Source: Artnet News
One of the weirdest stories to hit the news cycle last week was of Rachel Dolezal, the head of the NAACP in Spokane, Washington, who reportedly lied about her race, according to BuzzFeed.
On the Today Show, she defended herself, telling Matt Lauer, "I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon, and black curly hair." She continued, "I identify as black."
On June 11, a local newspaper called The Spokesman-Review uncovered evidence that both her parents identify as white, with European origins.
The Internet is abuzz with speculation about her motives—the most convincing that she has a personality disorder in which she is compelled to seek attention—and there's almost as much to be said for why we're fascinated with this story of racial passing.
Of note is that Dolezal is an artist, making work from what seems to be a black identity. She received an MFA in experimental studio with a minor in sculpture from Howard University, a predominantly black college, by submitting “African-American portraiture," according to the Washington Post. The Post also reports that Dolezal marked African-American on her application, and received a full-tuition scholarship to Howard.
She parlayed her MFA into a career as an “award-winning Mixed Media Artist with over 20 exhibitions in 13 states, internationally, and at the United Nations Headquarters [sic]," according to her artist website. She also lists art professor positions at Eastern Washington University and North Idaho College (most famous for being one of the five colleges Sarah Palin transferred to), and describes herself as an advisor for the NIC Black Student Association.
The whole thing calls to mind Joe Scanlon's Donelle Woolford project (see A Wake-up Call for the Whitney Biennial 2014), but entirely without guile, but perhaps is even more closely a descendant of John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me, a 1961 non-fiction book following Griffin as he traveled through the South while passing as a black man. That, too, however, was done with a purpose. But Dolezal's work seems to be done with a deep sincerity, making it something of a window into her delusions. (See The Yams, On the Whitney and White Supremacy.)