When Rachel Dolezal’s parents accused their daughter of "disguising herself" as a black woman in a now infamous interview earlier this year, the backlash was almost immediate. However, though Dolezal eventually resigned as the president of the NAACP’s Spokane chapter and endured both regional and national mockery, the controversy also spawned a very different sort of conversation surrounding the supposed limits of identity. Dolezal herself drew parallels to Caitlyn Jenner’s own journey, inspiring further debate surrounding the status—and meaning—of race in 2015.
Speaking with Broadly's Mitchell Sunderland in an extensive and lively discussion on her journey, from a childhood spent in a strict Christian household to her passion for the future of racial equality, Dolezal remains steadfast in her assertion of the Rachel Dolezal she feels she’s always been:
"If it's not in the Bible you can't do it—that mindset precludes you from discovering your identity. My childhood was characterized by a lot of guilt. I was atoning for existing. It was so refreshing and freeing to finally feel like I didn't have to atone for that any more. I could let that go."
Dolezal’s strict Christian upbringing, which she corroborates in the interview by presenting a birth certificate that lists "Jesus Christ" as the doctor that delivered her (in a “teepee,” no less), contributed to a suppressed sense of creativity and expression. "I loved painting my face as a child," Dolezal says, revealing photos of herself as a kid with a face painted a variety of different colors, most often silver:
"I was so creative and had this soulful way of being that was always being punished. I would just be me, and it was wrong. If I moved, tried to dance or something, that was not OK as a female. Basically if you're having fun, you're sinning, is what I learned growing up. If I was being me, it was probably wrong. I figured out, as a child, how to censor and repress myself by the time I was 13. I literally cried myself to sleep every single night. I'd lie in bed and cry into my pillow so that nobody heard."
Describing her journey to the Rachel Dolezal of today as an "organic" process, Dolezal is confident her controversial 2015 will eventually give way to a place in the discussion surrounding equality and human rights. "I do have a high level of commitment and integrity to the cause," she says. "Maybe there's something internationally I could do with human rights." As for now, Dolezal is busy preparing for life with a new son (named after the poet Langston Hughes) and her own art, which she says expresses the difficulties of her journey:
I was my own personal Jesus. I was able to trust my own intuition. I was the only person standing up for myself. In the absence of anyone doing that, I've learned to love myself and trust myself and do what I feel is right. A lot of that has to do with shedding the guilt. Oppression, repression, depression—they are not helpful to me.
Read the full interview here.