Forced to pass and other sins against authenticity

Forced to pass and other sins against authenticity

Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory
Volume 15, Issue 1, 2005
pages 17-32
DOI: 10.1080/07407700508571486

Kerry Ann Rockquemore

According to the identity commandments, passing is a sin against authenticity. Thou shall not pretend to be something that you are not. Men should not pretend to be women, married people should not pretend to be single, and black people should not pretend to be white. We all fit into some neat conglomeration of social categories and it’s just too confusing if we can’t take people at face value. Racial passing has a particular hold on our collective imagination because we assume that individuals belong to one, and only one, biologically defined racial group. This assumption disallows the possibility of being “mixed-race” and has historically necessitated elaborate rules and regulations order to classify what folks really are. The one-drop rule, a uniquely American norm that reflects our particular history of racial formation, dictates that people with any black ancestry whatsoever are black. Given the explicit racial hierarchy in the U.S., racial passing has always referred to a person who was really black pretending to be white.

As a woman who is black by self-definition, white by phenotype, and biracial by parentage, I am often perplexed by our limited conception of passing in post-Civil Rights America. Because we persist in assuming that race is a biological reality and not a social construction, passing continues to be conceptualized as voluntary; uni-…

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , ,