‘Black’ activist quits in race row


Published: Tuesday 16th June 2015 by The News Editor

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A branch leader of a major African American rights group has resigned, days after her parents said she was a white woman posing as black.

The furore made world headlines and sparked fierce debate in the US over racial identity and divided the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) itself.

“In the eye of this current storm, I can see that a separation of family and organisational outcomes is in the best interest of the NAACP,” Rachel Dolezal, who was elected the Spokane, Washington, chapter’s president last year, said on the group’s Facebook page. “Please know I will never stop fighting for human rights.”

City authorities, meanwhile, are investigating whether she lied about her ethnicity when she won an appointment to Spokane’s police oversight board. On her application, she said her ethnic origins included white, black and American Indian.

Ms Dolezal, 37, who has a light brown complexion and dark curly hair, graduated from historically black Howard University, teaches African studies at a local university and was married to a black man. For years she publicly described herself as black and complained repeatedly of being the victim of racial hatred in the heavily white region.

The uproar began last week after Ms Dolezal’s parents told the press that their daughter was white with a trace of Native American heritage and produced photos of her as a girl with fair skin and straight blonde hair.

Her mother, Ruthanne Dolezal, of Troy, Montana, told reporters she had had no contact with her daughter in several years. She said Rachel began to “disguise herself” as black after her parents adopted four black children more than a decade ago.

Rachel Dolezal initially dismissed the controversy, saying it arose from a legal dispute that has divided the family, and repeatedly sidestepped questions about her race. “That question is not as easy as it seems,” she said. “There’s a lot of complexities.”

Late last week, the national NAACP stood by her, saying “one’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership”.

But Ms Dolezal came under increasing pressure from local chapter members to resign.

Kitara Johnson, an NAACP member in Spokane who has been calling on Ms Dolezal to step down, welcomed the resignation as “the best thing that can happen right now”.

Ms Johnson said the most important thing was to focus on the work of the NAACP and she hoped Ms Dolezal remained a member of the organisation.

“She knows her stuff,” Ms Johnson said.

Ms Dolezal has been widely credited with reinvigorating Spokane’s moribund NAACP chapter. In resigning, she boasted that under her leadership, the chapter acquired an office, increased membership, improved finances and made other improvements.

T he controversy drew conflicting views from NAACP leaders.

“I care that she was trying to make the world a better place every day,” said Frank Hawkins, NAACP president in Las Vegas. “The colour of a person’s skin does not matter.”

Don Harris, a white man who heads the NAACP in the Phoenix area, criticised her, saying: “What do you gain in saying, ‘I’m an African-American’ when you’re not?”

“The NAACP is not concerned with the racial identity of our leadership,” Cornell Brooks, national president of the NAACP, said in a statement. Ms Dolezal “has decided to resign to ensure that the Spokane branch remains focused on fighting for civil and human rights” he said.

Ms Dolezal was also sacked as a weekly columnist for The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Spokane’s alternative weekly.

On Friday, police said they were suspending investigations into racial harassment complaints filed by Ms Dolezal before the uproar, including one from earlier this year in which she said she received hate mail at her NAACP office.

Police released files showing that one package did not bear a date stamp or barcode, meaning it was probably not handled through the post office.

Ms Dolezal’s parents, appearing on the Today show, said they hoped to reconcile with their daughter.

“We hope that Rachel will get the help that she needs to deal with her identity issues. Of course, we love her,” her mother said.

Published: Tuesday 16th June 2015 by The News Editor

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