Rachel Dolezal: Does it matter if she is black or white?

Rachel Dolezal's parents say she is white. She considers herself black. And social media has its own take on Dolezal's identity.

Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review via AP/File
Rachel Dolezal poses for a photo in her Spokane, Washington home on March 2, 2015.

Rachel Doleza is a prominent figure in the Washington state civil rights community, but since the story of her dishonesty about her racial background broke, her name has become a worldwide social media trend.

Ms. Dolezal has headed up the local chapter of the The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Spokane, Wash., since January. For many years, she has identified herself as at least as partly African-American.

But this week, when questions were raised about the veracity of some of her claims, her Montana parents came forward and said Dolezal is not black, but Caucasian. Her mother showed pictures of her as a blue-eyed, blonde child. 

On Thursday, when a reporter for a local television station, KXLY asked her if she was African-American, Dolezal said she didn't understand the question and walked away.

But later, in an interview with local news channel KREM in Spokane, which was published on Friday, she said she considers herself black and does not acknowledge her biological parents.

Since the story about Dolezal went viral, social media is full of her name, as users discuss her racial identity and whether what she did matters when it comes to civil rights activism.

Some people are now using the term “transracial” for Dolezal, equating the term with being transgender, some seriously and some jokingly.

James Wilburn, a former Spokane NAACP president told the local TV channel in Billing, Mont., KULR he did not care if Dolezal was black or white. "White, black, it didn't matter. She had a lot of passion for human rights and that's what mattered." He also told local news channel in Spokane KREM that his main concern is preserving the credibility and viability of the organization.

And the NAACP has Dolezal’s back. In a statement published on Friday, the organization said 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.

Dr. Camille Zubrinsky Charles, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert in racial-identity issues, told the Associated Press that people can identify with people of other races without doing what Dolezal did.

"For the most part, being a part of that community doesn't require someone to claim that identity," she said. "It might be difficult to become president of the local NAACP chapter, but achieving the goals? That in itself doesn't require passing as a member of that group."

Maybe she "saw her whiteness as a barrier to doing the advocacy work in the social justice world," said Dr. Charles, who is black.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.