Six months after the world learned her name, Rachel Dolezal is expecting a child, struggling financially, and desperately trying to enter the image rehabilitation portion of her journey.
In early November, she appeared on the talk show The Real and finally pretty much basically admitted that yes, she is white. Visibly pregnant, Dolezal appeared docile and a bit flustered as she stuck with the same talking points she’s been pushing since day one: This is how I identify. Why do we even have to talk about color? Can’t I just be accepted?
On The Real, none of those arguments held up very well, particularly against a panel of women of color, three of whom are black. But now Dolezal is giving it another shot. In a lengthy profile for Broadly, Dolezal again offers this narrative, but this time with much less pushback.
However, her attempts to seem affable and even simply normal crash and burn in a rather spectacular fashion. She paints the picture of a difficult childhood, raised by oppressive parents in a homogenous and intolerant environment. It should go without saying that many people have had difficult childhoods, but that doesn’t necessarily justify poor adult behavior. Furthermore, this seems like an odd connection to make—as if we should just move on from the fact that she masqueraded as a black woman because her life was difficult.
In the profile, Dolezal cracks a joke about being hated by black feminists but also wants the support of black people? She’s looking for sympathy while seemingly ignoring that almost every difficult aspect of her life would have been made worse had she actually been a black woman. And then to try to position herself as an ally—someone fighting for black people in America—is tone deaf on a truly remarkable level.
The more details we learn about her life, frankly, the more bizarre her story seems. She gives anecdotes about using brown crayons to draw pictures of herself as a child, suggesting that she’s always seen herself as black.
“I loved painting my face as a child,” she says.
A description of her home focuses on her black-themed decor.
Pumpkins line her front steps in autumn, and inside her walls are adorned with her own artwork: a portrait of Pariah, the character in the Spike Lee movie, over the fireplace; a drawing of the KKK chasing a black girl above Rachel’s bed; and a painting of her adopted son Izaiah as a baby next to the dining room table. In the living room, a Langston Hughes poetry book lies on a chest.
To anyone who was already skeptical of her, hearing that Dolezal has a picture of a little black girl being chased by the KKK likely won’t help her case. For those who teetered somewhere between mild support and indifference, nothing about this seems particularly endearing.
This interview, as well as her appearance on The Real, are clearly an attempt to remove the stigma of her name, having become a punch line at this point. The story notes that Dolezal is basically unemployed and struggling financially.
In the aftermath of her newfound infamy, Rachel resigned from her unpaid role at the NAACP; the Spokane City Council voted to remove her from a volunteer Police Ombudsman Commission, and Eastern Washington University declined to renew her quarterly adjunct professor contract. Broke and seemingly unemployable (with the exception of a six-figure Vivid Entertainment porn offer she turned down), Rachel wrote a memoir proposal. She hoped she would receive an advance big enough to support herself and her two sons for as long as it takes to weather the storm, but she says publishers refused to sign her. Today, she says she remains out of work besides doing black women’s hair part-time and estimates a third of her friends have stopped speaking to her.
The question then remains: What exactly is her end goal here?
Obviously she’s trying to support her growing family but it’s not clear how exactly she plans on doing that. She does receive a healthy amount of media coverage following these interviews (case in point), but that hasn’t yet appeared to lead to any sort of income, nor is it a sustainable plan.
Dolezal is not the first public figure to try to rehab their image, but she faces a different challenge. We’ve seen celebrities like Kanye West, Robert Downey Jr, Paula Deen and numerous athletes bounce back from scandals. In addition to time and some deft public relations strategies, they were all able to weather their storms by falling back on the exact same skills that made them famous in the first place.
For Rachel Dolezal, her professional career is directly tied to her race because she made it so. There is no reason why a white person can’t work for the NAACP, but they would work as an ally, not someone directly affected by the issues facing black Americans.
Any qualified person can teach Africana studies, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to give a lecture about the history of black hair and point to their own head as an example of black hair textures. Dolezal unnecessarily put herself in this position and I’m not sure it’s possible for her to undo it.
Only tabloid-type companies have offered her work, she says, but she wants to return to teaching and activism.
“I do have a high level of commitment and integrity to the cause,” Rachel says. “Maybe there’s something internationally I could do with human rights.”
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Screenshot via The Real