A civil rights leader in Eastern Washington state has been passing herself off as black for years, her parents told local media.
When reached by BuzzFeed News late Thursday, Rachel Dolezal's father, Larry Dolezal, said that he and her mother are both white.
"She's our birth daughter and we're both of European descent," he said, adding, "we're puzzled and it's very sad."
Rachel Dolezal has been the president of the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the NAACP since January. She also serves as chair of the city's police oversight commission.
She is also an adjunct professor of Africana studies at Eastern Washington University.
But on Thursday, Dolezal's parents also told local media outlets that their daughter's heritage is Czech, Swedish, and German — including possible traces of Native American.
Larry Dolezal told BuzzFeed News he could not fully explain why his daughter might have wanted to pose as a black woman.
But, he added: "She has over the past 20 years assimilated herself into the African-American community through her various advocacy and social justice work, and so that may be part of the answer."
He went on to say that Rachel cut off all communication with him and her mother, and "doesn't want us visible in the Spokane area in her circle because we're Caucasian."
To her colleagues in Spokane, however, she identified a different man as her father.
According to the Spokesman-Review, Dolezal misrepresented herself on her application for the city commission, writing that her ethnicity included white, black, and American Indian. Officials told the Spokesman-Review they were investigating whether she violated any city policies.
Yet on her Facebook profile, Dolezal joked about being watched at the movie theater for the "black reaction" to 12 Years A Slave.
The formerly straight-haired blonde also posted a photo of her "natural" curls.
Though rumors regarding her background had circulated for years, a recently reported hate crime prompted serious questions of Dolezal's credibility.
In interviews and her writing, Dolezal often mentions her black sons.
The Coeur d'Alene Press quotes Dolezal referring to "my oldest son Izaiah."
But Larry Dolezal said that Izaiah is actually Rachel's adopted brother.
About five years ago, when Izaiah was 16, he opted to go live with Rachel, Larry Dolezal said, at which time she obtained guardianship. Still, he told BuzzFeed News that he and his wife, Ruthanne, remain Izaiah's legal parents.
Larry and Ruthanne eventually lost contact with Izaiah, and on Thursday did not know where he was. Larry added that Thursday is Izaiah's 21st birthday.
Rachel hinted to the Press recently that Izaiah was her brother:
Rachel Dolezal confirmed in a recent phone interview with The Press that Izaiah is one of her adopted brothers.
"He used to be my brother," she said. "But I have full custody of him now."
"The last we heard he was either attending pre-law at the University of Idaho in Moscow, or through the branch campus in Spokane or in Coeur d'Alene," Larry said.
He also denied claims made by Rachel to local media that she had been abused by her parents.
In addition to herself, Rachel told the Press that Larry and Ruthanne Dolezal had abused her siblings as children. She also maintained that she was black.
"They can DNA test me if they want to," she told the newspaper.
She wrote a regular column on issues surrounding race for the Inlander, an alternative weekly.
On Thursday, Dolezal retained support from at least one friend and fellow member of the Spokane NAACP, the Inlander reported.
Cedric Bradley told the Inlander Dolezal was a strong supporter of minority populations and her own race didn't matter.
"In my opinion, it wouldn't make a difference to me," he said. "It's not about black and white, it's about what we can do for the community."
In an interview with Eastern Washington University's Easterner, Dolezal made several claims about her life before coming to teach and work as an activist. Many of those facts were untrue, her parents told the Coeur d'Alene Press.
Dolezal again spoke about the abuse she had endured as a child to the Easterner. She said she was born in a tepee, and the family hunted with bows and arrows. She also described living in South Africa.
As a young woman, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and underwent chemotherapy, she said. But she kept her long, blonde dreadlocks and still sometimes wore them after recovery, the Easterner reported.
"I'm the postmodern Rapunzel with locs," she said in a Facebook comment.
Claudia Koerner is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Claudia Koerner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Dalrymple is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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