He’s either the male version of Rachel Dolezal, or the victim of a conservative conspiracy.
Those are the two views the world has of Shaun King, a leading voice in the Black Lives Matter movement, who has been accused of misrepresenting his race and passing for black when he’s actually white.
Black Lives Matter — the nationwide rallying cry of activists protesting the killing of unarmed black men by police — is growing in the limelight and King has been at the center of it, appearing often on television talk shows and at protest sites.
King has said in interviews that he’s biracial, with a white mother and a black father. But this week websites, including Breibart.com and the Daily Beast, alleged that King’s father is white.
Breibart published what it says is King’s Kentucky birth certificate, listing Jeffery Wayne King as the father, but the document doesn’t list his race. The Daily Beast said public records it reviewed show that King’s father is Caucasian.
In addition, CNN’s Don Lemon said a “family member” told CNN both of King’s parents are white.
In one of a series of tweets Wednesday, King said, “First off, the key facts about my biological relatives are all wrong. They tried, but my family, like many of yours, is one big mess.”
A direct question
Lemon exchanged text messages with King Wednesday night and asked him directly if he was black or white.
“Initially he did not answer but later referred to himself as biracial,” Lemon said. “But then when I asked him if that’s what it shows on his birth certificate I did not hear back from him. No answer on that.”
King, in tweets with Lemon, said the various reports are all lies designed to discredit his cause.
“This attack isn’t about me so much, but is about derailing Black Lives Matter and the movement against police brutality,” he said.
King also promised that he would “speak soon” about the allegations.
In his tweets Wednesday, he blasted Breibart, The Blaze, talk show host Glenn Beck and other conservatives, saying they don’t care what color he is, they only want him to “shut up.”
He also compared his situation to President Obama’s “birther” controversy.
“In essence, what is happening to me now, is like conservatives demanding Obama’s long form birth certificate,” he tweeted.
One of the allegations made against King is that he misrepresented himself to get a scholarship, financed by media mogul Oprah Winfrey, to get him into Morehouse College, the historically black college in Atlanta. King flatly denied these claims.
“I did not concoct a lie about my race to get into @Morehouse,” he tweeted. “I did not concoct a lie about my race to get an @Oprah scholarship.”
Morehouse said Wednesday it had “no comment” on the allegations against King, but added the college doesn’t grant admissions or scholarships based on race.
A hate crime?
Another charge against King is that he lied about being the victim of a hate crime 20 years ago when he was a high school student in Versailles, Kentucky. King said he was beaten by a “racist mob of rednecks” so badly that he missed almost two years of school while recovering from fractures to his face and ribs as well as severe injuries to his spine. A Forbes magazine profile called it “one of the first registered hate crimes” in Kentucky history.
But The Blaze disputes King’s claims, citing police reports and witness statements that describe his injuries as minor and the incident as a fight between him and another person, not a beat down from a racist mob. The Blaze also reported that the FBI didn’t have any record of hate crime incidents reported in Versailles in 1995.
King’s high school attack was racial, said CNN’s Lemon, citing King’s “family member,” but it wasn’t a hate crime. The family member said the cause of the altercation was about him being a white guy dating a black girl.
King maintained on social media Wednesday that he was indeed the victim of a hate crime.
Does it matter?
Even if King is lying about his race, does it even matter?
Attorney and legal commentator Mel Robbins says it does because it becomes a distraction to Black Lives Matter.
“It matters because (there are conservatives) that would like to discredit the Black Lives Matter movement at all costs,” she said. “Every time somebody does this and they’re not punished for it, it actually has a negative impact on the bigger movement.”
CNN legal commentator Areva Martin agreed, saying the controversy is taking the focus off of the issues the Black Lives Matter movement cares about, like police brutality.
And if King has been lying about his race, Martin said that’s extremely harmful to Black Lives Matter.
“This movement cannot be sustained if you have leaders who are not credible,” she said. “The public is not tolerant of people who misrepresent themselves. You have to be who you say you are.”