A US civil rights activist who was outed as a white woman posing as black has stepped down from her post at a leading African American advocacy group. Her case sparked a debate across the country over racial identity.
Rachel Dolezal has announced her resignation from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), saying the controversy over her race had eclipsed key social and political issues.
"In the eye of this current storm, I can see that a separation of family and organizational outcomes is in the best interest of the NAACP," Dolezal wrote in a letter posted to the group's Facebook page.
"Please know I will never stop fighting for human rights."
Dolezal came under intense scrutiny last week after a couple identifying themselves as her parents told the media their family was of European and Native American descent. They said their daughter had severed contact with them and had been masquerading as an African American woman for years.
The embattled 37-year-old built a career as an activist in the black community of Spokane in Washington state, where she served as president of the local chapter of the NAACP. She also holds a post in Spokane's city government as a mediator for the police force. The city has since launched an investigation into the veracity of her application, in which she identified herself as white, African-American and Native American.
Relevance of race
Neither position required applicants be of a certain race, but details that have come to light suggest Dolezal repeatedly identified herself as black.
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 others in the organization's local chapter had different ideas. Spokane member Kitara Johnson welcomed the resignation as "the best thing that can happen right now."
Dolezal, who has light brown skin and dark hair, is yet to address whether she misrepresented her race. In her resignation letter she says only that she had kept her silence out of respect for the rights group.
"The dialogue has unexpectedly shifted internationally to my personal identity in the context of defining race and ethnicity," she said.
"I have waited in deference while others expressed their feelings, beliefs, confusions and even conclusions - absent the full story."
Ahead of the resignation, Dolezal's parents urged their daughter to seek help.
"Rachel we love you. We hope you'll get the help you need to deal with your own personal issues so that you can know and believe and speak the truth," her mother, Ruthanne Dolezal, said on ABC News.
The Dolezals came forward last week with photos of their daughter as a girl with blonde hair and fair skin. They said Dolezal had always shown an interest in black culture, particularly after they adopted four black children.
Dolezal enrolled at the historically black Howard University, but later filed a lawsuit against the school claiming she was discriminated against for her race, gender and pregnancy. She lost the case and was ordered to pay the university's legal costs.
nm/bw (Reuters, AFP, AP)