Black for a Day: White Fantasies of Race and Empathy

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Forthcoming Media, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2017-03-19 22:52Z by Steven

Black for a Day: White Fantasies of Race and Empathy

University of North Carolina Press
May 2017
230 pages
6.125 x 9.25, 12 halftones, notes, bibl., index
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3283-4
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3282-7

Alisha Gaines, Assistant Professor of English
Florida State University

In 1948, journalist Ray Sprigle traded his whiteness to live as a black man for four weeks. A little over a decade later, John Howard Griffin famously “became” black as well, traveling the American South in search of a certain kind of racial understanding. Contemporary history is littered with the surprisingly complex stories of white people passing as black, and here Alisha Gaines constructs a unique genealogy of “empathetic racial impersonation”–white liberals walking in the fantasy of black skin under the alibi of cross-racial empathy. At the end of their experiments in “blackness,” Gaines argues, these debatably well-meaning white impersonators arrived at little more than false consciousness.

Complicating the histories of black-to-white passing and blackface minstrelsy, Gaines uses an interdisciplinary approach rooted in literary studies, race theory, and cultural studies to reveal these sometimes maddening, and often absurd, experiments of racial impersonation. By examining this history of modern racial impersonation, Gaines shows that there was, and still is, a faulty cultural logic that places enormous faith in the idea that empathy is all that white Americans need to make a significant difference in how to racially navigate our society.

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Whites pass for black to gain empathy, experts say in wake of Dolezal case

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-06-13 23:39Z by Steven

Whites pass for black to gain empathy, experts say in wake of Dolezal case

USA Today
2015-06-13

Melanie Eversley, Breaking News Reporter

In history and in many black American families, there’s talk of black people passing for white, especially during the days of Jim Crow laws or slavery when it benefited them or even saved their lives.

But not as much has been written about the white people who pass for black or adopt black culture — from celebrities who adopt traditionally black hairstyles and vernacular, or, as social media has been abuzz with since Thursday, Rachel Dolezal, the NAACP Spokane, Wash., branch president whose parents say she is white.

English professor Alisha Gaines, who is publishing a book about white people who pass for black, says the phenomenon is rooted in a need to identify and empathize with black culture. Some people throughout history have passed for black as a way to immerse themselves in the experience, says Gaines, who teaches at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

One of the people referenced in her book, Black for a Day: Fantasies of Race and Empathy, is Grace Halsell, a late journalist who posed as a black woman for a few weeks in the deep South and wrote about her experiences in a book titled Soul Sister

…The main reason people choose to pass for black is they have a need or desire to promote civil rights and racial justice, says Marcia Dawkins, author of Clearly Invisible: Racial Passing and the Color of Cultural Identity

…Author and educator Nikki Khanna believes it also can be about being accepted.

“Maybe for this particular woman — it seems as if she cares about African-American issues, she heads the chapter of the NAACP in Spokane, I don’t know if she felt that was her way of fitting in,” says Khanna, who has studied how biracial Americans identify in terms of race

Read the entire article here.

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AAS 4570 – Passing in African-American Imagination

Posted in Course Offerings, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2010-12-13 00:23Z by Steven

AAS 4570 – Passing in African-American Imagination

University of Virginia
The Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American & African Studies
Spring 2011

Alisha Gaines, Post-Doctoral Fellow (English)
Duke University

This course considers the canonical African American literary tradition and popular culture texts that think through the boundaries of blackness and identity through the organizing trope of passing. We will engage texts that represent passing as a liberating performance act, a troubling crime against authenticity, an economic necessity, and/or a stunt of liberal heroics. By the end of the course we will evaluate how our thinking about passing inflects our understanding of supposedly stable categories of identity including gender, class, and sexuality as well as begin to think critically about the relationships between blood and the law, love and politics, opportunity and economics, and acting and being.

Questions to be considered include: What do we make of a literary tradition that supposedly gains coherence around issues of racial belonging but begins by questioning race itself?  What work does the highly gendered depictions of the “tragic mulatta” figure (a mixed-race woman undone by her periled existence between two racialized worlds) do for, and to, African American literature? What happens when the color line crosses you?  Or in other words, where is agency in this discussion?  Do we really know blackness when we see it?  Hear it?  How (and why) is blackness performed and for (and by) whom?  In what ways is identity shaped by who can and can’t pass?  How has globalization made blackness an even more accessible commodity?  How has hip hop?  And finally, aren’t we all passing for something?

For more information, click here.

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