A year ago, Rachel Dolezal found herself in the middle of a national media frenzy after insisting she identified as a black woman despite being born to a white family. Dolezal first became a punch line to jokes on social media, then drew the ire of people around the country and finally stepped down as president of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington. Now, she is “ready to move on” from the controversy, she said on NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday morning.
“I don’t have any regrets about how I identify. I’m still me, and nothing about that has changed,” Dolezal said in her first interview after months of retreating from the public eye.
The former NAACP chapter leader was born to white parents, but has identified as black for much of her adult life. When Dolezal was a teenager, her parents adopted four black children, as the New York Times reported last year. She got involved in racial justice groups during college before getting a master’s degree in fine arts from Howard University, a historically black college in the District of Columbia.
While living in Spokane, Dolezal claimed a black man was her father and misled some community members about her background, they said last year. Although Dolezal indicated on the “Today” show she doesn’t regret how she has lived her life, she said that the issue of racial identity is “complex.”
“I do wish that I could have given myself permission to really name and own the me of me earlier in life. It took me almost 30 years to get there,” Dolezal said. “Certainly, I feel like it’s a complex issue. How do you just sum up a whole life of kind of coming into who you are in a sound bite? Those conversations? I feel like moving forward. I don’t have any regrets about that.”
The last year has been tough, Dolezal said, and she has had to relive her story many times. But she had a son this year and said she is happy with where she is, raising him and her two other children.
“It’s been some work to rebuild and get things back on track with life,” Dolezal said. “We’re doing well. Looking at some new opportunities going into 2016.”
One of those opportunities is a book that Dolezal plans to write on racial identity. She also said she recently recorded a TED talk that should be online soon, and that she looks forward to getting back to teaching and being involved with racial justice work.
“Race is such a contentious issue because of the painful history of racism. Race didn’t create racism, but racism created race,” Dolezal said. “That’s why this became so visible, because it really challenged people to think about identity and what is race? It’s like one human race? Why do we still want to go back to that worldview of separate races?”