Rachel Dolezal resigns from NAACP. Is her race relevant?

Civil rights activist Rachel Dolezal has stepped down after allegations that she misrepresented her ethnicity.

Nicholas K. Geranios/AP/File
Rachel Dolezal, then leader of the Human Rights Education Institute, stands in front of a mural she painted at the institute's offices in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho in July 2009.

Rachel Dolezal, the civil rights activist who was outed for “pretending to be black,” has stepped down from her role as president of an NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington. Questions about Ms. Dolezal's ethnicity have been making headlines for several days now, spurring a larger debate nationwide over issues of race and identity.

But for Dolezal it had become all too personal. “The dialogue has unexpectedly shifted internationally to my personal identity in the context of defining race and ethnicity,” Ms. Dolezal said in a statement posted on Facebook. “This is not about me. It's about justice. This is not me quitting; this is a continuum."

"It is with complete allegiance to the cause of racial and social justice and the NAACP that I step aside from the Presidency and pass the baton to my Vice President, Naima Quarles-Burnley.”

Dolezal pledged to continue fighting for human rights and thanked the organization’s leadership “for their unwavering support of my leadership through this unexpected firestorm.”

Many took to social media to criticize the letter. Some commenters have demanded that Dolezal apologize and address the accusation that she falsely represented herself.

Until Monday, Dolezal still had not addressed the question of her ethnicity directly, although reports have referenced her paperwork with the city’s Office of Police Ombudsman Commission, where she serves as chairwoman. In her application, she identifies as a white, black, and American Indian, according to the Spokesman-Review.

The controversy began when Dolezal's estranged parents came forward Thursday, showing reporters photographs of their daughter as a Caucasian girl. "She’s our birth daughter and we’re both of European descent," Larry Dolezal told Buzzfeed News. "We're puzzled and it's very sad."

A photo posted earlier in the year on the NAACP chapter's Facebook page of Dolezal and a black man identified as her father had a reporter from KXLY4, a Spokane news station, asking the president whether the pictured man was in fact her father. 

"Yeah," Dolezal responded, nodding and smiling unconvincingly. "That... That's my dad."

She paused after the reporter asked, "Are you African-American?"

"I don't ... I don't understand the question of ... I did tell you that yes, that's my dad," said Dolezal. She then took off her microphone and walked off-camera.

Before her announcement Monday, a local NAACP member, Kitara Johnson, had started an online petition calling for her resignation that had gathered more than 600 signatures. "It's not about race, it's about integrity," it said.

The Rev. Al Sharpton has echoed Ms. Johnson's sentiments. "It's not about her race. There are whites in all of our organizations, and there are whites in the civil rights movement," he told TMZ. "I think the question they want to deal with is her honesty ... Her race is really irrelevant." 

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