Rachel Dolezal, the civil rights campaigner who came under fire for allegedly misleading activists and officials about her racial heritage, has resigned as leader of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington.
In a letter to the NAACP executive committee and members, Dolezal, 37, addressed concerns about her leadership in the wake of allegations from her family that she is white with traces of Native American ancestry — not black as she has long claimed.
"Many issues face us now that drive at the theme of urgency," Dolezal wrote in a letter shared on Facebook by the Spokane NAACP chapter. "Police brutality, biased curriculum in schools, economic disenfranchisement, health inequities, and a lack of pro-justice political representation…. And yet, the dialogue has unexpectedly shifted internationally to my personal identity in the context of defining race and ethnicity."
Dolezal has previously spoken publicly about the Black Lives Matter movement in Baltimore, Ferguson, and elsewhere across the US, and currently chairs Spokane's Office of Police Ombudsman Commission (OPOC). It is not clear whether she will also step down from that role amid the controversy.
The activist's motivations, as well as an incident where she says she received graphic hate mail, were thrown into question after her estranged parents told local Spokane TV channel KREM 2 News that their daughter's heritage was in fact German, Swedish, and Czech, with a touch of Native American ancestry.
"Rachel has wanted to be somebody she's not. She's chosen not to just be herself but to represent herself as an African American woman or a biracial person," Dolezal's mother told the station. "That's simply not true."
Dolezal's brother put it in not-so-delicate terms, saying his adopted sister's lifestyle amounted to nothing more than "blackface."
"There was the gradual darkening of the skin and the hair," Ezra Dolezal said, noting that he first started noticing the changes in 2011. "She started molding herself into who she is today."
Since the revelations, the city is now investigating whether Dolezal broke any ethical codes by claiming she was mixed African American on her OPOC application.
"We are gathering facts to determine if any city policies related to volunteer boards and commissions have been violated," Spokane Mayor David Condon and City Council President Ben Stuckart said in a statement. "That information will be reviewed by the city council, which has oversight of city boards and commissions."
The allegations prompted another local reporter to seek out Dolezal, who is also a professor of Africana Studies at Eastern Washington University, for comment. When confronted with the question "Are you African American?" Dolezal replied "I don't understand the question," and walked away.
The NAACP released a statement on Friday saying that Dolezal is "enduring a legal issue with her family," and that the organization respects her privacy in the matter.
"One's racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership. The NAACP Alaska-Oregon-Washington State Conference stands behind Ms. Dolezal's advocacy record," the statement reads. "In every corner of this country, the NAACP remains committed to securing political, educational, and economic justice for all people, and we encourage Americans of all stripes to become members and serve as leaders in our organization."
The irony of Dolezal's alleged secret ancestry was not lost on those who questioned her numerous complaints to police of racial harassment. Police said they had not found evidence to support her claims.
In her letter Monday, Dolezal said that her resignation would not be the end to her activism.
"Please know I will never stop fighting for human rights and will do everything in my power to help and assist, whether it means stepping up or stepping down, because this is not about me. It's about justice," she wrote. "This is not me quitting; this is a continuum."