Rachel Dolezal, the President of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) announced that she was resigning her post following revelations that she has been lying about her race, claiming she is African-American when she is indeed white. She is under investigation in Spokane that she lied about her race in other instances including her application to serve on a police oversight commission. The NAACP had issued a statement on Friday standing behind Dolezal despite the media firestorm and the fact that she had become the focus of late night comedians’ jokes.
Many were outraged that the NAACP was standing behind Dolezal as the story gained momentum and photos surfaced showing she was clearly white and came from a privileged background in Montana and was not subjected to racism as a child as she had stated. Even worse some unnamed sources cited as being within the NAACP were reported to have tried to blame law enforcement for the story emerging while refusing to say what Dolezal did was right or wrong.
The NAACP has a long and storied history in fighting racial discrimination including the legendary Supreme Court case, Brown v. Ferguson that ended segregation in the schools. Yet during the years it has lost some of its luster in its fights, member misconduct, and finances. It has always battled back though. Today, its defense of Dolezal has not been among its finest moments. The credibility of the NAACP has suffered because of her actions and its initial response.
So what should the NAACP do to repair the damage it has suffered?
1. Condemn Dolzeal’s action categorically and suspend her from the organization. The NAACP should state unequivocally that what she did was wrong and hurt the cause of civil rights, diminishing legitimate cases of discrimination.
2. Apologize to members and the public for her actions and its initial mishandling of the crisis.
3. Announce what steps the organization is taking to ensure that such an incident never occurs again. Dolzeal’s action hurt the organization, caused it ridicule, and has led many to question its very credibility. The NAACP needs to address this and show how it is taking steps to ensure that such an incident does not happen again.
4. Announce a review of all of Dolzeal’s actions as President of the Spokane chapter and redress any errors committed by her.
5. Refocus on what the organization was created for – fighting racism.
The Rachel Dolezal episode has done serious damage to the reputation of the NAACP. The organization is learning that just one member can sometimes tear down an organization’s reputation that took years to build and rebuild. Failing to address the crisis will cause only more harm.