Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who made national headlines in 2015 after she pretended to be black, is back in the spotlight thanks to a new memoir titled In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World.
In the book, which will be released on March 28, the former Washington NAACP leader doesn’t walk back on her claims that she self-identifies as a black woman, saying that living her life as a black person made her life “infinitely better,” although it did make her feel more “distant and isolated” from white people as she started to embrace more elements of African-American culture.
Dolezal, who was raised by white parents in Troy, Montana, writes that the first time she was “finally able to embrace my true self” was when she “allowed the little girl I’d colored with a brown crayon so long ago to emerge.” But as happy as she was to be seen as black, it didn’t come without its challenges.
“It was still confusing, awkward, painful, isolating for at times - because who was I going to talk to about what felt like a major life transition?”
She recalls her marriage to a black man named Kevin, a man she says frequently “urged me to speak and act whiter’ and often complained about my figure.”
“I was a little too white Black for his tastes,” she writes. “Not only did he discourage me from wearing my braids or other Black hairstyles, he also dissuaded me from sitting in the sun, preferring my skin to be as pale as it could possibly be.”
Looking back at her marriage, Dolezal writes, “Kevin’s Blackness wasn’t the cause of our disconnect; if anything, it was his disdain for Blackness that created so much distance between us.”
It was a couple years after their divorce that she was no longer felt obligated to check “white” on medical forms.
“Once I started claiming my identity and checking black’, any whiteness I possessed became invisible to the people collecting the forms and even to the doctors examining the most intimate parts of my body.”
Dolezal also delves into the controversy that thrust her into the spotlight, remembering the moment in 2015 when a reporter first asked her if she was African American.
“I knew the answer I gave could put me in an impossible situation,” she wrote. “I knew any answer I gave could be used to ruin my credibility. If I said yes, I’d be asked to prove it. If I said no, I’d be tried in the same court of public opinion for how I’d been identifying on and off since my college days.”
By the next morning, she had already gotten more than twenty text and voicemail messages. Over the next four days that number turned into hundreds, maybe even thousands.
“People wanted me to explain myself to them. They said they felt shocked and betrayed. They were confused. They were angry. A few of my friends reached out to make sure I was doing all right, but they were the minority. Many more people, who I’d once considered friends, told me they no longer wanted to have anything to do with me,” she wrote.
After the controversy, Dolezal, who previously worked as professor of African studies at Eastern Washington University, writes that she was faced with mounting bills and had to make ends meet by braiding hair.
“When I tell people I still identify as Black, they want to know why,” she writes at the end of the book. “I explain that Black is the closest descriptive category that represents the essential essence of who I am.”
She adds: “For me, being Black isn’t playing dress-up. It’s nothing something I change in and out of or do only when it’s convenient. This is who I am.”
In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World (BenBella Books) will be released on March 28.