Rachel Dolezal is back in the news, after the former president of an NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington, admitted Monday in a TV interview that she was, in fact, white after previously presenting herself as African-American. But while Dolezal's story might have attracted media attention, it's unlikely her notoriety will translate into a significant boon to her wallet.
Dolezal's story took off this past summer after her parents, who are white, released childhood photos of Dolezal as their white, blonde-haired daughter. Dolezal later said she identified as black, but until Monday she avoided acknowledging that she was born white. That refusal drew ire from many critics, black and white, many of whom who accused her cultural appropriation.
Since Monday's interview, her possible next steps have become the subject of much speculation, including whether she can leverage her notoriety into a TV reality show or book deal.
But because the 37-year-old made news for what many perceive as dishonesty, she continues to have a negative image among many members of the public, which could cost her a shot at a TV deal or other payoff. As more details from her past surfaced, the pieces of her life only seemed to cause more public anger. The former civil rights leader and professor at Eastern Washington University, for instance, once sued the predominately black Howard University for allegedly discriminating against her as a white woman.
Dolezal Reality Show?
When Dolezal's story captured the nation's attention in June, rumors of a possible reality show surfaced but have yet to amount to anything substantial. Lisa Johnson Mandell, editor in chief of At Home In Hollywood, who has long covered the entertainment world and has been involved in reality TV development, thought Dolezal's past would prevent a future in reality TV.
"There is no way in hell any network would touch her," Johnson Mandell said. "You have the gargantuan task of selling that. ... There are just too many land mines in it."
Dolezal's racial controversy would have too much potential to offend large swaths of any potential viewing audience, Johnson Mandell said. "Everyone is going to be outraged," she said. "I don’t see any way a network could embrace it in a way that wouldn’t upset the majority of viewers."
Other reality TV stars have turned scandal into career-boosters. Examples include Rachel Uchitel, a former reality star whose public profile increased after word leaked that she had an affair with golfer Tiger Woods. Her net worth is estimated to be in the millions, but she also managed nightclubs, is a store owner and reportedly received a large settlement from Woods, much of which she may have returned. Another example is couple Tareq and Michaele Salahi, famous for crashing a White House dinner. That couple parlayed the controversy into reality TV opportunities.
But early-career reality stars don't typically rake in a fortune because of TV. A person similar in profile to Dolezal would probably make anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000 per episode, Johnson Mandell said. The real money comes later as stars endorse products or their businesses see a boost in customers.
Johnson Mandell suggested a book deal might be a more realistic avenue for Dolezal to make money, perhaps collecting a six-figure advance. But even that has significant roadblocks. Industry insiders said a book deal for the former NAACP chapter president was unlikely. While her story is interesting, it has already been widely covered and her image has mostly drawn negative reactions.
“There’s a lot out there,” Jennifer Robinson, vice president of publicity for Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, told celebrity news website TheWrap in June. “I don’t think people want to hear more from her.”
The public at large also associates Dolezal with years of misleading people about being black, which would apparently hurt her ability to be trusted as an author. “There seem to be a lot of issues with credibility,” Emi Battaglia, director of marketing for Regan Arts, told TheWrap.
Prior to the scandal, Dolezal was a professor and artist, along with her role with the NAACP. Career website Glassdoor reports the national average salary for a professor is $117,740. But Dolezal likely made far less than that before she was removed from her teaching job. Her position at Eastern Washington University -- where she once taught courses including the Black Woman's Struggle, African and African American Art History, African History, African American Culture and Intro to Africana Studies -- was reportedly on a quarter-to-quarter basis and not a tenured professor position, according to KREM in Spokane. Nationally, adjunct professors make an average $30,709, according to Glassdoor.
All pop culture possibilities aside, Dolezal, who at one time had long braids, has reportedly earned money by styling hair since losing her teaching job.
Dolezal, who received master of fine arts degree from Howard University, is also "an award-winning Mixed Media Artist with over 20 exhibitions," according to what appears to be her blog. After the scandal broke, it was suggested that at least one of her paintings had been plagiarized. Regardless, works of art are listed for sale on her blog, some for up to $10,000, including framing. Some pieces are listed as "sold," although when they were sold and for how much was not immediately clear. Perhaps this might be a lucrative undertaking, however, because two of her works of art listed in June finished bidding on eBay for $5,000 and $5,100, respectively, according to the site.