There’s a New Rachel Dolezal

Jessica A. Krug Photo: George Washington University

Five years ago, somehow, the president of Spokane’s NAACP branch was exposed as a fraud by her own parents. Larry and Ruthanne Dolezal confirmed long-standing rumors about their daughter’s identity to the media. Yes, Rachel Dolezal was white; no, her father was not a Black man; no, she was not born in a tepee; yes, she had long been posing as a Black woman and leaning on a fabricated backstory to prop up her civil-rights career. This is an unhinged and insensitive thing to do, but apparently not as uncommon as one might hope. Exhibit B: Jessica A. Krug.

Like Dolezal, Krug’s career — as “a decolonial historian of Black political thought and action in West Central Africa and throughout the Americas,” per Cooper Union — rests on a racial identity that does not belong to her. Unlike Dolezal, Krug has admitted to her appropriative scam, outing and “canceling” herself.

In a Medium post, published September 3 and entitled “The Truth, and the Anti-Black Violence of My Lies,” Krug admitted that she is, despite appearances she has painstakingly cultivated, a white woman. “To an escalating degree over my adult life,” she wrote, “I have eschewed my lived experience as a white Jewish child in suburban Kansas City under various assumed identities within a Blackness that I had no right to claim: first North African Blackness, then US rooted Blackness, then Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness.”

“I am not a culture vulture,” she continued. “I am a culture leech.” Just under a week later, she resigned from her position at George Washington University, where she had been working as an associate professor.

Who is Jessica Krug?

Krug taught at GWU, where she focused on “politics, ideas, and cultural practices in Africa and the African Diaspora, with a particular interest in West Central Africa and maroon societies in the early modern period and Black transnational cultural studies,” per the university’s website. A day after the Medium post was published, a spokesperson for the university confirmed to BuzzFeed News that they had opened an investigation into Krug. On September 9, Krug stepped down.

Krug has based her academic career on the study of African and Caribbean cultures, and published Fugitive Modernities: Kisama and the Politics of Freedom in 2018. This book, a study of political and resistance movements among people trafficked in the slave trade, was a finalist for the 2020 Frederick Douglass Book Prize (presented by Yale’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition) and the 2019 Harriet Tubman Book Prize (presented by the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery). According to a PDF of the book, published by the Guardian, she received financial support from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to help fund the project.

In her own words, Krug is a person who crafted a “false identity … entirely from the fabric of Black lives.” In August, she published an essay in Essence (which has now been removed from the site), centering herself within the Black cultures she wrote about. According to the Guardian, the acknowledgments for Fugitive Modernities thank: “My ancestors, unknown, unnamed, who bled life into a future they had no reason to believe could or should exist. … Those whose names I cannot say for their own safety, whether in my barrio, in Angola, or in Brazil.”

In a cached version of her author bio, formerly displayed on the blog RaceBaitr and excavated by Business Insider reporter Graham Starr on Thursday, she also referred to herself as “an unrepentant and unreformed child of the hood.”

Who is “Jess La Bombalera”?

Apparently another alias for Jessica Krug. On Thursday, writer Robert Jones Jr. alleged that Krug also assumed the name Jess La Bombalera to pose as an activist in the Bronx. “I am in a state of complete and utter shock and sadness,” he wrote in a since-deleted tweet on Thursday. “Jess La Bombera [sic], an activist who I often deferred to and stepped aside and gave the mic to on this platform, just revealed that she is a white woman who has been pretending to be Black.”

Others have attested to meeting Krug under this name. “I was introduced to her by a colleague who was being honored at the Fredrick [sic] Douglass Book Prize ceremony this yr. She went by ‘Jess La Bombalera’ & said she was Puerto Rican,” writer Ivie Ani tweeted Thursday. “She asked me what part of the Bronx I’m from, I said ‘by Bronx River Houses’ and she said ‘me too’……”

La Bombalera also seems to be a known quantity to theoretical physicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, who tweeted that “Jess La Bombalera/Jess Krug” had been “awful” to Black women who’d interacted with her. “She questioned our love for and commitment to Black people and Blackness,” she wrote.

