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US civil rights advocate 'pretended to be black'

June 13, 2015

A local leader of the African American advocacy group the NAACP has reportedly been pretending to be African American. Rachel Dolezal's identity came under scrutiny amid a difficult chapter of American race relations.

USA NAACP Rachel Dolezal
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/C. Mulvany

The local leader of a major US advocacy group for the rights of African Americans was facing questions on Thursday about whether she had lied about her racial identity. Thirty-seven-year-old Rachel Dolezal's family said that she was white but had presented herself as black for years.

Dolezal gained a reputation as an activist in the black community of Spokane, Washington. Heading a local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the northwestern state, Dolezal identified herself in application forms as part black, part white and part Indian.

While her post with the NAACP did not require her to be of any particular race, her parents said Dolezal had deliberately been misleading others about her ethnicity. They explained that their daughter was white, providing her birth certificate and childhood photographs of a blonde, fair-skinned Dolezal.

Rolezal's estranged mother, Ruthanne, said the family is Czech, Swedish and German, with some Native American roots.

"It's very sad that Rachel has not just been herself," Ruthanne Dolezal said. "Her effectiveness in the causes of the African-American community would have been so much more viable and she would have been more effective if she had just been honest with everybody."

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

The estranged mother added that she and her daughter had not been in touch for years but added that Rachel Dolezal had begun to portray herself as African-American eight or nine years earlier, soon after her parents had adopted four black children.

Dolezal studied at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington. She is also an adjunct professor in the Africana Studies Program at Eastern Washington University. Her profile on the university website lists her interests as including "African dance, culinary arts, ethnic hair styling, modeling, managing a political campaign, and mothering two sons."

The allegations against Dolezal have caused a stir as recent race riots in Baltimore and Ferguson continue to cast a shadow over race relations in the US.

ss/bk (AP, AFP)