Justice

Rachel Dolezal Speaks to the TODAY Show

June 16th 2015

By:
Laura Donovan

Rachel Dolezal, who was president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, spoke with Matt Lauer on TODAY Tuesday morning following widespread rumors late last week that she's been posing as a Black woman for several years.

15 Provocative Twitter Reactions to Rachel Dolezal's Today Show Interview

"The timing of it was a shock," Dolezal said of going viral on Thursday and Friday. "I did feel that at some point I would need to address the complexity of my identity."

Lauer, who pointed out that Dolezal has sent "mixed signals over the years," asked whether she is, in fact, an African American woman. When Dolezal said she identifies as Black, Lauer pulled up a photo from her childhood in which she had blond hair, pale skin, and freckles, asking whether that young girl was white or Black.

"Visibly, she would be identified as white by people who see her," Dolezal said. "In that picture, during that time, [I was not identifying as a Black woman]."

Dolezal's identity was called into question late last week when her parents Ruthanne and Lawrence Dolezal told the media that they're white and their daughter has been pretending to be Black for many years. Dolezal also said her adopted brother Izaiah, who is Black, is her son.

"I really don't see why [my parents are] in such a rush to whitewash some of the work I've done ... and this goes back to a very early age to my self-identification as a Black child," Dolezal said, adding that she began identifying as a Black individual at the age of five when she started drawing pictures of herself with the brown crayon.

Dolezal, who resigned from the NAACP on Monday, released a long statement on Facebook prior to leaving her post.

In an odd series of events, Lauer also mentioned the fact that she sued the historically Black Howard University for discriminating against her as a white woman:

When asked when she started "deceiving people" about her background, Dolezal said that "it's a little more complex than me identifying as Black or answering a question of 'are you Black or white?' I was actually identified when I was doing human rights work in north Idaho as first transracial, and then when some of the opposition to some of the human rights work I was doing came forward, the next newspaper article identified me as a biracial woman ... the next article when there were burglaries, nooses, etc., [said] 'this is happening to a Black woman.'"

Dolezal said she never corrected the reports about her identity because "it's more complex than being true or false in that particular instance."

"I've had to answer a lot of questions throughout my life," she said. "I have a huge issue with Blackface. This is not some freak Birth of a Nation-mockery, Blackface performance. This is on a very really connected level, I've actually had to go there with the experience ... and the point at which that fully solidified was when I got full custody of Izaiah and he said 'you're my real mom' ... For that to be something that's plausible, I certainly can't be seen as white and be Izaiah's mom."

When asked about reports that she lied about a Black man being her dad, she said, "He actually approached me in north Idaho and we connected on a very intimate level as a family. Albert Wilkerson is my dad. Any man can be a father. Not every man can be a dad."

If she could go back in time, Dolezal said she might change the way she conducted herself in certain media appearances.

"There are probably a couple of interviews that I would do differently if circumstances, in retrospect, I knew what I know now," she said. "But overall, my life has been one of survival and the decisions that I have made along the way, including my identification, have been to survive and to carry forward in my journey and life continuum."