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June 29, 2015
by Henry M. Pittman, MA

Dolezal and Deception: NAACP Controversy

June 29, 2015 07:55 by Henry M. Pittman, MA  [About the Author]

Summer is a time of the year that many individuals look forward to. It’s the season right after Spring which is characterized by the end of school, summer foods such as watermelon, peaches, figs, and summer squash, increase attendance at the zoo and amusement parks, and one cannot forget the heat. Heat is something Rachel Dolezal is experiencing a lot of this summer month of June. Earlier this month Rachel Dolezal was confronted about her ethnicity, which according to reports she considered herself African American or biracial which she is allegedly is not based on her white parents and their ancestry.

Rachel Dolezal Ethnicity

Rachel Dolezal (Perez-Pena, 2015) obtained her master degree from Howard University in 2002, a historical black college, that she sued for discrimination because of being she was white female. In 2008 (Perez-Pena, 2015) Rachel began verbalizing herself as African American or a mix of. Since the controversy Rachel Dolezal (Perez-Pena, 2015) was forced to resign as the NAACP Spokeman Chapter leader and no longer an employee of Eastern Washington University where she was a professor teaching African Studies. What many individuals are upset with regarding Rachel Dolezal is the alleged deception. This article is not about Rachel Dolezal or her ethnic status, it is about deception in general and deceptive strategies.

Information Manipulation Theory

Steven McCornack developed Information Manipulation Theory, which “suggest that deceptive messages function deceptively because they covertly violate the principles that govern conversational exchanges (McCornack, 1992, p. 1). In other words, when two people exchange information in a conversation there is a universal principle being displayed of cooperation. When one person chooses to be deceptive, that individual is violating that principle. Grice’s concept of Conversational Implicutre which is the premise of information manipulation theory showcases four categories that can be manipulate by deception that Grice calls “maxims.”

Quantity, the first maxim (McCornack, 1992) “relates to expectations regarding the amount of information that should be provided within a message (p. 5).” When we communicate with other people we expect that he or she would provide enough information to grasp a concept with ease. Individuals that are deceitful provide little information. Quality, the second maxim (McCornack, 1992) “relates to expectations regarding the veracity of information that is presented (p. 5).”  Veracity means truthfulness. When individuals are exchanging information there is an expectation that neither one is presenting false information. Relation, the third maxim (McCornack, 1992) “suggests that participants will make their contributions relevant, given the constraints established by the preceding discourse (p. 5).” In other words, information provided has to do with the conversation. Finally, Manner, (McCornack, 1992) “as relating not (like the previous categories) to what is said, but rather, to how what is said is to be said.” It is not about what the person said, but how that person said it. Individuals that are deceitful are very tentative with their words. Kim, Kam, Sharkey, & Singles (2008) conducted a study and found four deceptive strategies that people use.


When it comes to deception, there are varies “ways” that deception can be done. Kim et al (2008) in their study was able to identify four types of deception strategies which are direct and false, indirect and false, evasion, and irrelevant association. Direct and False is a strategy that person may use when they are being directly deceptive to a person. The classic example, a woman asks her husband, “Does this dress make me look fat?” He replies with, “No,” but in reality it does. Some cultures Kim et al., (2008) may find this deceit a respectful because their culture is more interdependent orientated (value family and unity) versus independent oriented (self-driven). Indirect and False is a strategy that person uses that instead of telling a person false information directly, information is indirectly given, yet still false. For example, “Honey does this dress make me look fat?” His responses, “It shows off your shape.” Here, he gave his significant other a general blanket statement with no direction of yes or a no. Evasive is a strategy that an individual uses to maneuver away from giving a response. For example, “Honey does this dress make me look fat?” His responses, “That dress really brings out your eyes.” Finally, irrelevant association is a strategy that is also called, “shifting the focus.” In this example, wife says, “Honey does this dress make me look fat?” His response, “I’m going to take up Tai Chi next month.” That answer had nothing to do with fashion yet alone his significant other. The motive is to throw the other person of course.

Deception is a Choice

Rachel Dolezal is under fire for deceiving the public about her ethnicity. The manner in which she deceived can be identified among deceptive strategies and/or manipulated categories which universal principles have been violated. Behavior is purposeful and the behavior of deception is not excluded. There are many benefits of deceit which are based on personal wants and/or needs. Some people may be deceitful to not hurt somebody’s feelings or may be deceitful to make him or herself look more marketable to obtain a job. Either way it goes, deception is a choice.


Botelho, G.(2015). Ex-NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal: 'I identify as black'. CNN. Retrieved from

Kim, M, Kam, K.Y., Sharkey, W.F. & Singles, T.M. (2008). Deception: Moral Transgression orSocial Necessity?’’: Cultural-Relativity of Deception Motivations and Perceptions of Deceptive

Communication Journal of International and Intercultural Communication, 1(1), 23 -50.

McCornack, S.A.(1992). Information Manipulation Theory. Communication Monographs

Perez-Pena, R.(2015). Rachel Dolezal Leaves N.A.A.C.P. Post as Past Discrimination Suit Is Revealed. NYTimes. Retrieved from

About the Author

Henry M. Pittman Henry M. Pittman, MA

Henry M. Pittman came into the field of counseling through substance use disorders in the fall of 1997. He was a substance abuse tech at a hospital in Houston, TX and what he saw motivated him to take all the counseling hours needed to become a substance abuse counselor in 1998. Since then he has pursed the required education and knowledge to become a master level counselor and therapist.

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