How Did White Rachel Dolezal Convince Everyone She Was Black?
Rachel Dolezal has been living as a black woman for the past ten years—even becoming president of her local NAACP chapter—until her parents revealed that she is in fact white.
How did she trick so many people?
Born to white parents in Montana, Dolezal has reportedly long been fascinated with black culture. Her family’s ancestry, however, is largely German and Czech, her parents say. (Ruthanne and Larry Dolezal provided a birth certificate listing them as Rachel Dolezal's parents.)
The Dolezal family adopted four black children, and they say Dolezal immersed herself in the black community at Belhaven University in Mississippi. Dolezal later married a black man, with whom she had one child. (She said he abused her and their young son, leading to their divorce.) In 2002, Dolezal obtained a master of fine arts degree from Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, D.C.
Two years later, Ruthanne Dolezal says her daughter started claiming a biracial identity.
Dolezal’s lies might have stayed secret had she not attracted attention for reporting an alleged hate crime against herself, which police say they have no proof happened.
Dolezal said she received an envelope with lynching photos and other threats in February, at a Spokane, Washington, P.O. box. Authorities found the envelope had no signs of being sent through the mail, and postal employees said it likely wound up in her hands “if it was placed there by someone with a key to that box or a USPS employee." A local news report found that Dolezal had made a handful of other such reports.
On Friday, a Spokane Police spokeswoman said the department, the FBI, and the post office have suspended their investigations into Dolezal’s hate-crime reports. The spokeswoman added that no one has filed a complaint against Dolezal, and that authorities have not questioned her.
In a television interview, Dolezal was asked point blank whether she is African-American after she identified a black man as her father.
“I don’t understand the question,” she replied before rushing away from the interview. She was visibly flustered, so much so that she left her purse on the sidewalk.
Dolezal’s estranged parents spoke out for the first time Thursday. Photos provided by the parents show a light-skinned, blond-haired girl, whose straight hair is a far cry from the “natural” curls Delozal recently touted on Facebook. Her father said that Dolezal applied to Howard with a portfolio of black portraits and the school "took her for a black woman." She got a full scholarship.
In interviews with the Washington Post, Dolezal's adopted brothers confirmed that she is white. Ezra, who identifies as "25 percent black," said Dolezal's charade could be construed as "highly racist." He added that Izaiah, a 21-year-old man Dolezal refers to as her son on social media, is actually her adopted brother. Ezra and another brother, Zach, don't keep in contact with Dolezal because they allege she turned Izaiah against their parents, and claimed he was abused.
"She turned Izaiah kind of racist. Told Izaiah all this stuff about white people, made him really racist toward white people," Ezra said.
According to her now-private Facebook page, the 37-year-old Dolezal started working as a freelance hair artist in 1998, specializing in “black hair designs, weave and extensions for all hair types, braids!”
In another post, she emphasized her lifelong black identity by posting an alleged early childhood drawing of a girl with brown skin and black braids.
“Sometimes I have to re-look at my first self-portrait (this crayon drawing) to remember who I am and where I come from,” the caption reads.
After the release of 12 Years a Slave, she posted a doll made of corn husks on Facebook.
“When Patsy makes the dolls with braided arms in ‘12 Years,’ it brought back memories of when I was a little girl and made the same husk dolls in the garden, only I braided their hair instead of their arms….” Dolezal wrote.
Dolezal’s racial fabrications weren’t limited to social media. Dolezal—a professor of Afrikana Studies at Eastern Washington University—leveraged her fake blackness to the presidency of the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
On her LinkedIn profile, Dolezal says she teaches courses on Black Studies, African American Culture, and African History, in addition to a variety of art courses. The website lists her as a "quarterly professor." In a somewhat bizarre twist, her biography on the webpage says she "has begun pre-medical studies, working toward an MD and a residency in trauma surgery."
Nancy Hines, communications director for Whitworth University told the Daily Beast that Dolezal only taught two courses at the university, both in the evening continuing study program for adults. The first of those courses was in 2011, and the second in 2014. On her LinkedIn page, Dolezal says she was an adjunct instructor at the university from 2011 until January 2015.
Dolezal, whose only graduate degree is an MFA, claims to have taught courses on race and ethnicity. Hines declined to comment on educational requirements for faculty or staff.
"Well, you can ask the person that," Hines replied when asked what would qualify someone with an MFA degree to teach on race and ethnicity.
Dolezal also said she was black on an application form to become chairwoman of Spokane’s Office of the Police Ombudsman. City officials say they are investigating whether she lied on the form.
Dolezal also claimed Native American ancestry.
In that same newspaper profile, Dolezal told the author she was born in a “Montana tepee,” and that “Jesus Christ” was listed as the witness on her birth certificate. She claimed that her family lived off the land in rural Montana, hunting for food with “bows and arrows.”
Dolezal also added that she doesn’t like to talk about her childhood—her parents, Dolezal said, were abusive, and punished kids “by skin complexion.” She claimed the kids were hit with a baboon whip picked up when they lived in South Africa. (They allegedly moved to Cape Town in 1994, when her father—whom she occasionally refers to as her “stepfather”—took a job there).
“They were pretty similar to what was used as whips during slavery.”
In another interview, she said her dad’s campaign signs were graffittied—with the word “nigger.”
In a NAACP Facebook post from January, Dolezal proudly revealed a picture of herself with a black man she claims is her father. He would be attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony at NAACP, the post reads, and would speak at their “MLK tribute membership meeting.”
When asked by KXLY if her father made it to the ceremony, Dolezal said he was unable to attend because he’s suffering from cancer.
—Lizzie Crocker also contributed to this story.