The head of the U.S. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter in Spokane, Wash., is facing questions about whether she lied about her racial identity, with her family saying she is white but has portrayed herself as black.  

NAACP leader's race in question5:10

On Friday, a reporter from a CBS TV station asked Rachel Dolezal, 37, if she is a black American, to which she replied: "I would definitely say yes, I do consider myself to be black."

When asked the same question Thursday by a reporter with KXLY TV in Spokane, she responded: "I don't understand the question."

Dolezal would not directly answer basic questions about her background in an interview with The Spokesman-Review newspaper, spurring the entire controversy.

"That question is not as easy as it seems," she told the paper in an article posted online Thursday. "There's a lot of complexities and I don't know that everyone would understand that."


A photo of Rachel Dolezal from her younger days. She is currently the president of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Wash. (Dolezal family via the Spokesman-Review)

Dolezal called the controversy a multi-layered issue. She says the controversy is emerging because of legal issues between family members.

"It's more important for me to clarify that with the black community and with my executive board than it really is to explain it to a community that I quite frankly don't think really understands the definitions of race and ethnicity," she said in a Friday interview with CBS.

"One's racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership," the organization said Friday in a press release. "The NAACP Alaska-Oregon-Washington State Conference stands behind Ms. Dolezal's advocacy record," the group added. 

"We encourage Americans of all stripes to become members and serve as leaders in our organization."

Police drop probe into harassment claims

Currently, she is president of the local branch of the civil-rights organization, an adjunct professor in the Africana studies program at Eastern Washington University and chairwoman of Spokane's police oversight board.

She has made several reports to police in the past few years saying that she has been a victim of hate crimes that included hate mail and threats received at her organization's post office box. Dolezal cited her race as the cause for the issues.

Police spokeswoman Teresa Fuller said Friday all investigations related to racial harassment complaints by Dolezal were suspended this week.

She says they could resume if new information emerges.

'Sad that Rachel has not just been herself'

Dolezal's mother, Ruthanne, said the family is Czech, Swedish and German, with some native American roots.

Ruthanne Dolezal said that she and her daughter have not been in touch for years but that Rachel Dolezal began to portray herself as African-American eight or nine years ago after the family adopted four black children.

"She's white," her mother said in an interview with KREM News. "Rachel has wanted to be someone she's not," she added.

"It's very sad that Rachel has not just been herself," the mother told the Spokesman-Review. "Her effectiveness in the causes of the African-American community would have been so much more viable and she would have been more effective if she had just been honest with everybody."

Her mother says the family has been aware of the racial claims but has only commented about them when contacted.

Rachel Dolezal Family Photo

This photo from 2000 shows Rachel Dolezal's family at her wedding reception. Dolezal's mother, Ruthanne, said her family has Czech, Swedish and German roots, with some native American roots. (Courtesy of the Dolezal Family via The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane Mayor David Condon and city council president Ben Stuckart say an inquiry is underway into whether she violated city rules when she listed herself as white, black and American Indian on her application for the office of police ombudsman commission.

"If this is true, I'll be very disappointed," Stuckart said Thursday, adding that the council will meet soon to discuss the issue.

Eastern Washington University says it would not comment on a personal issue, spokesman Dave Meany said.

With files from CBC News