'Black' US advocate said to be white, drawing scrutiny

  • AFP, Washington
  • Updated: Jun 13, 2015 02:47 IST

A civil rights leader who claims to be part African-American came under the glare of the US media Friday, after her parents said she was white and had lied about her ethnic identity.

With coils of dark hair and tawny skin, Rachel Dolezal, 37, looked the part as she built a career around a black racial identity.

She rose to become the president of the Spokane, Washington branch of the National Association for the Advancement Colored People (NAACP) and also served as an independent mediator for the Spokane police.

Neither position required that she be black, but the Coeur d'Alene Press said Dolezal identified herself in application forms as part black, part white and part Indian.

Yesterday, the city of Spokane said it takes the concerns raised about Dolezal "very seriously" and was gathering facts to determine if any city policies had been violated. "That information will be reviewed by the city council, which has oversight of city boards and commissions," it said.

The NAACP said it would respect Dolezal's privacy as she sorts through "a legal issue with her family." "One's racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership," it said. "The NAACP Alaska-Oregon-Washington State Conference stands behind Ms Dolezal's advocacy record," the group said.

Her parents, who are both white, said their daughter is as well, providing the newspaper with a birth certificate and childhood photographs of Dolezal -- who today appears somewhat darker -- as blonde and fair-skinned.

Interviewed Friday on CNN, Lawrence and Ruthanne Dolezal said they were saddened and hurt by their daughter's behavior and did not understand why she felt it necessary to misrepresent her ethnicity. She "has not explained to us why she is doing what she's doing and being dishonest and deceptive with her identity," Ruthanne Dolezal said.

The Dolezals, who adopted four black children, said their daughter had always been interested in issues of ethnicity and diversity.

But around 2007 they learned from a newspaper article that she was claiming to be African-American, and that her daughter had cut off contact with her parents.

"She doesn't want to be seen with us because that ruins her image," Ruthanne Dolezal said.

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