SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A woman who rose to prominence as a black civil rights leader then lost her job when her parents exposed her as white is struggling to make a living these days.
Rachel Dolezal said she has been unable to find steady work in the nearly two years since she was outed as a white woman in local media reports, and she is uncertain about her future.
“I was presented as a con and a fraud and a liar,” Dolezal, 40, told The Associated Press this week. “I think some of the treatment was pretty cruel.”
She still identifies as black, and looks black, despite being “Caucasian biologically.”
“People didn’t seem able to consider that maybe both were true,” she said. “OK, I was born to white parents, but maybe I had an authentic black identity.”
Dolezal had blond hair and freckles while growing up near Troy, Montana, with religious parents. She says she began to change her perspective as a teenager, after her parents adopted four black children. Dolezal decided to become publicly black years later, after getting divorced.
The ruse worked for years until 2015 when her parents, with whom she has long feuded, told local reporters their daughter was born white but was presenting herself as a black activist in the Spokane region, an area with few minorities.
The story became an international sensation, and Dolezal lost the various jobs by which she pieced together a modest living for her family.
Attacked by both blacks and whites, she was fired as head of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP and kicked off a police ombudsman commission, and she lost her job teaching African studies at Eastern Washington University in nearby Cheney.
Despite failing to find a job, Dolezal says she has to stay in the area because of a custody agreement involving one of her sons.
She has sold some of her artwork, and also braids hair to earn money. But she said local colleges have refused to hire her, as have nonprofits, government agencies and even local grocery stores.
She was worried she might become homeless in March, but friends bought some of her artwork, which provided enough money to pay the rent for a few months.
Dolezal has written a book about her ordeal, scheduled to be published next week. The book, called “In Full Color,” features a cover photo of the author with the darkened skin and frizzy hair that allowed her for years to pass as a light-skinned black person.
Dolezal last year legally changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo, a west African moniker that means “gift from the gods.” She changed her name in part to give her a better chance of landing work from employers who might not be interested in hiring the controversial Rachel Dolezal, a name she still intends to use as her public persona.
“Maybe if I applied with a new name, people would see me for the qualifications and expertise on my resume, and not toss my application in the trash based on my name,” she said.
The local chapter of the NAACP was not interested in commenting on Dolezal.
“We moved on long ago,” the organization said in an email.
Dolezal is the mother of two sons, ages 15 and 1, and also raised a stepbrother who is now 21 and a college student.
One of the reasons she wrote a book was to “settle the score.”
“People might as well know the whole truth of my life story,'” she said. “My life is not a sound bite.”
Race, she believes, is a “social construct” used to pigeonhole people.
“I unapologetically stand on the black side,” she said. “Blackness better defines who I am philosophically and socially than whiteness does.”
Dolezal said it is hard for her to look toward the future when she is struggling so hard to survive the present.
“I want to provide for my kids,” she said. “I want to get back to activism. I’m no less committed to that work.”