Rachel Dolezal made her first appearance since she stepped down from her post with the NAACP on the Today show on Tuesday, June 16, and defended herself against the widespread controversy surrounding her identity. The activist made headlines this month when it was revealed that she was not of biracial or African-American descent, as she had implied, but the daughter of two Caucasian parents.
Dolezal sat down for an extended interview with Today's Matt Lauer, who asked her point-blank, "Are you an African-American woman?"
"I identify as black," Dolezal said simply, standing in stark contrast to words from her parents, who said in an interview with Fox News' Megyn Kelly on Monday evening, "We're both Caucasian, of European descent, she's our birth daughter."
"I did feel at some point I would need to address the complexity of my identity," Dolezal admitted, as Lauer pulled up a photo of her as a young woman, in which she is shown with her natural pale skin and light blonde hair. "I would say that visibly [myself as a young woman] would be identified as white by people who see her... In that picture, during that time, no [I wasn't identifying myself as African-American]."
In the years since, Dolezal altered her appearance and now has a darker skin tone and voluminous, dark curls. She told Lauer that though the change has been more recent, the self-identification as a black woman is nothing new.
"This goes back to a very early age with my self-identification with the black experience as a very young child," she said. "I would say about 5 years old. I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon, and black curly hair, you know. That was how I was portraying myself."
"It's a little more complex than me identifying as black or answering a question of, 'Are you black or white?'" Dolezal continued. "I was identified... as first transracial... the next newspaper article identified me as a biracial woman... the next article was... a black woman. I never corrected that. It's more complex than being true or false."
Dolezal was the subject of press coverage in her city of Spokane, Wash. for the work she did as president for the local chapter of the NAACP. She focused on racism and civil rights, working for the organization for years before stepping down amid scandal this week.
She has faced massive backlash in the days since her true identity was revealed, with critics taking issue with everything from her dubious backstory to her choice to deceive those around her to those who see her appearance as a form of blackface.
"I certainly don't stay out of the sun," she told Lauer of how she achieved her new appearance. "I also don't, as some of the critics have said, put on blackface as a performance... I have a huge issue with blackface, this is not some freak Birth of a Nation mockery blackface performance. This is, on a very real, connected level, how I've had to actually go there with the experience."