June 12, 2015 / 7:41 PM / 4 years ago

Washington state NAACP leader investigated over racial identity

SEATTLE, June 12 (Reuters) - A local leader for the NAACP is under investigation in Washington state for identifying herself as black on a city job application, as a Caucasian couple claims to be her biological parents.

Rachel Dolezal, 37, serves as chair of Spokane’s independent police ombudsman commission, and identified herself as white, African-American, and Native American when applying for the job, City Council President Ben Stuckart said in an interview on Friday.

Dolezal is also president of the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization.

The probe was opened after local media questioned Dolezal’s racial identity, Stuckart said. He added that Dolezal filed police complaints of racial discrimination, most recently that she received hate mail.

“We are gathering facts, looking at city code, to determine if any city policies in relation to boards or commissions were violated,” Stuckart said.

Spokane’s Spokesman-Review newspaper reported that Dolezal’s birth certificate shows her born to a white Montana couple, who says they are of European and Native American descent.

Dolezal did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But when asked by the Spokesman-Review about her race and ethnicity Thursday, she said “that question is not as easy as it seems.”

“There’s a lot of complexities ... and I don’t know that everyone would understand that,” the newspaper quoted her as saying. “We’re all from the African continent.”

A Montana couple who identified themselves to U.S. media as Dolezal’s parents said they have lost touch with her. They say she has over the years showed an interest in diversity and black culture, especially after the couple adopted black children.

“We are her birth parents and we do not understand why she feels it’s necessary to misrepresent her ethnicity,” Lawrence Dolezal told CNN.

Lawrence Dolezal did not respond to requests for comment.

The NAACP said in a statement Friday that racial identity is not a qualifying criteria for NAACP leadership and that it “stands behind Ms. Dolezal’s advocacy record.”

“NAACP Spokane Washington Branch President Rachel Dolezal is enduring a legal issue with her family, and we respect her privacy in this matter,” the NAACP said.

Dolezal holds a Master’s degree from Howard University and is a professor in the Africana Studies Program at Eastern Washington University, according to a biography on the university website.

The university said in a statement it does not publicly discuss personnel issues and would not comment on her personal life. (Editing by Mary Milliken and Richard Chang)

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