Neo-Passing: Performing Identity after Jim Crow

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2018-03-14 16:57Z by Steven

Neo-Passing: Performing Identity after Jim Crow

University of Illinois Press
March 2018
296 pages
6 x 9 in.
11 black & white photographs
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-252-04158-7
Paper ISBN: 978-0-252-08323-5
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-252-05024-4

Edited by:

Mollie Godfrey, Assistant Professor of English
James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia

Vershawn Ashanti Young, Associate Professor of Drama and Speech Communication
University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Crossing old boundaries to create new identities

African Americans once passed as whites to escape the pains of racism. Today’s neo-passing has pushed the old idea of passing in extraordinary new directions. A white author uses an Asian pen name; heterosexuals live “out” as gay; and, irony of ironies, whites try to pass as black.

Mollie Godfrey and Vershawn Ashanti Young present essays that explore practices, performances, and texts of neo-passing in our supposedly postracial moment. The authors move from the postracial imagery of Angry Black White Boy and the issues of sexual orientation and race in ZZ Packer’s short fiction to the politics of Dave Chappelle’s skits as a black President George W. Bush. Together, the works reveal that the questions raised by neo-passing—questions about performing and contesting identity in relation to social norms—remain as relevant today as in the past.

Gale Wald offers a foreword and Michele Elam an afterword.

Contributors: Derek Adams, Christopher M. Brown, Martha J. Cutter, Marcia Alesan Dawkins, Alisha Gaines, Jennifer Glaser, Allyson Hobbs, Brandon J. Manning, Loran Marsan, Lara Narcisi, Eden Osucha, and Deborah Elizabeth Whaley

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Allyson Hobbs, A Chosen Exile : A History of Racial Passing in American Life

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-12-23 03:56Z by Steven

Allyson Hobbs, A Chosen Exile : A History of Racial Passing in American Life

2 | 2016 : Ordinary Chronicles of the End of the World

Lawrence Aje
Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, Montpellier, Béziers, France

Hobbs, Allyson, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press, 2014, 382 pp. , € 27.00, ISBN 9780674368101

The last two decades have seen a considerable increase of publications on the issue of racial passing in the United States. Some studies have examined racial passing through personal or family stories (O’Toole ; Sharfstein ; Williams). Others have sought to adopt a quantitative and synchronic approach to the phenomenon (Nix & Qian ; Mill & Stein) or to analyze how cases of racial passing were litigated in courts (Kennedy ; Gross). A number of edited volumes have recently focused on the cinematic and literary representations of racial passing in American popular culture, whereas some studies have been keen on expanding the notion by examining instances of ethnic or gender passing (Dawkins ; Gayle ; Ginsberg ; Wald ; Nerad).

Yet, in this flurry of publications, Allyson Hobbs’s A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, is a valuable contribution that distinguishes itself as the first full-length historical monograph to comprehensively tackle and complicate this sensitive and emotionally charged topic. This ambitious study is a revised version of Hobbs’s 2009 dissertation in history which she defended at the University of Chicago.

A Chosen Exile historicizes the practice of racial passing in the United States, by outlining, from the period of slavery to the early 1970s, how fair-skinned Blacks, whom the author designates as “racially ambiguous individuals”, managed to navigate the troubled waters of race undetected. In keeping with the findings of her predecessors, Hobbs confirms that the main reason that motivated racial passing was social advancement. Hobbs however differentiates herself from other scholars who have, according to her, paid far more attention to the benefits derived from passing as White instead of focusing on what she deems is a more fundamental and hitherto neglected aspect of the practice, namely, that by leaving their colored relatives or friends behind, passing translated into a loss of intra-racial sociability and, to some extent, the loss of one’s self. A Chosen Exile is underpinned by two intertwined objectives : a historical examination of the personal motivations behind racial passing and a simultaneous assessment of the consequences of rejecting one’s “black racial identity” (11) ­— an act Hobbs qualifies as being tantamount to a racial exile.

Hobbs dismisses our commonly held assumptions about a lack of archival evidence that would limit our understanding of the phenomenon of racial passing. She manages to piece together a general history of racial passing in the United States by relying on a set of disparate primary and secondary sources such as private letters, family histories, newspaper advertisements, novels, as well as correspondence between authors and their publishers. By mining such a wide array of sources, Hobbs successfully manages to shed light on a practice that was meant to remain hidden…

Read the entire review here.

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Allyson Hobbs’ A Chosen Exile makes summer reading lists

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-07-17 00:15Z by Steven

Allyson Hobbs’ A Chosen Exile makes summer reading lists

Stanford News
Stanford University, Stanford, California

Alex Shashkevich

Allyson Hobbs

A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, written by historian ALLYSON HOBBS, made it to the 2017 summer reading lists of Harvard University Press and The Paris Review.

