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Rachel Dolezal: 'I don't identify as African-American, I identify as black'

Rachel Dolezal, the former NAACP chapter president born to white parents, said she still identifies as black and that her life story has been "warped."
/ Source: TODAY

Nearly two years after the controversy over her racial identity cost Rachel Dolezal her career and created a national debate, she says she still identifies as black, but with a distinction.

"I don't identify as African-American, I identify as black,'' she told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Monday. "I am part of the pan-African diaspora."

"I definitely feel like, in America, even though race is a social construct … there’s still a line drawn in the sand, there still are sides, politically there’s a black side and a white side, and I stand unapologetically on the black side."

Dolezal found herself in the center of a firestorm about racial identity in 2015 after local reporters investigating her background got in touch with her parents, who said their daughter was a white woman posing as black.

In an interview on TODAY later, Dolezal admitted she was born to white parents but said she identified as black.

Nearly two years later, her feelings remain the same, as she told Savannah that she did not make a distinction between supporting black causes and identifying as a black woman.

"I really just prefer to be exactly who I am, and black is really the closest race and cultural category that represents the essence of who I am," she said.

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Dolezal's appearance came on the occasion of her new memoir, "In Full Color: Finding my Place in a Black and White World," which she hopes will "advance the conversation about race and identity" in America.

In the book, she details growing up in poverty in Montana under strict evangelical parents and writes that she was sexually assaulted by her brother when she was 12.

"I also really hope that in some way ... it is able to kind of set the record straight because my life story was really warped beyond recognition because of all the negative press in 2015,'' she told TODAY.

Dolezal spent much of her adult life living as a black woman and serving as the leader of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington, before her estranged parents, who are both white, gave an interview to a local newspaper confirming that she was their daughter.

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The controversy resulted in her being ousted by the NAACP. She said it has been so difficult to find a new job that she has legally changed her name, which TODAY is not revealing.

"I really felt like I needed to change my legal name in order to be seen for my qualifications and experience rather than for the tabloid publicity that I got in 2015,'' Dolezal said.

She hopes to one day return to return to racial and social activism work.

"It's still definitely a big challenge, but I'm 100 percent committed to providing for my kids and finding my way back to the activism work that I'm so passionate about,'' she said.

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter.