Rachel Dolezal, the former NAACP chapter leader who sparked a nationwide debate about racial identity after her parents said she had long pretended to be black, says she is "definitely not white" and has identified as black since she was just 5 years old, she said in a series of NBC interviews Tuesday.
"I identify as black," Dolezal told Matt Lauer on the "Today" show in an exclusive interview, a day after she stepped down from her post leading the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the civil rights group.
She said she had begun identifying herself as black as young as 5 years old, though she did not affirmatively identify that way for more than a decade.
"I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon," she said. "It was a little more complex than me identifying as black."
Shown a photograph of herself at the age of 16, appearing blonde and fair-skinned, she acknowledged that "visibly, she would be identified as white by people who see her," and said she did not describe herself as black yet at that time.
In another interview later Tuesday on MSNBC, Dolezal told Melissa Harris-Perry that her black identity meant that she understood the experiences of black people.
"It means that I have really gone there with the experience, being a mother of two black sons," she said.
As for another aspect of her identity — her hair — Dolezal told NBC BLK that "this is a weave, and I do it myself."
Dolezal reiterated her stance in an interview with "NBC Nightly News," telling anchor Savannah Guthrie that "I definitely am not white."
"Nothing about being white describes who I am," she told Guthrie. "When somebody's asked me, 'Are you black?' — which I actually don't get asked all that often — I say, 'Yeah, I am black.'"
Dolezal also insisted that she has not changed her skin color through surgeries or melanin shots, although she said she had experimented with her hair styles.
Dolezal's teenage son defended his mother, and argued that people should see her "as a hero."
Dolezal's claims about her own race have sparked debate about race, privilege, identity and activism — as well as calls for her to step down from her post leading the NAACP chapter — after her parents spoke out last week, saying she is white and has been pretending for years to be black.
"It is with complete allegiance to the cause of racial and social justice and the NAACP that I step aside," Dolezal said in a statement on the chapter's Facebook page Monday.
"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," she said. "This is not me quitting; this is a continuum."
Dolezal's parents had told "Today" Monday that they think she pretended to be black as a way to hurt them, and that they have been estranged from her for years.
"I think Rachel has tried to damage her biological family and those kind of claims, as false as they were, seem to serve her purposes in her mind," her mother Ruthanne Dolezal told the "Today" show.
Dolezal was elected president of the local NAACP chapter about six months ago and has been credited with successes at its helm.
Asked by Lauer on Tuesday whether she could have made the same strides had she portrayed herself as a white woman, she said she didn't know.
"I've never had the opportunity," she said.