A prominent civil rights leader in Washington, who identified herself as black in an application to serve on the Citizen Police Ombudsman Commission, a volunteer position, is at the center of a city ethics probe after her estranged parents outed her as being white. She maintains, however, that she still considers herself to be black.
The city of Spokane confirmed with The Christian Post on Friday that Rachel Dolezal, president of Spokane's NAACP chapter and also a part-time Africana studies professor at Eastern Washington University, allegedly misrepresented herself in an application for the position of chairwoman of the city's Office of Police Ombudsman Commission, a volunteer job she secured.
"She checked four boxes on the application. She checked black/African-American, she checked white, she checked American Indian/Alaskan Native and then the fourth box was two or more races," Brian Coddington, the city's communication's director, told CP.
When asked what action will be taken if Dolezal is found to be in violation of the city's code of ethics, he said: "At this point nothing's off the table, and we're in the process of gathering facts to determine exactly what the situation is and whether there have been any violations of city policy or ethics code."
Baffled critics are now asking how this could have happened and Coddington explained that ultimately, it was community feedback that led to the decision to limit background checks in a bid to promote diversity when the city began the application process one year ago.
"One of the things that the community [feedback] told us was that they didn't want the background process to be too onerous because they were worried that it would deter people from applying," he said. "... It's a volunteer commission so it's a little different from seeking employment from a government agency. There's probably an expectation that you would have a different level of background check."
Despite the public controversy about her race, the NAACP has issued a statement in support of Dolezal.
"[Dolezal] is enduring a legal issue with her family, and we respect her privacy in this matter. One's racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership. The NAACP Alaska-Oregon-Washington State Conference stands behind Ms. Dolezal's advocacy record," said the organization in a statement.
Dolezal also maintained on Thursday that she still considers herself black. She also spoke about her relationship with her biological parents, Ruthanne and Larry Dolezal.
"I do not talk to Ruthanne or Larry anymore, neither does [my adopted brother] Izaiah, neither do other sibling," she told KREM2. "Yes, I do consider myself to be black."
Ruthanne and Larry Dolezal, who were once Christian missionaries in South Africa, revealed recently that in addition to allegedly lying on her Ombudsman Commission application, their Howard University graduate daughter has been misrepresenting her race by portraying herself as black for nearly a decade.
"It's very sad that Rachel has not just been herself," Ruthanne, who has not had contact with her daughter in years, told The Spokane Spokesman-Review. "Her effectiveness in the causes of the African-American community would have been so much more viable, and she would have been more effective if she had just been honest with everybody."
They claim that their 37-year-old daughter, who often sports a stylish afro and a deep tan complexion, was actually born with blonde hair and fair skin and raised in Northwest Montana. While they acknowledge that the leading civil rights activist has "faint traces" of Native American blood, they say that she is definitely of Czech, Swedish and German ancestry.
Ruthanne and Larry are both listed as Dolezal's biological parents on her birth certificate. It is unclear what caused the breakdown of her relationship with her parents, although she previously alleged they were violent toward her in articles in The Easterner.
According to Ruthanne, Dolezal began disguising her true identity back in 2006 or 2007, though it remains unclear why she felt compelled to do it. Her parents, who adopted four black children in the 1990s, said that their racially diverse family likely sparked her interest in black culture.
"Yes, I believe that's part of it," Ruthanne told CNN. "Although Rachel has always been interested in ethnicity and diversity and we had many friends of different ethnicities when she was growing up. So it didnt start with the four adopted children of color but it probably added to her passion."
The adjunct professor of Africana studies obtained her master's degree from Howard University, which is a historically black college. Ruthanne says that her daughter was not deceptive on her college application.
"No, in her application to Howard University there was no designation for ethnicity, and because Rachel was coming from a Jackson, Mississippi, college [Belhaven] (because her portfolio of art was all African-American culture), they assumed she was black and only found out she was not after they had awarded her a full-ride scholarship after she arrived. I don't believe Rachel was deceptive as she has been more recently," she said.
Larry added: "Well, the way we understood, eyes were popping and jaws were dropping when she walked in to finalize her registration."
On Wednesday, Dolezal was asked about the scandal during an interview about reported hate mail she claims was sent to her earlier this year at the NAACP post office box in Spokane. A police investigation into the threatening letters reportedly found that whoever placed the packages into the box had to have had access to a key because the letters were not stamped.
A KXLY reporter also asked Dolezal about a photo that was placed on the NAACP Spokane Facebook page. It show's Dolezal sporting braided hair, standing next to an African-American man who is referred to as her father in the caption.
"Ma'am, I was wondering if your dad really is an African-American man," the reporter asked.
"I don't understand the question," Dolezal answered. "I did tell you [that man in the picture] is my dad."
"Are your parents white?" the reporter pressed, even though at that stage Dolezal had removed her microphone and ended the interview.
She later said in a statement: "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."