Rachel Dolezal, the former NAACP chapter president who resigned yesterday after she was accused of pretending to be black, told msnbc’s Melissa Harris-Perry in an exclusive interview that she is black. She also explained what it meant to her to “experience and live blackness.”
“It means that I have really gone there with the experience in terms of being a mother with two black sons,” she told Harris-Perry in an interview that aired Tuesday evening on “All In with Chris Hayes.” “From a very young age I felt a spiritual, visceral, instinctual connection with black is beautiful. Just the black experience and wanting to celebrate that. And I didn’t know how to articulate that as a young child … But that certainly was shut down. I mean I was socially conditioned to not own that and to be limited to whatever biological identity was being thrust upon me and being narrated to me.”
Dolezal, the former Spokane, Washington, NAACP chapter president, came under fire for having portrayed herself for years as a black woman. The controversy began last week after her white parents confirmed that their estranged daughter was pretending to be black.
“We weren’t going to lie,” Lawrence Dolezal said of their decision to reveal the truth when a newspaper contacted them. “Rachel is our birth daughter.”
On Tuesday, Dolezal said the truth was more complicated.
“I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon,” she told Matt Lauder on “TODAY.” “It was a little more complex than me identifying as black.”
“I really don’t see why they’re in such a rush to whitewash some of the work that I have done and who I am and how I have identified,” Dolezal said of her parents.
Harris-Perry asked if Dolezal could relate to why many in the African-American community — black women, in particular — are angry over the controversy. “Stepping outside of myself, I would probably be enraged,” she replied. “I would probably be ‘how dare she claim this?’ but they don’t know me. They really don’t know what I’ve actually walked through and how hard it is. This has not been something that has been a casual come and go identity crisis that’s going to fade away.”
” Dolezal also noted that she felt very isolated with my identity virtually my entire life. Certainly I kind of imagined that maybe at some point perhaps after the kids were graduated from high school and in their adult stride that maybe I’d really be able to process that, own it publicly, and discuss that kind of complexity. But certainly, I wasn’t expecting it to be thrust upon me right now.”
Dolezal’s biological brother, Ezra, disputed that account.
“In 2011 she started to gradually change her appearance, changing her hair and skin tone with makeup,” he said in an interview Tuesday morning on Fox News. “I don’t think there is anything complex about the truth. I don’t know how she is saying it is so complex, because it is really not.”
Ezra Dolezal, who said his sister had previously warned him, “don’t blow my cover,” told Fox News that her story about the brown crayons wasn’t true. “She has done all of this in the last two to four years. Growing up in high school is probably when she started becoming interested in African-American studies, but she actually never considered herself black,” he said.
Dolezal, 37, told Lauer she was first described as “transracial” and “biracial” in articles about her human rights work, and chose not to correct them. The question of her race became a national issue after her recent claim of being a hate crime victim was challenged, and it became public that she had identified herself as multiracial on an application to join a police oversight commission in Spokane.
“I certainly don’t stay out of the sun and I also don’t, as some of my critics have said, put on blackface as a performance,” Dolezal said when asked whether she had darkened her complexion. She said she wasn’t sure whether she would have had the same impact at the NAACP as a white woman.
The president of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks, said Tuesday on MSNBC that the organization is “not in the business of imposing any kind of a racial litmus test.”
“I can’t speak to these various biographical revelations or allegations,” he said. “What we can say very clearly here is if you’re committed to the work you’re welcome to do the work.”
Even with all the controversy that has upended her life, Dolezal said she would do it again.
“As much as this discussion has somewhat been at my expense recently and in a very sort of viciously inhumane way come out of the woodwork, the discussion is really about what it is to be human,” she said. “I hope that that can drive at the core of definitions of race, ethnicity, culture, self determination, personal agency and, ultimately, empowerment.”