The 2014 book examines the phenomenon of racial passing, which is an intentional attempt by a person to assume a different racial identity, in the United States from the late 18th century to the present. Hobbs was inspired by a story her aunt told her about a distant cousin who passed as a white woman in the 1940s.

“Necessarily, Hobbs writes, passing involves erasure: gradations gone, subtleties of color and culture reduced to black and white,” wrote Julie Orringer in The Paris Review. “What’s lost in the process: families and friends, a sense of belonging. A Chosen Exile illuminates those losses with acuity, rigor and compassion.”…

Read the entire article here.

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A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, by Allyson Hobbs [Eggers Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-05-29 02:00Z by Steven

A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, by Allyson Hobbs

The Black Scholar: Journal of Black Studies and Research
Volume 47, 2017 – Issue 2: After Madiba: Black Studies in South Africa
Pages 73-76
DOI: 10.1080/00064246.2017.1295355

Fabian Eggers, MA candidate of North American Studies
John F. Kennedy Institute at Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany

Allyson Hobbs, A Chosen Exile: History of Racial Passing in American Life (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014)

Read or purchase the review here.

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A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life by Allyson Hobbs (review) [King]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-02-24 01:04Z by Steven

A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life by Allyson Hobbs (review)

Journal of Southern History
Volume 82, Number 2, May 2016
pages 465-466
DOI: 10.1353/soh.2016.0107

Wilma King, Professor Emerita of History
University of Missouri

A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life. By Allyson Hobbs. (Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 2014. Pp. [xii], 382. $29.95, ISBN 978-0-674-36810-1.)

An insightful introduction prepares readers for five deeply researched chapters and an epilogue constituting what Allyson Hobbs describes as a history of racial passing in American life. Two well-developed themes in the text add to its significance. First, Hobbs argues that the perceived need for racial passing changed over time. Before the Civil War, slaves passed to escape bondage, not blackness. Later, the promises of Reconstruction encouraged blacks to believe treatment equal to that enjoyed by whites was imminent. Instead, political disenfranchisement, social intimidation, and economic deprivation followed. Racial passing was a viable option to escape those circumstances. However, during the 1920s the Harlem Renaissance expanded conceptions of racial identity and offered alternatives to passing. The elimination of some racial barriers after World War II rendered racial passing passé. Second, the author calls attention to both the intended and unintended consequences of blacks passing as whites. On one hand, passing offered opportunities for economic gains, but on the other hand, there were social losses associated with leaving families and friends behind. “Once one circumvented the law, fooled coworkers, deceived neighbors, tricked friends, and sometimes even duped children and spouses,” writes Hobbs, “there were enormous costs to pay” (p. 5).

The author contends “the core issue of passing is not becoming what you pass for, but losing what you pass away from” (p. 18). Passing, a performative, subversive, and tactical exercise, required constant vigilance to protect a newly crafted identity from exposure. Eventually, those who passed, temporarily or permanently, faced questions about gains and losses. A variety of historical and literary sources, supplemented by materials from popular and mixed media, make A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life come to life as readers are introduced to racially ambiguous women and men, including Ellen Craft, Henry Bibb, John H. Rapier, and descendants of Sally Hemings and Sarah Martha Sanders, all of whom were interested in acquiring equal opportunities, suffrage, and citizenship, more so than in actually becoming white…

Read the entire review here.

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Black Like Us

Posted in Books, Media Archive, Novels, Passing, United States, Women on 2016-11-11 01:45Z by Steven

Black Like Us

Original Works Publishing
102 pages
Paperback ISBN: 978-1630920944

Rachel Atkins

Foreword by Allyson Hobbs, Ph.D

Family secrets ripple through time when three present-day sisters discover the truth about a young African-American woman passing for white sixty years before. What happens in between is a frank and funny look at the shifting boundaries of tolerance and what identity really means.

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I’m Not the Nanny: Multiracial Families and Colorism

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, United States on 2016-11-04 00:56Z by Steven

I’m Not the Nanny: Multiracial Families and Colorism

Book Review
The New York Times

Allyson Hobbs, Associate Professor of History
Stanford University

SAME FAMILY, DIFFERENT COLORS: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families
By Lori L. Tharps
203 pp. Beacon Press. $25.95.

In Danzy Senna’s 1998 novel “Caucasia,” two sisters — Cole and Birdie — share a bond so intimate that they create a language only they can understand. Engulfed in the racial chaos of Boston in the mid-70s, the sisters nestle themselves away in the cozy world they have created in their attic bedroom. Their lives are forever changed when their mother, a liberal white New Englander, and their father, a black man with radical political leanings, decide to divorce. The sisters are divided: Birdie lives with her mother and essentially passes for white, while Cole, who looks black, moves in with her father and his black girlfriend. In a city as racially divided and explosive as Boston in the 1970s, this separation by skin color strikes the reader as a chillingly rational decision.

