George Washington University officials are looking into a blog post, written under the name of an associate professor of history, saying she had engaged in a yearslong deception by assuming various Black identities even though she is white.
In the post, the author, Jessica Krug, wrote that she had eschewed her “lived experience as a white Jewish child in suburban Kansas City” and had assumed identities she had no right to claim. Those identities included “first North African Blackness, then US rooted Blackness, then Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness,” she wrote in the piece on Medium, which was posted Thursday morning.
“For the better part of my adult life,” she wrote, “every move I’ve made, every relationship I’ve formed, has been rooted in the napalm toxic soil of lies.”
Her assuming of a Black Caribbean identity, she wrote, was “not only, in the starkest terms, wrong — unethical, immoral, anti-Black, colonial — but it means that every step I’ve taken has gaslighted those whom I love.”
Jessica Krug is the name of an associate professor of history at George Washington whose résumé includes prestigious grants and scholarly publications, along with articles in popular outlets like Essence and RaceBaitr, a website exploring race. Her academic work, including the 2018 book “Fugitive Modernities: Kisama and the Politics of Freedom,” focuses on the politics and culture of African and African diaspora societies in the early modern period.
Krug did not respond to emails and text messages Thursday, and the university said it could not confirm the authenticity of the Medium post.
“We are aware of the post and are looking into the situation,” Crystal Nosal, a university spokeswoman, said in an email. “We cannot comment further on personnel matters.”
But within hours of the essay’s being posted, there was a storm of reaction on social media, as some who said they had crossed paths with Krug, who was also involved in activist circles in East Harlem, expressed outrage or moved to disavow her.
Many drew comparisons to the secret life of Rachel Dolezal, who led friends to believe that she was Black and became the local NAACP president in Spokane, Washington, before her parents came forward in 2015 to out her as a white woman, causing a national uproar.
RaceBaitr said Thursday that it had removed Krug’s work from its website.
“Her charade has taken her into many Black sacred spaces, including this one,” RaceBaitr said in a message on Twitter. “We apologize for platforming her work and not taking seriously enough some of your warnings.”
Hari Ziyad, the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitr, wrote on Twitter that Krug was “someone I called a friend up until this morning when she gave me a call admitting to everything written” in the Medium post.
“She didn’t do it out of benevolence,” he wrote. “She did it because she had been found out.”
Krug’s scholarly work has won respectful attention. “Fugitive Modernities,” which examined the politics and cultures of fugitive slave communities in Angola and in the African diaspora, was a finalist in 2019 for two prestigious awards, the Harriet Tubman Prize and the Frederick Douglass Book Prize.
Yomaira Figueroa, an associate professor of global diaspora studies at Michigan State University, said in an interview that it was considered an “amazing book” and “field-changing.”
“I know a lot of folks who really respect her as a historian,” Figueroa said.
But last week, several Black Latina scholars started questioning Krug’s background, according to Figueroa, who declined to identify the scholars.
She wrote on Twitter that “there was no witch hunt, but there was a need to draw the line.”
Figueroa, who does not know Krug, said the scholars had begun questioning Krug’s identity after a discussion of novelist H.G. Carrillo, whose sister told The Washington Post after he died this year that he was not Afro Cuban, as he had claimed to be, but rather was African American. One of the scholars, Figueroa said, believed that Krug had also been lying about her identity.
In an essay published last year in Essence, Krug, who received her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2012, called herself “boricua,” or Puerto Rican. She also called herself “an unrepentant and unreformed child of the hood” devoted to “the struggle for her community in El Barrio and worldwide,” a description she repeated in RaceBaitr.
Some who knew Krug casually in academic settings said her supposed Black heritage was more implied than directly stated. Chaédria LaBouvier, an art historian, said she had met Krug in 2017 when they both appeared on a panel at the Studio Museum in Harlem. In conversation, LaBouvier recalled, they quickly established that they shared some Jewish Caribbean background.
“She didn’t present herself as, ‘Oh, we’re two Black women,’” she said in an interview. “I thought, she’s probably mostly white, but in touch with her Afro Latina heritage, and wanting to be closer to that.”
Krug is also known in activist circles as Jess La Bombalera, which LaBouvier recalled her saying was “her salsa name.” (An announcement for a talk she gave last year described her as a dancer with KR3TS Dance Company, which caters to children and young adults from low-income and Latino families in New York.)
In a video of a New York City Council hearing about police brutality held on Zoom in June, available online, a woman identifying herself as Jess La Bombalera, “speaking from El Barrio, East Harlem,” with a Latina accent, decries “gentrifiers and developers,” as well as politicians who strike the “pose” of criticizing the police.
She also called out “all these white New Yorkers who waited for hours with us to be able to speak and then did not yield their time to Black and brown Indigenous New Yorkers,” according to an article about the meeting published by The New Yorker.
In the Medium post, the author wrote that “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,” even though she said those issues did not justify her fabrication.
“I am not a culture vulture,” she wrote. “I am a culture leech.”
She wrote that she had thought about “ending these lies many times over many years, but my cowardice was always more powerful than my ethics.”
“I know right from wrong,” she wrote. “I know history. I know power. I am a coward.”
She added: “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.”