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.”
The controversy surrounding Dolezal has touched off national debate over racial identity and divided the NAACP itself.
The hashtag #transracial quickly began trending on Twitter and many started comparing the term to transgender, while just as many say it’s not the same and is not a real thing.
Psychotherapist Mark O’Connell, who specializes in working with adults who experience identity conflicts, tells WNEW the original meaning of “trans-racial” refers to children who are adopted into a family made up of people from a different race.
“It’s not a choice, but it’s a very real experience,” O’Connell says.
He adds that Dolezal’s claim of being black may go beyond a race issue and what is really more important to understand is why she is disassociating from her past and disavowing where she’s come from.
“It speaks to some kind of unresolved sense of self for her,” O’Connell says.
He adds that it’s also possible she identifies as a transracial because she wishes she was adopted by the black man she referred to as her father.
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.”
She 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.”
Dolezal said that 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.
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