Rachel Dolezal and Ethics in the Digital Age


(obtained from bellanaija.com)

If you haven’t heard by now, Rachel Dolezal is the 37-year-old white woman who posed as a black civil rights activist for the last few years. Dolezal, who was born white, identifies as a black woman. While this odd controversy has sparked a debate about being “transracial”, and even lead to misguided comparisons to those who are transgendered, most people, especially those who serve in the NAACP Spokane, Washington chapter under Dolezal’s presidency, aren’t buying it.

A petition started by Dolezal’s co-chapter members, titled “It’s not about race, It’s about integrity!” began circulating MoveOn.org this weekend. Of the many complex issues associated with this topic, including race, racism and appropriation of culture, the subject of ethics is where I’d like to focus.

Whether Dolezal posed as a black woman because she has a personality disorder, or she truly believes she was meant to be a black woman, doesn’t exactly matter when we look at the ethical issue of the case.

An interest, concern and general passion to help racial groups outside of one’s own is not only okay, but also encouraged by most social justice groups. Being an ally, a member of one group fighting for another, always has a place in the struggle for equality. Anyone can donate to the NAACP. Anyone can join the NAACP. Anyone can hold leadership positions in the NAACP.

And while we’ll probably never really know why Dolezal decided to lie about her skin color, her father, her sons and her time in South Africa hunting with bows and arrows, (and the speculation that she lied about multiple hate crimes against her for the color of her skin), we do know that lying to the public about identity while holding a public position centered around that identity is wrong, unethical and deceptive.


(Obtained from getmybuzzup.com)

The top values we discuss in public relations are typically integrity, honesty, accountability and transparency. None of which Dolezal has upheld in the wake of her untimely reveal. Dolezal has not issued an apology, continues to insist she is a black woman and accused her parents of beating her growing up, which her younger brother has refuted as false.

In the age of social media and information spreading like literal wildfire, who did Dolezal think she was going to fool? Or more importantly—since she fooled many for years—how long did she think she could keep up her charade? Her caricature of the black female experience in America was a PR disaster waiting to happen.

In order to protect one’s image, brand and the reputation of whichever organization’s a person represents, it should start becoming blatantly clear to the public that privacy for the sake of upholding non-truths and withholding honesty is becoming a thing of the past. Everything in this age is transparent, therefore we need to be a glass window to the public first.

While the fate of Dolezal’s NAACP leadership, and overall career is unknown, what is clear is that while Dolezal was obtaining her MFA in Africana Studies, she missed out on courses in ethics, integrity and the power of the media.