African-American activist questioned about her race. Does it matter for NAACP leadership?

Rachel Dolezal, the leader of a local chapter of a US 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.

Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review via AP/File
Rachel Dolezal (c.)Spokane's newly-elected NAACP president, smiles as she meets with Joseph M. King, of King's Consulting (l.), and Scott Finnie, director and senior professor of Eastern Washington University's Africana Education Program, before the start of a Black Lives Matter Teach-In on Public Safety and Criminal Justice, at EWU, in Cheney, Wash., Jan. 16, 2015. Dolezal's family members say she has falsely portrayed herself as black for years.

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."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.