It appears Krug, as La Bombalera, delivered testimony to the New York City Council in a strange adopted accent as recently as June:

Why did Jessica Krug pretend to be an Afro Latina?

In her Medium essay, Krug repeatedly touts accountability and the irreparable damage she has done in building her “life on a violent anti-Black lie.” She does not outright apologize, but says she is “attempting to lay out a timeline of my deceit to better understand all whom I have violated and how, and to begin to imagine how to restore, to address, to redress.”

But for all its self-flagellation, the post is remarkably light on specifics. Krug does not expand at all on the particular ways she has exploited Black and Latinx peoples for her personal gain, despite the admission that she has repeatedly done exactly that. She does not say when this behavior began, or how. She nods to “unaddressed mental health demons,” which she says she has battled throughout her life, but does not go into detail about the nature of her “issues” or the “severe trauma” that allegedly sparked them.

“Mental health issues likely explain why I assumed a false identity initially, as a youth, and why I continued and developed it for so long,” she writes. “The mental health professionals from whom I have been so belatedly seeking help assure me that this is a common response to some of the severe trauma that marked my early childhood and teen years.”

Why is she coming forward about this now?

It’s unclear. Krug wrote that she has “thought about ending these lies many times over many years” but that her “cowardice was always more powerful than [her] ethics.” Indeed, “I am a coward” is the only explanation she offers as for the extended silence. A source close to the story told the Cut that Krug only published her Medium post because she knew a group of Black and Latinx academics were onto her deception. Hari Ziyad, editor-in-chief of RaceBait, confirmed this idea on Twitter last week, writing: “Jess Krug … is someone I called a friend up until this morning when she gave me a call admitting to everything written here. She didn’t do it out of benevolence. She did it because she had been found out.”

Krug wrote that her Medium essay “isn’t a confession, it isn’t a public relations move, and it damn sure isn’t a shield,” adding: “It is the truth, though.” She has not said anything about the timing of this truth. Instead, she gestured to cancel culture, writing:

“I should absolutely be cancelled. No. I don’t write in passive voice, ever, because I believe we must name power. So. You should absolutely cancel me, and I absolutely cancel myself.”

No, she doesn’t know what that means either. In any case:

What happens now?

On September 4, GW announced that Krug “will not be teaching her classes this semester,” while the school investigates. “We want to acknowledge the pain this situation has caused for many in our community and recognize that many students, faculty, staff and alumni are hurting,” provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, M. Brian Blake, and Paul Wahlbeck, dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, said in a statement. “Please know that we are taking this situation seriously and are here to support our community.”

A number of Krug’s colleagues in the history department, however, are “shocked and appalled” at her long con. The same day GW announced its investigation, her fellow faculty members posted a statement asking either for Krug’s resignation, or for the school to revoke her tenure so she can be fired. It reads:

The members of the faculty of The George Washington University Department of History are shocked and appalled by Dr. Jessica Krug’s admission on September 3, 2020 that she has lied about her identity for her entire career. With what she has termed her “audaciously deceptive” appropriation of an Afro-Caribbean identity, she has betrayed the trust of countless current and former students, fellow scholars of Africana Studies, colleagues in our department and throughout the historical discipline, as well as community activists in New York City and beyond. The discipline of history is concerned with truth telling about the past. With her conduct, Dr. Krug has raised questions about the veracity of her own research and teaching. Accordingly, the department calls upon Dr. Krug to resign from her position as associate professor of History at GW. Failing that, the department recommends the rescinding of her tenure and the termination of her appointment.

On Wednesday, Krug resigned her post, effective immediately. Crystal Nosal, a GW spokesperson, said in an email that other faculty members will take over her classes for the coming semester, with more information for enrolled students to come this week.

This post has been updated with new information.

There’s a New Rachel Dolezal