Rachel Dolezal Racial Identity Controversy refers to allegations that Rachel Dolezal, the president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP, adjunct faculty member at Eastern Washington University and chair of the Spokane police oversight commission, had been disguising herself as an African American since 2007.
Hate Crime Claims
In March 2015, Dolezal claimed to have received a package containing racist and threatening materials in the NAACP PO Box. After police investigated the incident, they determined the package had not been processed by the local postal service, and could only have been placed in the box by a postal worker or key holder.
On June 11th, 2015, the Coeur d’Alene Press published an interview with Dolezal's biological parents, who claimed that their daughter had been misrepresenting her racial identity for several years. The article also noted that Dolezal indicated she was "white," "African American" and "Native American" on her police oversight committee application.
The same day, the local news station KXLY uploaded an interview Dolezal, in which she discusses the various hate crimes she has reported over the years. After being confronted by the interviewer about whether she identifies as "African American," Dolezal abruptly ends the interview and walks off camera.
Also on June 11th,, the Spokesman Review published an interview with Dolezal, in which she avoided directly answering questions about her racial identity, saying "That question is not as easy as it seems" and "We're all from the African continent." The article also included a statement by Dolezal's mother Ruthanne, who claimed "the family's ancestry is Czech, Swedish and German" with "faint traces" of Native American.
That day, reporter for the North Idaho news station KREM Taylor Viydo posted a current photograph of Dolezal next a picture of her growing up (shown below, left). In the first 24 hours, the tweet gained over 1,800 retweets and 690 favorites. Shortly after, Viydo posted a follow-up tweet featuring a photograph of Dolezal's biological parents (shown below, right).
Meanwhile, many Internet users and investigative journalists discovered social media posts by Dolezal, in which she describes herself as African American, depicts her adopted step siblings as her children and falsely identifies a black man as her father (shown below).
On June 12th, the NAACP released a statement on the controversy, noting that "one's racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership."
"One’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership. The NAACP Alaska-Oregon-Washington State Conference stands behind Ms. Dolezal’s advocacy record. In every corner of this country, the NAACP remains committed to securing political, educational, and economic justice for all people, and we encourage Americans of all stripes to become members and serve as leaders in our organization."
Comparison to Caitlyn Jenner
Also on June 12th, radio host Lenard McKelvey (aka Charlamagne Tha God) posted a tweet saying "If Bruce Jenner can be a woman Rachel Dolezal can be black" (shown below). In the next 12 hours, the tweet gathered upwards of 1,200 retweets and 600 favorites. That day, many debated online whether Dolezal was "transracial" and if it was comparable to being transgender.
Parents' CNN Interview
Meanwhile, CNN broadcast an interview with Dolezal's parents, in which they indicated that Dolezal first began representing herself as African American in 2007 (shown below).
News Media Coverage
In the coming days, several news media outlets published articles about the controversy, including The Daily What, BuzzFeed, Gawker, The Washington Post, The New York Times, MSNBC and The Guardian.
Resignation From NAACP
On June 15th, 2015, the official Facebook page for the Spokane NAACP posted a letter from Dolezal in which she announced her resignation as president due to the public focus on her racial identity.
"It is with complete allegiance to the cause of racial and social justice and the NAACP that I step aside from the Presidency and pass the baton to my Vice President, Naima Quarles-Burnley. It is my hope that by securing a beautiful office for the organization in the heart of downtown, bringing the local branch into financial compliance, catalyzing committees to do strategic work in the five Game Changer issues, launching community forums, putting the membership on a fast climb, and helping many individuals find the legal, financial and practical support needed to fight race-based discrimination, I have positioned the Spokane NAACP to buttress this transition."
On June 16th, 2015, Dolezal was interviewed on the morning talk show Today by host Matt Lauer, where she revealed "I identify as black" (shown below). Additionally, she claimed she started seeing herself as black as early as 5-years-old, and argued she never deceived anyone.
"As much as this discussion has somewhat been at my expense recently, and in a very sort of viciously inhumane way come out of the woodwork, the discussion is really about what it is to be human. I hope that that can drive at the core of definitions of race, ethnicity, culture, self determination, personal agency and, ultimately, empowerment."
2017 Guardian Interview
On February 25th, 2017, The Guardian published an interview with Dolezal in which she stated that her life since the controversy brought her to the public eye has been difficult. She admits that she has been unable to find employment despite applying to over 100 jobs, is living off food stamps, and is nearly homeless. The article, coming a month in advance of Dolezal's upcoming memoir, In Full Color, gives a long detail about Dolezal's life growing up in Montana under fundamentalist, abusive parents.
2017 The Stranger Article
On April 19th, 2017, Ijeoma Oluo, a black woman writing for The Stranger, published an article in which she interviewed Dolezal, who in October 2016 had changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo in order to try and get jobs. The piece was celebrated as a nuanced, final take on the Rachel Dolezal story by several media outlets, including Jezebel and Gothamist. Readers of the piece praised the way Oluo was able to expose Dolezal as having a pretentious view of blackness, and critical of black people who would not accept her. Readers also praised the way Oluo illustrated how the Dolezal story demonstrated a larger problem with white supremacy, pondering that because Dolezal did not benefit from perceived white privileges such as wealth and social status as a child, she felt entitled to adopt a black identity. One telling interaction was that when being photographed for the interview, Oluo suggested Dolezal sit in better lighting, which is standard journalistic practice. Dolezal took offense to this, suggesting that Oluo was trying to make Dolezal look "lighter" and Oluo darker. The celebration of article was covered in Twitter Moments that day.
That day, Netflix formally announced the documentary. The company said in a statement:
"Self-described “trans racial” activist Rachel Dolezal ignited an unprecedented media storm when a local news station in Spokane, WA outed her as a white woman who had been living as the black president of the NAACP.
"Since the controversy erupted, director Laura Brownson and team exclusively filmed with Rachel, her sons and her adopted sister Esther, capturing an intimate life story of a damaged character who lands squarely in the cross-hairs of race and identity politics in America -- and exploring how that character still provokes negative reactions from millions who see her as the ultimate example of white privilege.
"A Netflix original documentary, The Rachel Divide is executive produced by Academy Award winner Roger Ross Williams (Life, Animated, God Loves Uganda).
Online, people reacted negatively to the news of a documentary about Dolezal. Twitter user @shannonmhouston tweeted the announcement with the caption, "So @netflix just announced the Rachel Dolezal documentary. It's called #TheRachelDivide and I'm in my office screaming 😭😭😭 why is this happening." The tweet (shown below, left) received more than 170 retweets and 500 likes in 24 hours.
Twitter user @MatthewACherry tweeted, "*The opposite of God’s plan starts playing*." The post (shown below, center) received more than 620 retweets and 1,600 likes in 24 hours.
Due to the backlash, Netflix tweeted a statement regarding the documentary (shown below, right). They wrote, "To clarify one thing: Like all subjects for our documentaries, Rachel Dolezal did not receive any payment for this project. We worked with filmmakers Laura Brownson and Roger Ross Williams, who wanted to explore Dolezal’s life as a microcosm for a larger conversation about race and identity. The film is focused not just on her life but on the larger conversation, including people who see her actions as the ultimate expression of white privilege."
Twitter published a Moments page about the reaction to the documentary.
 Spokesman Review – Credibility of local NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal questioned
fn24, YouTube – The Rachel Divide | Clip [HD] | Netflix