The Baltimore Book Festival cancelled a planned appearance by Rachel Dolezal, whose invitation had sparked controversy in the community and inspired an online petition calling for her disinvitation. The book festival takes place on September 22-24, 2017. The online petition, which asked the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BOPA) to rescind the invitation, garnered more than 100 signatures.
Rachel Dolezal earned national media attention in July 2015, when it was revealed by her parents that she had been born white. Dolezal, who was then head of the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), insisted that she identified as black and had not tried to deceive anyone. Dolezal responded to the national media outcry by saying that she “wouldn’t say I’m African-American, but I would say I’m black, and there’s a difference in those terms,” according to a CNN report. Dolezal told CNN that she believes “black is a culture, a philosophy, a political and social view,” adding later that she feels that “race is a social construct.” Dolezal previously worked part-time as a faculty member in the African Education Program at Eastern Washington University. She was reportedly fired from this position after her actions drew national attention. Additionally, Dolezal stepped down as the head of the Spokane NAACP chapter. Her appearance at the Baltimore Book Festival was intended to promote her book, “In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World.” In 2017, Dolezal changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo, a West African saying that means, “gift from the gods.”
The Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts is a publicly funded, non-profit organization that offers financial and logistical support to artists in Baltimore. It holds several art-related events throughout the year, including the Baltimore Book Festival.
According to The Baltimore Sun, in a statement announcing the decision to rescind Dolezal’s invitation, BOPA wrote:
“A top priority of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts is to listen to our constituents, and after hearing from a cross-section of opinions on having Rachel Dolezal participate in this year’s festival, we had to consider how her appearance may affect both the audience and the other extraordinary authors we have planned for the Baltimore Book Festival. For that reason, we believe it would be appropriate to remove Ms. Dolezal from the festival line up.”
Kimberley Mooney started the online petition to have Dolezal disinvited. Mooney is a middle school teacher in Baltimore and told the Sun that she was elated at BOPA’s ultimate decision. However, Tessa Hill-Aston, President of the NAACP’s Baltimore branch, said that she believed that Dolezal should not have been disinvited. “The biggest problem we have is when we shut down dialogue. We need to learn how to connect and communicate with one another,” she said, according to the Sun.
In February 2017, The Guardian reported that Dolezal is unemployed and is feeding her family with the help of food stamps. The article also stated that she has applied for more than 100 jobs, but has not been successful.
Rachel Dolezal was excluded from the Baltimore Book Festival, where she had been invited to promote her new book, “In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World.” An online petition had asked the BOPA to disinvite her.
Prepared by Graham Piro ‘18
August 30, 2017