review of Allyson Hobbs' A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life tried to put the case in a wider and historical perspective on passing as well.
Response by DolezalEdit
Dolezal issued a statement on June 15, 2015, in which she said she believes that "challenging the construct of race is at the core of evolving human consciousness". The following day Dolezal told Today Show host Matt Lauer she was first described as "transracial" and "biracial" in articles about her human rights work, and chose not to correct them. In the same interview, she defended against allegations of having put on blackface by claiming the way she presented herself was "not some freak, Birth of a Nation, mockery blackface performance". Dolezal later clarified that she has never claimed to be "transracial", a term associated mainly with transracial adoption.
Allegations of discrimination and hate crimesEdit
Lawsuit against Howard UniversityEdit
In 2002, Dolezal unsuccessfully sued Howard University for discrimination based on "race, pregnancy, family responsibilities and gender, as well as retaliation". Her lawsuit alleged that she was denied scholarship funds, a teaching assistant position and other opportunities, because she is a white woman. She also alleged that the removal of her artwork from a student exhibition at Howard in 2001 "was motivated by a discriminatory purpose to favor African-American students" over her. Her lawsuit claimed that Howard was "permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult". During the proceedings, the university's lawyers asked Dolezal if she tried to mislead the university by posing as black in her admissions essay, where she had written about "the atrocities so many ancestors faced in America" in the context of black history.
Police reports about alleged hate crimesEdit
In July 2010, Dolezal resigned from Human Rights Education Institute in Kootenai County, and stated to KREM 2 News that "she had been the target of discrimination". Dolezal stated on September 29, 2009, to KXLY that a noose had been left on her porch. Dolezal's biography on Eastern Washington University's website states that while living in Idaho "at least eight documented hate crimes targeted (Rachel) Dolezal and her children".
Dolezal's mother said she was contacted by the media in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, where Rachel lived for seven years. "Law enforcement is conducting an investigation of claims Rachel has made about hate crime threats and in that process of the investigation, the question of 'What is your true ethnicity?' came up, and we were contacted and agreed to speak to the press," Ruthanne said. "It is a sad situation, but the truth is best for everyone." The subsequent police investigation did not support Dolezal's allegation. Detectives said the envelope that contained the alleged threats had no postage stamps, barcodes or any other indication of having been handled by the postal service. The postal inspector said "the only way this letter could have ended up in this P.O. box would be if it was placed there by someone with a key to that box or a USPS employee."
Kurt Neumaier, a former member of the oversight board of the Human Rights Education Institute, said he had suspicions about Dolezal and that he was concerned that the decision to hire her was done without proper vetting and checking into claims about her background. He said he was suspicious of several incidents Dolezal alleged, including her alleged discovery of a swastika on the door of the Human Rights Education Institute when the security camera was "mysteriously turned off." Neumaier concludes that in every incident Dolezal has alleged, "she was the sole witness to events that, when put under scrutiny, don't hold up".
In popular cultureEdit
In 2018, a documentary entitled The Rachel Divide aired. The film was directed by Laura Brownson and distributed by Netflix. The documentary explored Dolezal's 2015 racial identity controversy, the circumstances surrounding it, and its aftermath. The documentary received mixed reviews. Vogue gave the filmmaker credit for "balanced treatment of her deeply problematic subject matter". The New Yorker noted the film's portrait of family dynamics. "Eventually, Brownson locates the real story: a primitive power game between mother and child, one that forecasts calamity. And it is in this mode that The Rachel Divide becomes a disturbing and enthralling drama of the American family, the pain of its truths and its fictions."
In 2019, Dolezal appeared as herself on the Adult Swim special KRFT Punk's Political Party, where she debated Ashlee Marie Preston and Nickolas Wildstar, and then appeared in two more segments to paint a portrait of the main character Kraft Punk.
Dolezal married Kevin Moore, a black man, in 2000. Moore, a medical student at Howard University at the time of their marriage, divorced Dolezal in 2004. He has accused Dolezal of lying and "poisoning" his relationship with their son. In 2010, with the consent of her parents, she obtained legal guardianship of her adopted brother, Izaiah Dolezal, who was 16 years old at the time. Her other adopted brother, Ezra Dolezal, accused Rachel of having "brainwashed" Izaiah into "hating white people".
According to a February 2015 article in The Easterner, Dolezal said she had suffered from cervical cancer in 2006, but had recovered by 2008, a claim which her brother Ezra Dolezal said he had only heard about at the time of the interview and that he didn't believe was true. Ezra Dolezal said that "she made herself into a martyr on purpose for people to feel sorry for her and to help her."
In October 2016 Dolezal legally changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo. She later clarified that she still intends to use the name Rachel Dolezal "as her public persona," but that she changed her name to have a better chance of landing work from employers who might not be interested in hiring the controversial Rachel Dolezal. By February 2017, she was on food stamps, claiming she was on the brink of homelessness and unable to find employment.
On May 30, 2017, in response to a public backlash against the initial announcement, the organizers of the Baltimore Book Festival announced that they had disinvited Dolezal from that year's event.
Welfare fraud chargesEdit
In May 2018, Dolezal was charged with second-degree perjury, felony theft by welfare fraud by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. The charges were filed after it was revealed she had received $8,847 in food and childcare assistance between August 2015 and December 2017 during a time period when she had been receiving tens of thousands of dollars in unreported income after claiming with the state that her income was less than $500 per month. State investigators discovered that after her book was published, around $83,924 had been deposited into her bank account in monthly installments between August 2015 and September 2017. According to the Spokane County prosecutors office, Dolezal could receive a sentence of up to 15 years in prison if found guilty and could be ordered to pay full monetary restitution for the assistance she received.[dead link] Dolezal has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
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The name of the piece Dolezal presented (under her married name Rachel Moore) was 'Hypocrisy: A Form of Godliness.'
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Rachel and her older brother, Joshua, are the only white children in the...
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- not to be confused with the NYC sculpture from Lorenzo Pace with the same name
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... Rachel Dolezal, a leader of the Human Rights Education Institute ...
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Black women stand at the intersection of both oppressions, and when our lives are measured, the weight of our legacy will attest that we are of equal value to black men, white men, white women and every other person on the planet.
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Blackface remains highly racist, no matter how down with the cause a white person is.
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