Rachel Dolezal and America's Complicated History of 'Passing'

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Screenshot of Rachel Dolezal.
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On Monday afternoon, Rachel Dolezal, president of the NAACP's Spokane, Washington chapter announced her resignation. In a Facebook post she wrote, "Please know I will never stop fighting for human rights and will do everything in my power to help and assist, whether it means stepping up or stepping down, because this is not about me. It's about justice."  

Her resignation came after area NAACP members circulated a petition calling for her to step down from her post. Kitara Johnson started the petition.

“We don't care what color she is. That doesn't matter," she told the Associated Press. "But what does matter is the type of leader you are. Integrity does matter."

The story broke after Dolezal's white parents went public with the truth about her ancestry. They say her ancestors were Swiss, German, Czech, and Native American, but not black.  

"We taught our children, as we raised all six of them, tell the truth, always be honest," her father said in an interview with NBC News. "So we weren't going to lie. We told the truth."

Dolezal's story raises a host of questions about the performance of race, and who is—and isn't—allowed to define their racial identity. "Passing" is usually a term used to describe a black person presenting themselves as white.

But U.S. history and cultural lore has no shortage of examples of white people passing as black, too. Click on the audio player above to hear Allyson Hobbs weigh in on America's complicated history of passing. She's an assistant professor in the department of history at Stanford University, and the author of "A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life."

Check out Dolezal's interview with Matt Lauer of the Today Show below.