Because the truth matters

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There is no joy or sense of vindication in exposing Rachel Dolezal. Just sadness.

Dolezal is purporting to be what she almost certainly is not: a mixed-race African-American woman. The two people who should know her ethnicity - her biological parents - swear their daughter is caucasian. And they have the birth certificate backing up their claim.

So why does it matter? What elevates this bizarre story from personal to very public? And if the newspaper is truly interested in helping North Idaho shed its image as a place where skin color matters, why wouldn't we just look the other way?

Just a few years ago, Dolezal became one of the most recognizable faces in the local fight for civil rights. As education director of the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d'Alene, her name was a regular fixture on the pages of The Press, appearing in print 68 times from 2008 to 2010. During that time she became a symbol in the fight for everyone's rights, and a courageous symbol at that after asserting that racists were threatening her family. According to a feature story about Dolezal in the Eastern Washington University newspaper, she and her young son "moved from home to home and everywhere she moved, [white supremacists] followed. The hate crimes finally ended when she moved to Spokane in 2012."

Despite Dolezal reporting burglaries, the appearance of nooses and other acts of intimidation or hate crimes, nobody was ever charged. That raises a very logical question: Was nobody charged because police investigators weren't doing their jobs, or was nobody charged because maybe nobody ever committed the crimes in the first place?

Now Dolezal is a professor of Africana studies at Eastern Washington University, where she also serves as adviser to the Black Student Union. She's a contributing writer to the Pacific Northwest Inlander, leader of the Spokane chapter of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and chair of a Spokane police oversight committee. All of that raises the most important question: Would she be where she is today if she said she was white?

On March 14, 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a powerful speech that he called "The Other America." What our nation's greatest modern civil rights leader said that day explains why the snare that Dolezal has apparently caught herself in is newsworthy; why it transcends petty private life indiscretions; why North Idahoans must always be vigilant in their quest to ensure that nobody here is ever judged by the color of their skin.

"I want to discuss the race problem tonight and I want to discuss it very honestly," Dr. King told his audience at Grosse Pointe High School in Michigan. "I still believe that freedom is the bonus you receive for telling the truth. Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. And I do not see how we will ever solve the turbulent problem of race confronting our nation until there is an honest confrontation with it and a willing search for the truth and a willingness to admit the truth when we discover it."

In the sad case of Rachel Dolezal, the truth has been discovered.

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