Nkechi Amare Diallo[pron 1] (born November 12, 1977), born and still commonly known as Rachel Anne Dolezal,[pron 2] is an American author, multimedia artist, former college instructor, and former NAACP chapter president. Dolezal is known for claiming to be a black woman while being of European ancestry and having no known African ancestry.
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. Dolezal received public scrutiny when her white parents publicly stated that she was passing as black. The statement by Dolezal's parents 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 had failed to substantiate her allegations. Dolezal had also identified herself as mixed-race on an application and had claimed that an African-American man was her father. In the aftermath of the controversy, Dolezal was dismissed from her position as an Instructor in Africana Studies at Eastern Washington University and was removed from her post as Chair of the Police Ombudsman Commission in Spokane over "a pattern of misconduct." Later in 2015, Dolezal acknowledged that she had been "born white to white parents", but maintained that she self-identified as black.
The Dolezal controversy fueled a national debate in the United States about racial identity. Dolezal's critics stated that she committed cultural appropriation and fraud; Dolezal and her defenders asserted that her self-identification is genuine, even though it is not based on race or ancestry. In 2017, Dolezal released a memoir on her racial identity entitled In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World.
Dolezal was charged by the State of Washington with felony theft by welfare fraud and second degree perjury in May 2018. The matter was settled in a diversion agreement; Dolezal agreed to repay the welfare funds and to perform community service.
Early life, family, and educationEdit
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. Ruthanne and Larry Dolezal were married in 1974. Dolezal has an older biological brother, Joshua Dolezal, who authored a book about their upbringing in Montana. As of 2015, Joshua Dolezal is a full Professor of English 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". 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 biological brother, Joshua, and her adoptive brother, Izaiah, have also claimed that they were abused by their parents.
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.
Following the completion of high school, Dolezal attended Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi, receiving her bachelor's degree in 2000. Shen then 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 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".
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. Dolezal and Moore have a son, Franklin Moore.
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. Izaiah sought to be emancipated 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. Another brother, Ezra Dolezal, later denied Izaiah's accusations in an interview with CNN; however, in an interview with BuzzFeed, he acknowledged that his adoptive parents were strict and sometimes used corporal punishment.
Dolezal gave birth to another son, Langston Attickus, in February 2016.
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.
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 Cœur d'Alène, 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; while she acknowledged that it is a common and widely accepted practice for painters to copy well-known works, she asserted that Dolezal ought to have mentioned Turner's work when offering her own painting for sale online.
Civil rights activismEdit
Human Rights InstituteEdit
A July 2010 newspaper article indicated that Dolezal had stepped down as education director of the Human Rights Institute in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho after having served in that capacity for two years. Dolezal indicated that she was, "for all intents and purposes", forced to resign from the organization after its board declined to hire her as its executive director.
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 the controversy surrounding her racial identity became public.
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, the investigation 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 Condon and 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
From 2005 to 2013, Dolezal was an instructor at North Idaho College, a community college in Cœur d'Alène. 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 stated that 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 described her teaching as "race and culture classes", "black studies" and "black feminism".
Dolezal released a memoir on her racial identity entitled In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World in March 2017. The New York Post states that "she compares her travails to slavery" in her book.
According to her brother, Ezra, Dolezal began changing her appearance as early as 2009, when she began using hair products that she had 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 said, "Don't blow my cover."
Dolezal has claimed to be a victim of race-related harassment. Dolezal stated on September 29, 2009, to KXLY that a noose had been left on her porch. 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's biography on Eastern Washington University's website stated that while she was living in Idaho, "at least eight documented hate crimes targeted (Rachel) Dolezal and her children". Dolezal reportedly made several reports of harassment and other crimes to police in Idaho and Washington, including that she had received a hate mail package at her NAACP post office box and that a swastika was placed on the door of the Human Rights Education Institute, where she had previously worked. Regarding the hate mail package, 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." According to the Spokesman Review, as of 2015, none of Dolezal's allegations had resulted in an arrest or in the filing of criminal charges.
Dolezal's uncle, Dan Dolezal, has stated that his niece first claimed that a black friend named Albert Wilkerson was her real father in 2012 or 2013. In a 2015 interview, she claimed that said her "black father" had fled the Deep South "because a white cop was hunting him". In another 2015 interview, Dolezal made reference to her "stepfather". Dolezal's mother has said she has never met Albert Wilkerson and that Dolezal does not have a stepfather. Following the public controversy surrounding her identity, Dolezal later acknowledged that she had met Wilkerson while living in Idaho and that she considered him her "dad".
