A black and white stop motion photo showing a woman rising from the floor in several stages with a troubled expression on her face.

Rachel Dolezal lied, invented a false identity, and posed as a black woman while working as a civil rights activist. Do people have a right to create their own identity? | Photo courtesy: JustCallMe_♥Bethy♥ | Flickr Creative Commons

Rachel Dolezal’s lie shocked the world. Judgments about her behavior were fast and emphatic. People were shocked, confused, and angry. Why would a white woman falsely identify herself as black and steal a history not her own? Some members of her immediate family spoke her defense are other opinions. In a television interview Dolezal said her son told here, “Mom, racially you’re human but culturally you’re black.”

Uncovering the Truth About Rachel Dolezal

Maureen Dolan, city editor and reporter Jeff Selle from the Coeur D’alene Press broke the Dolezal story. Dolan had been assigned to cover Dolezal’s work for the Human Rights Education Institute (HREI), formed in 1981 in response to the Aryan Nation activities in the Inland Northwest. “Even before she called to tell me in September 2009 that someone had left a noose on the doorstep of her Spokane home, I saw troubling signs that Rachel might not be telling the truth about her background,” Dolan wrote.

Dolan and Salle’s investigative reporting made Dolezal a national story. “When Jeff told me Rachel’s father is black, and showed me a Facebook photo of the man Rachel was claiming to be her dad, the deception became clearer. I knew Albert Wilkerson. I had met him through Rachel and I was almost certain he was not her father. That’s what prompted us to contact Rachel and her parents in May and ask about Rachel’s ethnicity, and request her birth certificate,” Dolan wrote.

Meet the Parents: Ruthanne and Lawrence Dolezal

Dolezal’s parents shared memories of their daughter Rachel’s childhood during a television interview that became national news. Their family story is controversial, but not unfamiliar. Take a step back from the specifics and the Dolezal story becomes familiar story of discord and estrangement that many have personally experienced.

On Good Morning America Mrs. Dolezal said, ”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.” Rachel Dolezal got it wrong—she lied. Do we have the right to define our own identity? Who owns the truth?

 

About 

Martin Ackerman is a freelance writer and current editor originally from Staten Island, NY. His university schooling focused on English education and Japanese. He has a (not so secret) passion for art history and political science. When he isn't writing or editing you can find him at sci-tech conventions, building the latest LEGO city or pampering his cat, Tea. You can follow him on Twitter @MarMackerman.