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Rachel Dolezal: Why She’s A Con-Artist and Not a Woman with an Identity Crisis

Rachel Dolezal during her appearance on NBC's Today show with her two sons. (via Facebook)
Rachel Dolezal during her appearance on NBC's Today show with her two sons. (via Facebook)
Rachel Dolezal during her appearance on NBC’s Today show with her two sons. (via Facebook)

By Brittany Miller – Features Editor

When parents call their adult child a liar on national TV, it should be clear that something is amiss.This was the unfortunate reality for former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) leader Rachel Dolezal, who has been passing herself off as black for years only to have her parents out her by telling the world she is in fact white.

The thing about buried secrets is that they always come to the surface, and that’s exactly what happened to 37-year-old Dolezal. The general problem isn’t just the lies, but how she worked so hard to cover things up, and as reported by Buzzfeed, Dolezal went as far as telling her adopted brother, Ezra -one of her four black siblings- not to “blow her cover” regarding her “identity.” Along with hiding her secret, Ezra was told by Dolezal to say that he and his older brother, were her blood siblings, rather than adopted siblings.

Now this may come as a shock to Dolezal, but she’s not a federal agent. She has been acting like a con-artist, fooling everyone, including herself.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Dolezal’s father Lawrence said when she applied to Howard University, the historical and widely known black college, to study art with a portfolio of “exclusively African-American portraiture,” the college took her for a black woman and gave her a full scholarship.

Dolezal graduated in 2002, but later filed a lawsuit claiming that she endured discrimination from being denied scholarships because she was white.

The 2002 lawsuit that was uncovered by The Smoking Gun – a website that brings readers exclusive documents obtained from government sources – states Dolezal claimed discrimination based on race, as she made allegations that the school blocked her opportunity to a teaching assistant job, rejected her application for a post-graduate instructorship, and denied her scholarships while she attended the university as a white woman. However, the lawsuit was dismissed in 2004 as the ruling against Dolezal said she didn’t have any proof of adversity based on race, and that the assistant opportunities she had been “blocked” from had been filled before she even applied.

Just learning about this added fuel to the fire. Which one is it? Is she white or black? It doesn’t make any sense to claim racial discrimination for being a white woman in one breath, and to say you are a black woman in the next. It just doesn’t work that way, and for her to act in such a way is quite insulting to the African-American community.

To add to this ridiculous story, within the past year there has been suspicion of fabricated claims of racist-led crimes against Dolezal, but according to CNN, those claims have been suspended by local police. Now that’s a smart move, considering the letters “sent” to her had never been processed by the post office, as well as no barcode or postal date, leading many to believe that Dolezal sent them herself, as the sender would need a key to her mailbox.

Having four adopted black siblings, being married to a black man and having two black children, one being her adopted brother, are just a few events in her life that could have contributed to this so called identity crisis. However, in an interview with the “Today Show,” Dolezal talked about how her experience as a mother of black children caused a change of identity.

“I’ve had to really go there with the (black) experience,” Dolezal said. “And the point at which that really solidified was when I got full custody of (my black adopted brother) Izaiah, and he said, ‘You’re my real mom.’ … And for that to be something that is plausible, I certainly can’t be seen as white and be Izaiah’s mom.”

Dolezal has had multiple interviews as she continues to defend herself, but what infuriates me most is her cop out on the whole situation .

I am biracial, the product of a white woman, and a black man, and never has my mother identified herself as black woman just to raise her kids. That idea makes my blood boil. My mother has always been herself, she has never changed who she was as an individual to adjust to having biracial children, and why would she? My father hasn’t identified as a white man because he had children with a white woman, that’s just ridiculous. Parenting is not biology. It’s about character and morals and race has nothing to do with it.

Being biracial, I have never once considered myself to be more of one race rather than the other. I am two halves of a whole person. Dolezal can be an advocate for the African-American community, that’s fine, but to she took it too far when she lied about her race.

In an interview with MSNBC she said, “From a very young age I felt a very, I don’t know, spiritual, visceral, just very instinctual connection with ‘Black is beautiful’ and, you know, just the black experience and wanting to celebrate that, and I didn’t know how to articulate that as a young child.”

Black experience? What does that even mean?

Dolezal is completely disregarding the history that the African-American community has endured, the ridicule that people still face everyday, the violence, the stereotypes and then has the gall to glamorize it, like it’s some fashion trend hitting the magazines.

Changing her hair and tanning her skin does not make her a black woman any more than straightening my hair and putting powder on my skin makes me a white woman.

I respect the work she has done as a leader for the NAACP, but the dishonesty is difficult to get past. And her problems seem to have started long before she was caught in a web of lies.

My advice to Rachel Dolezal: get some help, and start taking responsibility for misleading people for years.

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  1. The “real mom” line is definitely the worst of all the off or bizarre or questionable things she’s said, and she should have known better. It’s amazing she could say that out loud without thinking of all the families that it implicitly delegitimizes.

