The racial identity of one of the most prominent faces in Spokane, Washington's black community is under question after her parents produced a birth certificate that showed she is white.
Rachel Dolezal, 37, is the head of the local chapter of the NAACP and has identified herself as African-American. But her Montana birth certificate says she was born to two Caucasian parents, according to CNN affiliate KXLY, which also showed an old family photo in its report.
Dolezal has represented herself as at least part African-American in an application for the police ombudsman commission.
And she has presented the public with a different family photograph posted to the local NAACP chapter's Facebook page. When she announced her father was coming to town for a visit, she showed herself standing next to an older African-American man.
Dolezal has built a wide-ranging career on her racial identity.
She is not just president of her local NAACP chapter; she is also an academic expert on African-American culture and teaches many related classes at Eastern Washington University.
She represents the black community publicly and vocally, including as a spokeswoman on race-influenced police violence. On Tuesday she spoke to Al Jazeera on the topic.
She has appeared alongside Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who has filed charges against police officers in the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man.
Dolezal's mother, Ruthanne Dolezal, told the Spokane Spokesman-Review that after she and her husband adopted four African-American children, Rachel Dolezal began to "disguise herself."
"It's very sad that Rachel has not just been herself," Ruthanne Dolezal said. "Her effectiveness in the causes of the African-American community would have been so much more viable, and she would have been more effective, if she had just been honest with everybody," the newspaper quoted her as saying.
...The story is interesting on so many levels. First, you have the historical angle. In the days of segregation and Jim Crow some light-skinned African-Americans tried to pass as white. For those African-Americans their ancestry was a closely guarded secret. Here you have the reverse of that, a white woman trying to pass as black in apparently an effort to take advantage of what she believes, at least for her, will be financial and personal advantages associated with representing herself as an African-American.
Second, can people be "transracial?" Can a person who is born white identify and live as an African-American and vice versa? I would say "no," but many people on social media discussing Dolezal say otherwise
Third, is Dolezal really the only one who has done this? How many white job applicants check the box saying they're an "African-American" or Hispanic because they think it might give them an advantage? My guess is quite a few. In an age when mixed marriages are common, it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell one's background from appearance alone. A white job applicant who claims some other racial or ethnic group has virtually no chance of getting caught.
Finally, by perpetuating the fraud did Dolezal inadvertently strike a blow for Dr. Martin Luther King's dream of a color blind society?