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10 Rachel Dolezal Scandal Facts - WMNews Ep. 32

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Angela Fafard This master of disguise lost her touch and now must face her peers, her community and the microscope of international media. Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series from where we break down news stories that might be on your radar. In this instalment, we’re counting down 10 crucial facts you should know about the Rachel Dolezal scandal.

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10 Rachel Dolezal Scandal Facts - WMNews Ep. 32

#10: Who Is Rachel Dolezal?
The President

Rachel Dolezal is an American civil rights activist and the former President of the Spokane, Washington Chapter of the U.S. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or NAACP. Born in Montana, Dolezal was homeschooled until she moved to Mississippi to attend Belhaven University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree. In 2002, she received a full scholarship to attend Howard University, a predominantly black college where she earned her Master of Fine Arts degree. In June 2015, a media scandal erupted when Dolezal’s estranged parents came forward to announce that she was pretending to be of African-American descent, but that she was in fact white.

#9: What Is the NAACP?
The Civil Rights

Founded in 1909, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is an African-American civil rights organization. The mission of the organization is to “ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.” With over 300,000 paying and non-paying members, the organization has not been without controversy both inside and outside the NAACP over the years. This includes comments criticizing former President George W. Bush, which led to his declining an invitation to its national convention in 2004, as well as the its endorsement of LGBT rights and marriage equality.

#8: What Is the Scandal About?
The Specifics

The scandal surrounding Rachel Dolezal began once her parents announced that she had been disguising herself as a black woman for many years. According to her mother Ruthanne Dolezal, Rachel is a “master artist” who is able to “disguise herself” and “make her appearance look like any ethnicity.” Despite the fact that her roots are Czech, Swedish, German and Native American, Dolezal began to portray herself as a person of mixed descent, with a focus on being African-American in 2007. According to one of her adopted brothers, Ezra Dolezal, she started by using different hair products and then began applying darker and darker makeup to her face. This is in sharp contrast to her former appearance in 2002 when Dolezal unsuccessfully sued Howard University for racial discrimination against her as a white woman.

#7: What Was the World’s Response?
The Social Media

In June 2015, Dolezal’s family came forward to offer their opinion on the topic. This included one of her adopted brothers, Ezra Dolezal, who cited her behavior as a “slap in the face” to African-Americans. Social media networks subsequently exploded, with the Twitter hashtags #RachelDolezal and #transracial quickly beginning to trend. An online petition had been started by a local NAACP member on in mid-June 2015 calling for her resignation and had received over 600 signatures by the time she resigned from her role at the NAACP. Furthermore, a peaceful protest had been scheduled for June 15th, 2015 outside of the chapter’s headquarters in Spokane.

#6: Is There Any Truth to Dolezal’s Story?
The Birth Certificate

Dolezal’s parents provided the media with proof of her racial identity in the form of a birth certificate, which stated she was born in Montana and has a European heritage with a bit of Native American ancestry. They also released family photos that show a young Rachel Dolezal with blue eyes and blonde hair. They’ve otherwise refuted many of her other claims, including her assertion that she was born and lived in a teepee, that she had to hunt for food with a bow and arrow, that she lived in South Africa as a child and that her parents whipped her with a bamboo shoot.

#5: What Has Dolezal Done for the African-American Community?
The Advocacy

Aside from her numerous contributions to the community in the form of volunteer work on the Spokane police board, her teaching at the Eastern Washington University and her work as the President of the NAACP Spokane chapter, Dolezal has also been an active member of the art, charity, and human rights communities. For instance, in 2005, Dolezal created a fountain sculpture that was auctioned off to raise funds for the Human Rights Education Institute. She has since contributed to thematic exhibitions on domestic violence and had her artwork displayed at the United Nations’ Headquarters in New York. She worked as a frequent contributor for the Spokane newspaper “The Inlander” until June 15th, 2015. Aside from being the president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, Dolezal was the education director of the Human Rights Education Center in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

#4: Where Does Dolezal Work?
The University

Between 2010 and June 2015, Dolezal was an instructor in the Africana Education program at Eastern Washington University. As an instructor, she specialized in black studies and African-American culture. In 2014, she began serving as chairwoman of Spokane’s police oversight committee after she indicated on her application that her background was a mix of white, African-American and Native American. The city of Spokane is now conducting an ongoing investigation into whether or not Dolezal had actually lied about her ethnicity on her application.

#3: How Has Dolezal Built Her Story?
The Lies

Dating as far back as 2007, Dolezal has been making complaints to police about being the victim of several crimes due to her biracial background. This has included threats, hate mail and nooses left at her home. The Spokane police department eventually dropped their investigation due to a lack of leads, which included packages without no bar codes or date stamps. Apart from her history with the police, Dolezal has also made claims in regards to her family. She introduced an African-American man named Albert Wilkerson to her coworkers and the NAACP as her father, despite the fact that he was unrelated to her. She also pretended that her adopted brother, Izaiah Dolezal, was her son. Furthermore, one of her other adopted brothers, Ezra Dolezal, has claimed that his sister told him not to “blow her cover” when he went to visit her in Spokane. During her interview on the ‘Today’ show on June 16th, 2015, Dolezal explained that she was not deceiving people into believing she was African-American, but she did not correct their false assumption either.

#2: Has This Happened Before?
The History

The scandal that surrounds Rachel Dolezal has shed light on the particular concept of ‘trans-raciality’ and the ‘appropriation of culture.’ According to Baz Dreisinger, an associate professor of English at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, there have been many instances in the past of non-black people passing themselves off, for a period of time, or even for life, as black in order to become closer to the culture. One particular example is in mixed marriages, where the Caucasian spouse may find it easier to pass as black in order to have their marriage accepted. The concept of ‘appropriation of culture’ has also been raised as many view the borrowing of key concepts of a culture offensive. This has been seen in the music industry, for example, with artists like Iggy Azalea and Fergie being criticized for appropriating black culture for profit.

#1: What Does the Future Look Like?
The Unknown

Despite the fact that her NAACP chapter initially supported her amid the allegations, on June 15th, 2015, Rachel Dolezal resigned from her position as President of the Spokane chapter in Washington. In her place, the Vice President of the chapter, Naima Quarles-Burnley, will be taking over the position. On the Facebook post that announced her resignation, Dolezal was unapologetic as she wrote about stepping down, and reiterated her commitment to continuing the fight for human rights and justice. Finally, during her interview on the “Today” show on June 16th, 2015, Dolezal admitted that she “identified as black” and that she hopes this scandal will provoke a discussion on what it “really means to be human.”

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