Keeping up with the Joneses

…Like many families of mixed ancestry and interracial families in the Northeast, the Joneses seemed to live in an ambiguous space in the American system of racial classification.  They seemed to be neither denying nor actively claiming a black racial identity.  Sociologists of the time and current historians have documented a number of cases—indeed a pattern—of mixed-race or mixed-marriage families living quietly in small “white” towns.  Unlike the model of “passing,” in with formerly black-identified individuals or families would become white-identified, many of these individuals and families simply lived in the spaces between absolutes.  Less consciously a political act of affirmation or denial of self, racial ambiguity enabled such individuals and families to embrace the multiple histories that constituted them.  They were black and white and other.  They understood that American society lacked a suitably dexterous category for those who defied the conventions of perception and boundary.  Former Kentucky politician Mae Street Kidd, born to a black mother and white father in 1904, summarized the sentiment of many when she wrote, “I never made an issue of my race.  I let people think or believe what they wanted to.  If it was ever a problem, then it was their problem, not mine.”…

Lewis, Earl and Heidi Adrizzone. Love on Trial: An American Scandal in Black and White.  New York: W. W. Norton. 2002. Pages 36-37.

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