NEW YORK >> The NAACP chapter president who resigned after her parents said she is white said Tuesday that she started identifying as black around age 5, when she drew self-portraits with a brown crayon, and she “takes exception” to the contention she tried to deceive people.
Rachel Dolezal said on NBC’s “Today” show that some of the discussion about her has been “viciously inhumane.”
Asked by Matt Lauer if she is an “an African-American woman,” Dolezal said: “I identify as black.”
Dolezal’s career as a civil rights activist in the Pacific Northwest crumbled in the past few days.
She resigned Monday as president of the Spokane, Washington, branch of the NAACP, lost her position as a part-time African studies instructor at a local university, was fired as a freelance newspaper columnist and is being investigated by the city Ethics Commission over whether she lied about her race on her application when she landed an appointment to Spokane’s police oversight board.
The furor has touched off national debate over racial identity and divided the NAACP itself. The civil rights organization has said leadership jobs don’t require a person to be black.
Kitara Johnson, an NAACP member who had organized a petition asking Dolezal to resign from the group, said she felt that Dolezal failed to answer many of the direct questions in the interview.
“They were deflections,” Johnson said. “‘I think the entire interview gave some insight that there are truly some psychological issues at play.”
Former Spokane NAACP James Wilburn agreed.
“It’s a poke in the eye of other leaders who had been working in the trenches and doing things,” he said.
Dolezal, a 37-year-old woman with a light brown complexion and dark curly hair, graduated from historically black Howard University and was married to a black man. For years, she publicly described herself as black or partly black.
The uproar that led to her resignation began last week after Dolezal’s parents said their daughter is white with a trace of Native American heritage. They produced photos of her as a girl with fair skin and straight blond hair.
“I really don’t see why they’re in such a rush to whitewash some of the work I have done, who I am, how I have identified,” she said Tuesday.
Asked when she started “deceiving people,” she replied, “I do take exception to that.”
Shown a photo of herself with a much lighter complexion in her youth, she said: “I certainly don’t stay out of the sun.” But she added, “I also don’t … put on blackface as a performance.”
“I have a huge issue with blackface,” she said. “This is not some freak ‘Birth of a Nation’ mockery blackface performance. This is a very real, connected level. … I’ve had to actually go there with the experience, not just the visible representation, but with the experience.”
Johnson said Dolezal’s comments about blackface were “a horrible cop-out. … I found that ridiculous.’
Dolezal said published accounts described her first as “transracial,” then “biracial,” then as “a black woman.”
“I never corrected that,” she conceded, adding that “it’s more complex than being true or false in that particular instance.”
“Whenever she was posed with a question where she was supposed to tell the truth, she responded with ‘It’s much more complex than that,'” Johnson said. “No, it’s not. It’s very simple. The truth or a lie.”
Dolezal said she told people that a black friend was her father because that’s how she thinks of him.
Her sons are supportive, she said. One told her he views her as culturally black and racially “human.”
Dolezal’s parents denied that their daughter identified as black from a young age.
“No, that is a fabrication,” Ruthanne Dolezal said in an interview with her husband on Fox News on Tuesday.
Asked about Dolezal’s claim that she thought of a black family friend as her father, Larry Dolezal said: “That hurts deeply because for over 20 years Rachel fondly referred to me as ‘Papa.'”
The Dolezals said they have not spoken to their daughter for more than two years.
“We are very alarmed at the level of dishonesty that Rachel is exhibiting,” Ruthanne Dolezal said.
Associated Press writer Nicholas K. Geranios in Spokane, Washington, and Karen Matthews in New York City contributed to this report.