Rachel Dolezal did the right thing by resigning as president of the NAACP’s Spokane, Wash., chapter this week. The civil rights activist ignited national discussion about racial identity when it was revealed that she had been posing as black for years although she is actually white.
Dolezal was elected to the post six months ago and had reportedly done a good job in that and other advocacy positions. But when a reporter recently asked her parents about her, they confirmed that she is white. Several days later, the 37-year-old Dolezal stepped down, rightly concluding that the furor about her distracted from NAACP goals.
Spokane officials, meanwhile, are looking into whether she lied about her race before being appointed to the city’s police oversight board. Her application says she is white, black and American Indian. Her parents, though, say that she has a trace of Indian blood but is mostly of European descent.
Dolezal isn’t the first and won’t be the last person to develop an affinity for a group she wasn’t born to. She grew up in a family with several adopted black siblings, attended a historically black college, became an African-American studies professor, was married to a black man and has a biracial son. There’s nothing wrong with adopting and becoming a part of a culture different from one’s family of origin.
The truth is that Dolezal could have done the work without being deceptive about her background. Many civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, have white members and directors.
But Dolezal misrepresented her race while holding leadership positions in racial advocacy work, raising questions about her honesty, integrity and authenticity. Once the truth came out, it became fair to ask whether the deception brought her any personal, professional or financial gain. For example, did NAACP members vote for her, in part, because they believed she was black?
On a Tuesday morning talk show, Dolezal admitted that throughout her career she did not correct interviewers or others who referred to her as mixed race or black. Estranged from her parents, she added that she considers an African-American man her father because of their family-like ties. But having that kind of relationship doesn’t make one’s actual parents and DNA disappear.