Student Who Posted Rachel Dolezal Interview Wanted Public To See Her "Be Herself"

Lauren Campbell posted the roughly hour-long interview for a thesis project online after Rachel Dolezal's white parents called the former NAACP leader out for posing as black.

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The college student who posted footage of her interview with Rachel Dolezal describing the struggles of being black told BuzzFeed News Tuesday that she wanted people to see the former civil rights leader "be herself" and draw their own conclusions.

Lauren Campbell — who posted the footage on YouTube after news of Dolezal's white heritage broke last week — also described the 2014 interview, which was recorded for a thesis project at Eastern Washington University.

"You could tell she was well-read and this was something she had studied," Campbell said.

Several people had recommended Campbell interview Dolezal for the project, which involved interviews with other black women, as well as her own experiences adjusting to life in conservative, majority-white Spokane.

Campbell, who is black and has since graduated from EWU, said she posted the unedited videos to give people a look at how Dolezal talked about herself and her experiences while she was presenting herself as a black woman.

"[Dolezal was] a very loud, pro-black voice doing good things in that area to promote racial equality," Campbell said. "That was pretty new for that area, I think."

When Dolezal first stepped into the room, Campbell said she was surprised by the adjunct professor's light complexion. After the camera was off, Campbell said Dolezal talked about going to medical school and other life transformations that didn't seem logical.

They didn't stay in touch.

"I didn't feel like I had a lot in common with her," Campbell said.

Since then, Dolezal has publicly said she identifies as black. But those kind of statements make life even harder for black people, Campbell said, noting that she is regularly challenged over whether her preference in music and clothing, or the way she speaks, is "black enough."

"This is the skin I was born in," Campbell said, "and it dictates how people see me and treat me. It's not something you can just make up."

In one portion of the interview, Dolezal described being told she was white as a child by a teacher.

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She recalled drawing herself with a brown crayon in kindergarten when the teacher told her to use the peach crayon instead. The incident became a symbol for her other struggles with identity, Dolezal told Campbell.

"You choose a side," she said. "You can kind of be a bridge, but pretty much you have a home one place or the other."

Dolezal also described being inspired as an artist by painting portraits of her adopted black siblings. She also said she read books on black history and felt a connection with the themes of struggle and liberation.

In college, she chose to sit at the lunch table with black students — they looked more like her family.

"It was making a choice again," Dolezal said. "Identity, and also that internal struggle. I don't want to be untrue to myself and what I feel even though other people might be going, 'Oh, she isn't owning her white side.'"

After years of pressure to act more white, Dolezal said public perception of her changed after she was the victim of hate crimes.

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After becoming director of the Human Rights Education Institute — taking over the former site of an Aryan Nation compound — she said she became the victim of hate crimes from white supremacists.

Slowly, Dolezal said news coverage about her began to change. One description called her a woman from a "transracial family," the next called her a "biracial woman," and later she was described as black.

"As the hate crimes escalated, the more white supremacy groups did to me and my family, the darker my complexion became in the public's eyes," she said.

She also criticized white people who claim to understand the black community because they have a black friend, or a black partner, or a black child.

"You're using that to justify something — kind of a free pass," she said. "It doesn't mean you understand or identify with the struggle and liberation of that community."

As for her own identity, Dolezal hinted that public perception didn't really reflect who she was.

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"I know who I am, and my kids know who I am," she said. "Pretty much, I don't think anyone really knows, totally."

She said she also benefited from "light-skinned privilege," describing it as similar but distinct from white privilege.

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As a black woman with a lighter complexion, she said she often felt pressured to explain issues of race to her white colleagues and neighbors.

"I will say what I think is right at that moment," she acknowledged. "And that’s not very conducive to being a bridge. Oh hell no, uh-uh, we don’t go there."

Dolezal added that she viewed identity as an intertwining of race, gender, and class. And while identity could be complicated, she said she was committed to her work to deconstruct white supremacy and help improve chances for black people.

"You understand this one part of me, but you don't understand the other pieces of the story," she said with a laugh. "But that's all right."