Overnight Rachel Dolezal went from NAACP leader to Internet joke, claiming that though she was born Caucasian, she identified as black. In a new interview with Vanity Fair, the Washington State resident opened up about the scandal surrounding her and how her thoughts on the backlash she has received since.
“Everything I do is connected to other people, so I don’t know how to assess the damage other than within my own mind,” Dolezal, 37, told Vanity Fair. “It’s taken my entire life to negotiate how to identify, and I’ve done a lot of research and a lot of studying. I could have a long conversation, an academic conversation about that. I just feel like I didn’t mislead anybody; I didn’t deceive anybody. If people feel misled or deceived, then sorry that they feel that way, but I believe that’s more due to their definition and construct of race in their own minds than it is to my integrity or honesty, because I wouldn’t say I’m African-American, but I would say I’m black, and there’s a difference in those terms.”
As for her overly tanned appearance and traditionally African-American hairstyles, Dolezal had a message for the people who think she’s putting on a show.
“It’s not a costume,” she said. “I don’t know spiritually and metaphysically how this goes, but I do know that from my earliest memories I have awareness and connection with the black experience, and that’s never left me. It’s not something that I can put on and take off anymore… I’m not confused about that any longer. I think the world might be, but I’m not.”
Since her parents broke the news that Dolezal is not, in fact, of African-American descent, she stepped down at the NAACP and was asked to step down as a professor of Africana studies at Eastern Washington University.
“I’ve got to figure it out before August 1, because my last paycheck was like $1,800 in June,” she said. “[I lost] friends and the jobs and the work and—oh, my God—so much at the same time. It’s been really interesting because a lot of people have been supportive within the NAACP, but then there’s also some awkwardness because I went from being president to not-president.”
Dolezal only apologizes for not explaining her way of thinking sooner. She says she didn’t realize that how she identifies would be so offensive to so many.
“Again, I wish I could have had conversations with all kinds of people,” she said. “If I would have known this was going to happen, I could have said, ‘Okay, so this is the case. This is who I am, and I’m black and this is why.’”
As for the future, Dolezal said she’s tired of having to explain her side of the story, and hopes to write a book to get down her thoughts on race and identity.
“I would like to write a book just so that I can send [it to] everybody there as opposed to having to continue explaining,” she said. “After that comes out, then I’ll feel a little bit more free to reveal my life in the racial social-justice movement. I’m looking for the quickest way back to that, but I don’t feel like I am probably going to be able to re-enter that work with the type of leadership required to make change if I don’t have something like a published explanation.”
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