Rachel Dolezal, the former president of an NAACP chapter in Washington state, appeared on NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday and said she has identified as black even as far back as childhood.
In the interview with Matt Lauer, Ms. Dolezal claims that she started identifying herself as black at age 5. Her parents recently outed her as being white, but having long falsely portrayed herself as a black.
“I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon,” she told Mr. Lauer. “It was a little more complex than me identifying as black.”
Ms. Dolezal, 37, said she “takes exception” to claims she deceived anyone and said some of the commentary about her has been “viciously inhumane.”
When he asked whether the controversy came as a surprise to her, or whether she expected “the lid to be blown off of your story at some point,” Ms. Dolezal replied: “The timing of it was a shock. I mean, wow. The timing was completely unexpected.”
But, she acknowledged, “I did feel that at some point I would have to address the complexity of my identity.”
When Mr. Lauer mentioned blackface, which is considered offensive by many and was used by white vaudeville performers in the past to portray blacks, Ms. Dolezal said there was no comparison.
“I have a huge issue with blackface. This is not some freak, ‘Birth of a Nation’ mockery of blackface performance,” Ms. Dolezal said, adding that her identity as a black person solidified when she got full custody of her son, who is black.
When asked if she would make the same choices, Ms. Dolezal said, “I would.”
She also accused others of trying to deny her achievements as a civil-rights activist, telling Mr. Lauer “I really don’t see why they’re in such a rush to whitewash some of the work I have done.”
Ms. Dolezal graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and was married to a black man, but she sued the historically black school claiming to have been discriminated against because she is white. Her complaints were dismissed, according to court documents, and she was ordered to pay legal fees to the university.
She also defended calling a black friend her father, saying that was how she thought of him. She is estranged from her actual parents.
Her parents, who have been vocal to various news outlets about their daughter’s deception, responded shortly after to the NBC interview.
“She’s still dodging the question about acknowledging who she is in reality,” Ruthanne Dolezal told CNN in a video call from her home. The NBC interview “was disturbing because the false statements continue. And as much as we’re concerned with Rachel’s identity issues, we’re also concerned with her integrity issues.”
As for Ms. Dolezal’s claims that she thought of herself as black as a girl, her mother told Fox News that “that is a fabrication.”
On Monday, Rachel Dolezal resigned from her position as NAACP president in Spokane. She also was dismissed from a weekly columnist position with a Spokane newspaper and is no longer an employee of Eastern Washington University, where she had taught Africana studies.
Ms. Dolezal’s application to sit on Spokane’s police oversight board also is being reviewed by the city Ethics Commission to determine whether she lied about her race. The Spokane police also said they have closed the multiple complaints she had filed, claiming to have been the target of racial hatred.
Kitara Johnson, an NAACP member who had organized a petition asking Ms. Dolezal to resign from the group, told the Associated Press that the NBC interview was a deflection that “gave some insight that there are truly some psychological issues at play.”
“Whenever she was posed with a question where she was supposed to tell the truth, she responded with ‘It’s much more complex than that,’” she said. “No, it’s not. It’s very simple. The truth or a lie.”