Rachel Dolezal and Racial Identity

The parents of Rachel Dolezal appeared on the Today Show this morning to talk about their daughter. Dolezal is a white woman who over the years began presenting herself as African-American. She was a student at the historically black college Howard in Washington, D.C.; she got her M.A. and now teaches in the Africana Studies Program at Eastern Washington University; and she headed the NAACP’s Spokane office until resigning today. She also lied about having black family members.

There seem to be no shortage of lies or half-truths Dolezal has claimed about her personal history. At its core it is a story about a woman whose identity, either consciously or unconsciously, was malleable to the point that she completely assumed a new race and disowned her white family. How unusual is her story, and what bigger questions does it point to in terms of how we create racial identities in this country?