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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

In TV blitz, Rachel Dolezal says white couple may not be her real parents

Former Spokane NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal appears Tuesday morning on the “Today” show in New York. (Associated Press)
Tina Susman Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK – Rachel Dolezal’s daylong media blitz in which she denied that she is a white woman posing as a black woman culminated Tuesday night with a claim that she’s not sure her white parents are her real parents.

“I haven’t had a DNA test. There’s been no biological proof that Larry and Ruthanne are my biological parents,” Dolezal said in an appearance on “NBC Nightly News.”

“There’s a birth certificate that has your name on it and their names on it,” responded interviewer Savannah Guthrie.

“I’m not necessarily saying that I can prove they’re not,” Dolezal said. “But I don’t know that I can actually prove they are. I mean, the birth certificate is issued a month and a half after I’m born. And certainly there were no medical witnesses to my birth.”

Earlier Tuesday, Dolezal, the former Spokane NAACP leader, said she had viewed herself as black since childhood and knows what it’s like to “live black,” despite critics’ allegations she is a poseur.

In back-to-back interviews with NBC’s “Today” show and MSNBC on Tuesday morning, Dolezal did not offer any apologies and said she was being attacked in a “viciously inhumane way,” even as she remained committed to fighting for human rights.

Dolezal also denied switching racial identities for opportunistic reasons, even though she sued Howard University for allegedly discriminating against her when she was a white graduate student there, and years later described herself as black on job applications.

“I identify as black,” a composed, smiling Dolezal said during a 10-minute interview on “Today,” less than 24 hours after she resigned as president of the NAACP’s chapter in Spokane.

Dolezal, 37, said she hoped the passions aroused by the episode would be channeled into a deeper conversation on ethnicity and race.

“The discussion really is what it is to be human,” she said.

Asked if she would again make the same choices that led to the uproar, Dolezal replied: “I would.”

Dolezal added that she had felt isolated from a young age, as she grew to feel a connection with black people. “But certainly that was shut down,” Dolezal added. “I was socially conditioned to not own that and to be limited to whatever biological identity was thrust upon me and narrated to me.”

She said that when her parents adopted four black children, she saw herself as a helpful link between the children and their new, mainly white environment.

The controversy erupted Thursday, when Dolezal’s parents, Ruthanne and Larry Dolezal, said their daughter is white and produced photographs of her from years ago. The pictures show Dolezal with fair skin and straight, blond hair, with coloring similar to that of her mother and father.

The Dolezal family is in the midst of turmoil. In March, Rachel’s biological brother, Joshua A. Dolezal, 39, was charged in Colorado with four counts of sexual assault on a child. Court records say that the alleged crimes occurred in 2001 and 2002 when the family lived in the state and that the alleged victim was 6 or 7 at the time. Rachel Dolezal suggested last week that revelations about her by her parents were in retribution for her support of the victim.

Dolezal said that she had thought of herself as black since about the age of 5.

“I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon,” she said.

Her parents denied that claim in their appearance on Fox News.

Rachel Dolezal said published accounts described her first as “transracial,” then “biracial,” then as “a black woman.”

“I never corrected that,” she conceded in the “Today” interview, adding that “it’s more complex than being true or false in that particular instance.”

The Spokesman-Review never referred to her as “transracial,” according to newspaper archives. The first reference in The Spokesman-Review to Dolezal being “part African-American” was in 2009.

In recent years, Dolezal’s skin was noticeably darker, and she wore her hair in braids or tightly wound curls.

“I certainly don’t stay out of the sun,” she replied when asked if she had done something to change her skin color.

She was asked why she had publicly identified a black man as her father, and whether it was done to bolster her reputation as a black activist.

In response, Dolezal said she and the man had connected “on a very intimate level, as a family.”

“Every man can be a father. Not every man can be a dad,” Dolezal said.

“That hurts deeply because for over 20 years, Rachel fondly referred to me as ‘Papa,’ ” Larry Dolezal said on Fox News, responding to his daughter’s remark.

Asked about the lawsuit against Howard University, which was dismissed, Dolezal said she filed it after being told that she was losing a scholarship and teaching assistant job at Howard because other people needed help more than she did and that as a white woman, she probably had relatives to help her financially.

Larry Dolezal said he heard Howard University officials didn’t know Dolezal was white when they awarded her a full-ride scholarship years ago.

“They see her art portfolio was all African-American (portraiture), and then she shows up two weeks before – and the way I recall this being reported back to us at that time was – when she walked in to finalize her registration a week or two before classes started, eyes were popping, jaws were dropping, because they couldn’t believe they awarded a full-ride scholarship to a white woman,” Larry Dolezal said.

“This is not some freak ‘Birth of a Nation’ mockery blackface performance,” Dolezal said on the “Today” show, denying some critics’ allegations that what she did is akin to a white performer donning a crude blackface disguise.

She said her two sons are among her staunchest supporters. One of them is one of the four black children her parents adopted; Dolezal said she later was given custody of the young man, who is now in high school. The other is the son she had with her ex-husband, Kevin Moore, who is black.

Times staff writer Matt Pearce in Los Angeles, the Associated Press and The Spokesman-Review contributed to this report.