Lying About Your Race Is A Sure Way to Be Persecuted, Rachel Dolezal Shows

The former NAACP official's resignation highlights the stakes of racial identity.

Photographer: Hans Neleman/Taxi

This is an excerpt from Bloomberg's daily Opening Line column.

Here are three things most people wouldn’t pretend to be: a journalist confronting a belligerent politician on a balcony, a banker at an Occupy Wall Street protest, and the NAACP president in 90 percent-white Spokane, Washington.

What could have motivated Rachel Dolezal—a person unburdened by fame as recently as last week, whose name now draws almost 6 million Google News hits—to hide her white ancestry and white appearance in order to appear, live and work as a black person?

Was this a cynical appropriation of black history to further her own interests? As an adjunct professor of Africana studies, president of the Spokane NAACP and member of Spokane’s Police Ombudsman Commission, Dolezal did build a professional life on her apparent hoax—though one would imagine the financial rewards were somewhat less than, say, in Bernie Madoff’s scheme.

Or was this the reflection of a genuine personal affiliation with African-American culture? “I’m not sayin’ she doesn’t have serious ISSUES, I’m just sayin’ don’t knock her intentions or discredit her efforts,” singer Keri Hilson ventured via Twitter.

In the great divide between scorn and sympathy is ample room for bewilderment, discomfort and a little pity at the whole spectacle.

Why couldn’t Dolezal simply have been “a white member of the NAACP” and “a white professor of African American studies”? Those “are open doors” for her, writes Danielle Henderson at Fusion.

But being a white civil-rights figure may not have brought Dolezal part of what she seemed to crave: a claim to having been personally persecuted.

Her autobiography on the website of Eastern Washington University makes the unusual boast that, while working for the Human Rights Education in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, she encountered “opposition by North Idaho white supremacy groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, the Neo Nazis and the Aryan Nations, and at least eight documented hate crimes” that targeted her “and her children.” (She doesn’t appear to have any children.)

Well, if feeling harassed and persecuted is what Dolezal wanted, her wish has come true. On Twitter and Sarah Palin’s Facebook page, in the New York Times and Breitbart News, her mindset, motivations, hair and skin color have become fodder for jokes and pop psychology.

She can’t expect much shelter from her family, since her parents and brother are the ones who came forward to expose her.

“Why did Rachel Dolezal’s Parents OUT Their Daughter?” Cher—yes, that Cher—wrote on Twitter. “It Was Cruel.”

Al Sharpton, asked about Dolezal by TMZ, said, “At one level you’ve got to say to her, were you misleading us? But at another level—mom and dad, c’mon. Are you really going to do this to your kid?”

Al Sharpton, voice of moderation and reason.

The family angle may grow stranger. The New York Daily News reports that Dolezal and her parents may be at odds because she supports a family member who has accused her biological brother of sexual assault.

Dolezal’s fabrications at this point are too numerous to excuse, her responses to questions so circumspect she’s probably ready to run for public office. She was to address the dispute at a meeting today of the Spokane NAACP, but she’s now postponed that.

At this point, what can she say?

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