Rachel Dolezal: A Rumpus Roundup


Six months ago, Rachel Dolezal, an academic and the president-elect of NAACP Spokane chapter, wrote an op-ed piece piece describing the importance of the #BlackLivesMatter protest movement. On Monday, she resigned her post at the NAACP surrounded in controversy.

Dolezal was profiled back in February where she revealed she is a cervical cancer survivor and that while living in North Idaho, her home was burglarized by white supremacy groups.

The first pieces of hate mail allegedly arrived shortly afterward. The hate mailed sparked a protest with more than 100 supporters filling Spokane’s City Hall, but the hate mail continued.

However, a postal investigation raised questions about the legitimacy of Dolezal’s claims, namely that she was the only one who could have placed the mail in her post box. Those reports were followed up with questions about Dolezal’s racial identity, stemming from her parents insistence they are of caucasian European descent.

Local television station KXLY confronted Dolezal to confirm the identity of her father, but she refused to talk about race. The video quickly went viral.

Adding to the controversy, Dolezal once sued Howard University, a historically black college, for racial discrimination—for being white. Dolezal’s estranged mother has also added that her daughter was always interested in disguising herself and using makeup.

Why are Dolezal’s parents suddenly interested in how their estranged daughter identifies? Dolezal believes their sudden outing has a lot more to do with the child molestation charges her brother faces than with race.

Dolezal has since appeared on the TODAY Show declaring, “I identify as black.” She has identified that way since she was five.

Fluid racial identity isn’t a new concept. Historically as many as a one-fifth of black men have identified as white at some point in their lives.

Racism is complicated. Legal racism in the United States has, since 1662, abided by the “one drop” rule.

It’s possible, of course, to rationalize Dolezal’s racial identity. Alternatively, maybe it doesn’t matter if she is black or white.

Meanwhile, as it turns out, not everyone understands the differences between race and gender. Caitlyn Jenner’s revelation that she is transgender actually has nothing to do with Rachel Dolezal, but if it still seems confusing, try reading this explanation as to why gender and race identity are different. Or this one. Or this one.

Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at IanMacAllen.com. More from this author →