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Rachel Dolezal recently stepped down from her position as NAACP-chapter president after allegations that she was a white woman pretending to be African-American. (Photo: Rachel Dolezal/Dolezal Family)
Many were speechless after news broke that former NAACP-chapter president Rachel Dolezal — who resigned from her role in the Spokane, Wash., offices Monday — was pretending to be African-American. But Rachel’s family has loudly vocalized their disapproval for the 37-year-old’s actions. So are they righting a wrong, or throwing their daughter under the bus?
Caucasian parents Ruthanne and Larry Dolezal, also parents to four adopted African-American children, appeared on the Today show Monday to clarify their stance on the matter. When asked why their daughter misrepresented herself, Larry said, “We’re puzzled, we’re not sure.” Ruthanne added, “Those are all false claims. I think Rachel is trying to damage her biological family.”
The couple, who live in Montana, have never discussed the controversy with their daughter because, they said, she had “distanced herself” from them in recent years. They recently explained to CNN that Rachel had been aligning herself with African-American culture since 2007. Now they wanted to abide by their own example coming out with the truth about her identity.
The couple also shared their daughter’s birth certificate and childhood photos with the Washington Post. And Larry told CNN, "We are her birth parents. We do not understand why she feels it’s necessary to misrepresent her ethnicity.“
Larry and Ruthanne say they want their daughter to get professional help. “We’re always ready as parents to forgive and move on,” Larry told Today.
Rachel Dolezal married a black man in 2000. (Photo: Dolezal Family Handout)
It’s unclear exactly what led to Rachel’s facade, but the timing of her parents’ statements are curious. By their own admission, they’ve kept silent for almost a decade while their daughter misrepresented herself both personally and professionally. “We had never been asked to be involved, we had never been questioned before,“ Larry told Today. "Just short of a week ago we were contacted by the Spokesman-Review and I guess it was part of some investigative reporting that was being done.”
Any parent whose child has committed an offense has to grapple with the gut-wrenching decision of whether or not to go public with it, however big or small. Some stay quiet, not wanting to expose their children to public humiliation or legal action. Others turn to social media in an effort to shame their kids (forcing them to hold up confessional signs, wear ugly outfits, or destroy their own possessions). Then there are parents who speak up only when backed into a corner — the Duggar family, for example. After the media published police reports detailing that Josh Duggar had molested five girls, including four of his sisters, “19 Kids and Counting” stars Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar admitted to not seeking help for their son until he had molested his sisters a third time. They also said they “did the best we could under the circumstances.”
But is it important for parents to speak up in a timely manner and feel motivated by a sense of morality? “Parents should hold their kids accountable and do so with loving support,” Fran Walfish, a family psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, Calif., who has never met the Dolezals, tells Yahoo Parenting. “These parents kept their daughter’s secret for almost 10 years, which makes them accessories. When you don’t model accountability in your own life, children won’t learn it.”
Claiming to not understand why she assumed another identity distances them from the controversy, she adds, thereby absolving them of any role they may have played in their daughter’s deception.
“Publicly blowing the whistle on their daughter won’t help this family heal,” says Walfish. “Rachel would benefit from individual psychotherapy — and her parents should be in couples counseling with a focus on parenting issues and their relationship with Rachel.”