Rachel Dolezal graduated from Christian Liberty Academy Satellite School with a 4.0. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree with high honors from Belhaven University and received her masters of fine arts degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. on a full-ride scholarship.
They’re all impressive accolades, but for Dolezal, credentials may have not been enough to establish the identity she wanted.
Dolezal, who claims to be black, is the head of the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and was born to Lawrence and Ruthanne Dolezal, a white couple who live in the Troy/Libby area in Montana. In a telephone interview with The Washington Post and several other media outlets, Lawrence Dolezal said:
“There seems to be some question of how Rachel is representing her identity and ethnicity. We are definitely her birth parents. We are both of Caucasian and European descent — Czech, German and a few other things.”
They backed up their claim with a copy of their daughter’s birth certificate and photos which show a blue-eyed, pale-faced Dolezal.
The fact that Dolezal’s biological parents are white has sparked controversy because critics argue that it contradicts the public image Dolezal has created for herself in Spokane, Washington.
Dolezal reports that she has had interest in African American culture since she was a young girl — for her master’s degree from HBCU Howard, she focused almost exclusively on black portraiture — but over the years, she began identifying as black and, critics contend, appropriating black culture. In an interview with Spokane news station KREM, Dolezal said,
“If I was asked, yes I would definitely say yes I do consider myself to be black.”
Her parents claim Dolezal’s interest in the black community intensified after they adopted two black children while she was a teenager.
Dolezal is no longer in communication with her biological parents and has made several statements that deny the couple are her real parents. She said she was abused when she was a child and that Lawrence Dolezal is her step-father.
Dolezal was contacted at Eastern Washington University, where she teaches in the Africana Studies Program, by The Spokesman-Review. Asked about her race, she told the paper:
“That question is not as easy as it seems. There’s a lot of complexities … and I don’t know that everyone would understand that.
“We’re all from the African continent.”