    • Hi Paul,

      I definitely agree with you here. From my perspective of things, this is where my “main issue” is with the topic, I guess you could say.

  2. I agree that in many ways this woman sounds deeply troubled. I think, though, Ms. miller, that you’ve missed Ms. Dolezal’s background. Unlike you, who seem to have been blessed with healthy, loving parents, she was born to “hippy Jesus freaks,” according to one uncle, who decided to live off the land–they really did live in a teepee before the kids arrived, and they joined a cult-like version of Christianity that believes in strict patriarchy and corporal punishment, even of infants. (Read up on something called “blanket training.”) Apparently, the instrument of choice for punishing kids is flexible plumbing pipe, and older siblings are often required to punish their younger brothers and sisters this way.

    This religious group believes that adopting children of color en masse is a great way to save them from Satan. This family also claims that some of the children they adopted suffer from an attachment disorder, a common claim in this religious group. While attachment disorders do exist, in this religious culture, they are described by symptoms like: child refuses to look parent in the eye, child refuses to show parent appropriate respect. Child is sullen. (And my favorite) Child makes false accusations of sexual abuse.

    Which kind of gives you pause. The assumption, then, in this culture, is that a child making an accusation of sexual abuse is suffering from an attachment disorder. The cure for that disorder, in this culture, is corporal punishment, forced manual labor–for example, having to run around a tree all night–and being shipped off to an isolated “treatment camp” where the child gets more of the same.

    In this isolated, patriarchal society, both daughters of the mother and father Whose statements carry such weight with you, have accused the oldest brother of molesting them. The younger sister and at least one of her adopted siblings were both sent off to one of those “treatment” camps for their behavior and supposed attachment disorder . The younger sister’s accusations of sexual abuse were considered realistic enough that the oldest brother goes to trial in August, while the brother sent to a “treatment” camp filed for child emancipation before his oldest sister–Rachel–was granted custody of him.

    In profoundly troubled families, there are often scalegoated children and those considered golden, or perfect. One brother of all the adopted siblings continues to support his family. The accused older brother, in his memoir, speaks of the parent’s harsh and insane behavior, including the mother lying for days in her own blood after a hemorhaging miscarriage while they pray for her recovery rather than seek treatment. The adopted sister says her adopted parents were hell. Another adopted sibling remains silent all together. So, no, I don’t think you can judge these parents through the lens of your own.

    Another interesting aspect is how Dolezal’s colleagues in the NAACP viewed her, (there are tears, explanations of effective leadership, and genuine hurt and affection.) The jobs she had paid little or nothing. 100 years ago, she would have blended in without a trace, just as hundreds of thousands of people of color crossed the border to whiteness during those years (see Walter White, head of the national NAACP for much of the last century, and the census, for information about that.)

    No matter what kind of crazy Dolezal is, given that background, I think you’re wrong to consider her a scam artist. Troubled, yes, but more likely she is a woman from an oppressive childhood who came to identify so strongly with an oppressed people that she lost her way.

      • Well, obviously you’ll believe what you will, but her experiences and reactions are very alien to me. (White, Reform Jew, raised in a culture that values and rewards questioning, and where the adopted African-American kids I know have parents who work to connect them with their ancestry and heritage.)

        And there are huge inconsistencies in everybody’s accounts, which makes me question things. When I question things, I do research. There’s this website for recovering Christian Homeschoolers, I think it’s called Homeschool Anonymous. I got a lot of information from that, and some from her sister, Esther’s, blog. (Note a deleted post that expressed Esther’s anger at her sister’s hypocrisy, and a later post supporting her sister as she’s attacked by the world.)

        It would be nice if the world were, well, black and white, easily sorted. It would be easier if I were Rachel Dolazel pretending to be Sam, or if she were just a nasty scam artist. The real world, though, is often more complicated than that. Everybody carries wounds, some of us more than others. I guess I would lean on the side of compassion, for all of us, including you, Sug, who, I’m sure, has good reasons to be angry and to doubt what I say.

    • Hi Sam,
      Your response to my article definitely brings in a different perspective to the matter at hand, so I appreciate that as it’s refreshing to hear more views on this story. I think you may have misunderstood where I was going with this column, as I do respect Dolezal for the work she has done in the NAACP, what I do not respect is her providing falsified information, and not taking responsibility for that. I do understand that people can lose their ways after going through a difficult journey in life, whether it was family life, religion or her own personal struggles. I am in no way disregarding that, but in her interviews she used her marriage and children as an excuse, so to speak as why she lied about her identity, which is where my feelings about this come on so strongly. Not that would lessen the negativity surrounded by the topic, but if she would have talked about growing up more, and her own background as the reasoning behind her doing this I could be more sympathetic in a way to her journey. But I cannot be okay with her, as a grown woman not taking responsibility for her actions. I appreciate your point of view on this discussion though, and I can understand where you are coming from here, so thank you for responding in a respectful manner.


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