The leader of a local chapter of a major U.S. group advocating for the rights of African Americans is facing questions about whether she lied about her racial identity, with her family saying she is white but has portrayed herself as black.
Rachel Dolezal, who heads a local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in northwestern United States, would not answer questions about her background in an interview with a local newspaper.
"That question is not as easy as it seems," she told The Spokesman-Review Thursday. "There's a lot of complexities. And I don't know that everyone would understand that."
Dolezal is president of a local branch of the civil-rights organization, an adjunct professor in the Africana Studies Program at Eastern Washington University and chairwoman of the local police overnight board.
Authorities say an inquiry is underway into whether Dolezal violated city polices when she stated her racial identity.
Dolezal's estranged mother, Ruthanne, said the family is Czech, Swedish and German, with some Native American roots.
Ruthanne Dolezal said that she and her daughter have not been in touch for years but that Rachel Dolezal began to portray herself as African-American eight or nine years ago after the family adopted four black children.
"It's very sad that Rachel has not just been herself," the mother told the newspaper by phone from her home in Montana. "Her effectiveness in the causes of the African-American community would have been so much more viable and she would have been more effective if she had just been honest with everybody."
Rachel Dolezal says the controversy is emerging because of legal issues between family members. Her mother says the family has been aware of the racial claims but has only commented about them when contacted.
The NAACP has released a statement saying it respects Dolezal's privacy in the matter.
"One's racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership,'" the group said. "In every corner of this country, the NAACP remains committed to securing political, educational, and economic justice for all people."