Rachel Dolezal Reveals Why She Feels Black and How Changing Her Hair Helped Her Journey

Courtesy of MSNBC
Rachel Dolezal talking to Melissa Harris-Perry

The former NAACP chapter president continued her NBC News series of interviews, speaking to MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry.

Rachel Dolezal opened up about why she feels like she's black and talked about how public perception has affected her as she continued her series of NBC News interviews, speaking to MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry.

Instead of asking Dolezal if she's African-American, Harris-Perry asked her if she's black, and the former NAACP Spokane chapter president said "yes." When asked what she means when she identifies herself that way, Dolezal explained her "connection" to the black experience.

"It means that I have really gone there with the experience in terms of being a mother of two black sons and really owning what it means to experience and live blackness." she said. "Another aspect would be that I, from a very young age, felt a spiritual, visceral, this feeling of central connection with 'black is beautiful,' you know, just the black experience and wanting to celebrate that. And I didn't know how to articulate that as a young child, at the age of kindergarten or whatever, like you don't have words for what's going on. But certainly that was — that was soaked in. I was totally conditioned to not own that and to be limited to whatever biological identity was thrust upon me and married to me, and so I kind of felt pretty awkward a lot of the time with that."

She later said that when she started having her hair braided, she felt more accepted as a black woman.

"I loved it. It was so beautiful. But I noticed that it did change how people perceive me. They're like, 'Oh, she's down.' Because it went from racist women in West Jackson and … [me] look[ing] white, to black hair, playing with your hair," she said. "I always used to pull my hair back because I just didn't feel comfortable. And then when I got braids it was like, just the smiles and OK, you know?"

Dolezal agreed when Harris-Perry asked if "the hair journey was a moment that felt like embodying the identity" and accepted her description of what she was saying as "when your hair read to other people as what they expect from a black woman's hair, that felt like a more authentic reception."

Dolezal did acknowledge that her biological parents, Larry and Ruthanne Dolezal, who last week revealed that their daughter is a white woman pretending to be black, are the people who raised her.

But, she said, "I do not feel like they are my mom and dad." She says she doesn't "really have a mom figure in my life right now" and reiterated that she considers Albert Wilkerson to be her dad. She also explained why she got evasive when she was asked in an earlier interview if she was African-American after a picture of Wilkerson was shown and Dolezal said he was her father.

"I was like, 'Yes, that's my dad.' And then I was [asked], 'Oh, African-American man's your father, are you African-American?' I'm like, everything from all the related events flood in my mind. And I was like, 'OK, this is not about me. Now is the time for no comment because I need to step back and see who's really going to be affected by what I say right now.' … I hope that people can understand the family is fluid."

She also said she gets that she's being criticized for being a racial appropriator, and she understands how people are enraged when they hear her claim that she's black.

"They don't know me. They really don't know what I've actually walked through and how hard it is. This has not been something that just is a casual, you know, come-and-go sort of identity, you know, or an identity crisis. And people have asked … 'If you're rejected by the black community, what do you do?' I'll be me. I'll be me because, you know, I feel like at the same time, I never want to be a liability to the cause."

She also said she wouldn't characterize what she's doing as "passing."

"I think it's different than that. I don't even know that I've had time to really put into words exactly what's going on right now," Dolezal said. "If I was to drop back into different moments of when I've either been identified, including by the police, as black, white and unidentifiable, because I'm all three. Or you know, I've identified as, in certain moments, different ethnicities. I can't explain what's going on in those moments."

Still, she said she wouldn't go back and be white.

"Life is a journey and you're kind of evolving and growing all along the way, so it's accumulation of all these choices that you've made," Dolezal said. "And the Rachel that I was before Thursday is still the Rachel I am now and the Rachel I'm going to be in the future. … I was able to, about 10 years ago, kind of make personal choices about what I wear, what I look like. And so from that point forward, it's been a continual process of evolution and growth. And I'm not going to rewind. I mean, that doesn't make any sense to me."

Dolezal's full interview airs on MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday.

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