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Media Skills Training

Rachel Dolezal - Say What??

I must admit I was fascinated when I first read the story of the Spokane woman, Rachel Dolezal, who said she was black but her parents from Montana say otherwise. What was the story here?

Within a day or two it blew up into an international sensation with everyone weighing in on the subject of racial identity and who gets to decide how anyone identifies theirs.

What I think is compelling is the way Ms. Dolezal has communicated about it. As the story unfolded I got the familiar “déjà vu all over again” feeling. Here goes another person making a big mess worse by how she communicates about it. She joins the pantheon of people disgraced in public and who couldn’t figure out how to credibly speak about it.

And now her reputation is in tatters, her career is ruined, and all of the good work she accomplished in teaching and as head of the NAACP in Spokane will be footnotes in her biography. She will be forever known as the person who identified as black, but whose birth parents said she is white.

I’m not qualified to assess why Dolezal constructed her life this way and I’m not passing judgment on her desire to do so. But throughout all of her media interviews, including the most recent one this morning with Matt Lauer on The Today Show, she only makes matters worse. She offers no explanation that would have a reasonable person say “I understand.”

Audiences get it when things make sense and they are pretty smart when things don’t. People who try to finesse the facts to fit a belief system or to cover-up lies or misconceptions never succeed. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

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