In her 2014 application for the position of chair of the Office of the Police Ombudsman Commission in Spokane, Dolezal identified herself as having several ethnicities, including black. She has said that 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 June 10, 2015 interview about various alleged hate crimes that Dolezal had reported, KXLY-TV reporter Jeff Humphrey asked Dolezal about a Facebook post in which Dolezal identified Albert Wilkerson as her dad. The following is a partial transcript of the exchange:
Reporter: Is that your dad?
Dolezal: Yeah. That’s... that’s my dad.
Reporter: This man right here is your father? Right there?
Dolezal: Do you have a question about that?
Reporter: Yes, ma’am. I was wondering if, uh, your dad really is an African American man?
Dolezal: That’s a very—I mean, I don’t know what you’re implying.
Reporter: Are you African American?
Dolezal: I don’t... I don’t understand the question of—I did tell you that yes that’s my dad. And he was unable to come in January.
Reporter: Are your parents—are they white?
Dolezal: [Walking away] I refuse...
On June 11, Jeff Selle and Maureen Dolan of the Coeur d'Alene Press published an article entitled "Black Like Me?" The article reported that Dolezal had "made claims in the media and elsewhere about her ethnicity, race and background that are contradicted by her biological parents," and went on to outline Dolezal's past hate crimes allegations, allegations of being abused with a baboon whip by her parents, misrepresentations about her race, and misrepresentations about the identity of her father. The article further stated that Dolezal, in a recent interview, "maintained that she is African-American. 'They can DNA test me if they want to,' she said. 'I would caution you on all of this. This is ridiculous.'" Ruthanne Dolezal was quoted in the article, stating that her daughter's allegation of being abused with a baboon whip was "a very false and malicious lie" and adding that it was "disturbing that she has become so dishonest".
People later reported on the circumstances leading up to the publication of "Black Like Me?" Selle had learned of Dolezal's allegation that a package containing racist threats against her was delivered to the post office box of the Spokane, Washington NAACP. Selle recalled that Dolezal had made similar allegations when she was living in Coeur d’Alene, and that the allegations were not substantiated. Sensing a potential story, Selle discovered that Dolezal had identified Wilkerson as her father; however, Wilkerson--when contacted--contradicted this assertion. Dolan then discovered a photo of Dolezal’s actual parents on the internet, and Selle made contact with them. Larry and Ruthanne Dolezal gave Selle pictures of “their naturally blond, fair-skinned daughter” and a copy of her birth certificate.
Reactions to the controversyEdit
After the controversy regarding Dolezal's racial identity became public, the NAACP released a statement in support of her leadership. However, a petition calling for her to resign her position as President of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP was launched. Dolezal stepped down from her position at the NAACP on June 15, 2015.
An investigation into Dolezal's behavior as Chair of the Office of the Police Ombudsman Commission in Spokane concluded that she had engaged in "a pattern of misconduct", On June 18, 2015, the Spokane City Council voted unanimously to remove Dolezal from her position as chair.
The revelations about Dolezal's ancestry and her other claims provoked a range of reactions. Dolezal's critics argued that she committed cultural appropriation and fraud. On the other hand, others asserted that Dolezal's asserted identity should be respected. 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 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". 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".
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.
The German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung compared Dolezal's story to other examples of racial "passing", as in passing novel examples like The Human Stain (2000); it also 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.
Responses from DolezalEdit
Dolezal has asserted that her self-identification is genuine, even though it is not based on race or ancestry.
Dolezal issued a statement on June 15, 2015 asserting 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.
Dolezal alleged that the Spokane police chief had tired of dealing with her and had asked a private investigator to find out more information on her. The investigator got in touch with Dolezal's parents and discovered her European ancestry. However, the private investigator and the attorney for the police chief rejected Dolezal's allegations as untrue.
In subsequent interviews, Dolezal stated that she considered herself to be black. In a November 2, 2015 interview on The Real, Dolezal publicly acknowledged for the first time since the controversy began that she was "biologically born white to white parents", but maintained that she identified 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.
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."
According to a February 2015 article in The Easterner, Dolezal said she had suffered from cervical cancer in 2006, but had recovered by 2008. Dolezal's brother, Ezra Dolezal, has stated that he does not believe this claim to be true.
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.
Welfare fraud chargesEdit
In May 2018, Dolezal was charged with second-degree perjury and felony theft by welfare fraud by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. The charges were filed after it was revealed that she had received $8,847 in food and childcare assistance between August 2015 and December 2017. During that time period, she had been receiving tens of thousands of dollars in unreported income, but had told the state that her income was less than $500 per month. State investigators discovered that after her book was published, approximately $83,924 had been deposited into her bank account in monthly installments between August 2015 and September 2017. According to the Spokane County prosecutor's office, Dolezal could have received a sentence of up to 15 years in prison if she was found guilty. She entered into a diversion agreement on March 25, 2019, agreeing to repay her assistance benefits and complete 120 hours of community service to avoid a trial.
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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 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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