Forty years later, America is no longer the bipolar racial regime of black and white that set Birdie and Cole on such different paths. Not only have personal attitudes changed, but the Hart-Celler Act of 1965 — which upended American immigration policy by abolishing the quota system based on national origins — has also transformed the country’s demographic character. The landmark Loving v. Virginia case of 1967 prohibited legal restrictions on interracial marriages. Federal racial classifications now recognize mixed-race identities. But neither Cole nor Birdie would have been widely understood as mixed-race in the 1970s. As Danzy Senna, who is mixed-race, has written of her own experiences during that tumultuous decade: “Mixed wasn’t an option. . . . No halvsies. No in between.”

Lori L. Tharps’s new book, “Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families,” is an urgent and honest unveiling of how generations of American families have lived with these changes. Tharps focuses on “colorism,” which she notes is not an official word, but has been defined by Alice Walker as “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.”…

Read the entire review here.

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Opinion: “White spaces” are everywhere – including ARC

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-09-28 00:03Z by Steven

Opinion: “White spaces” are everywhere – including ARC

The American River Current
Sacramento, California

Shiavon Chatman

Imagine being alone in a place where there was no one who looked like you or understood your experiences.

Imagine having a conversation with someone who assumed the actions and behaviors of people who looked like you and made predictions about the way you conducted yourself.

Being a person of color in a predominantly “white space” is similar to this.

Author Toni Morrison addresses this very idea of oppression and loneliness that comes with being racially stereotyped in her first novel entitled “The Bluest Eye.”

In her novel, the main character Pecola is “(the) little black girl who want(s) to rise up out of her pit of her blackness and see the world with blue eyes.”

The idea of “colorblindness” doesn’t exist. No matter how progressive and accepting a person is, they will see color.

Recognizing color, or rather, race and ethnicity, is being consciously aware of the social injustices and stereotypes that people of color experience.

American River College [(ARC)] student Alyssa Senna said “I feel like there’s a stereotype for all people of color and that’s how white people see us.”…

…The stigma of being a person of color in predominantly white spaces has the same level of intensity for mixed people.

“I feel almost like an alien at times,” said ARC student, Sade Butler, “because I’m black, white, and Filipino and I’m of a medium complexion, (so) a lot of people don’t see me as a person of color.”

Mixed people typically experience more privilege, referred to as “passing”, than non-mixed people of color, except in predominantly “white spaces.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Lost kin

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-07-20 02:26Z by Steven

Lost kin

University of Chicago Magazine
May/June 2015

Allyson Hobbs, Assistant Professor of History
Stanford University

Excerpt from A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life by Allyson Hobbs, published by Harvard University Press. Copyright © 2014 by Allyson Hobbs. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

“Going as white” permanently created confusion as some family members disappeared across the color line, creating gaps in family genealogy. One woman explained, “My father’s people, half of them pass for white so naturally I know nothing about hardly any of them.”

For others, embarrassment and shame prevented an open discussion of family history: “Not much has been disclosed about the Patterson family. It is our guess that there were too many blood mixtures of which the immediate family is not any too proud to relate. … That this family has many skeletons is without a doubt true.” Merthilda C. Duhe wrote that her father used passing as a strategy to create a new life for himself; she knew little about him or his family because he left New Orleans and “deserted the family while they were very young and went over to the white side in Chicago.”

Others expressed uncertainty about the racial backgrounds of their ancestors. One man questioned his grandfather’s race and explained, “Father was always sensitive about that side of his family.” When asked whether her relatives in Detroit “go for colored or do they go for white,” Mrs. Clemens responded, “I don’t know, and I don’t know what I am. We are 100 per cent American and that is all we can say.” Raymond Brownbow did not know much about his maternal grandmother, a mixed- race house servant who was “described as being very nearly white.” As he explained, “I know very little about her, because it seems that my mother was and is a bit reluctant to discuss her. I remember my mother once telling me that she couldn’t stand the remarks that people would make upon learning of her mother’s mixed blood, and for that reason she refrained from talking much about her.”…

Read the entire article here.

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The Pain of Passing

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-07-04 21:41Z by Steven

The Pain of Passing

Reviews in American History
Volume 44, Number 2, June 2016
pages 264-269
DOI: 10.1353/rah.2016.0028

Renee Romano, Professor of History, Africana Studies, and Comparative American Studies
Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio

Allyson Hobbs. A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2014. 382 pp. Figures, notes, and index. $29.95.

In the past year, racial passing became the subject of intense media controversy and scrutiny when it was discovered that Rachel Dolezal, then-head of the NAACP in Spokane, Washington, was a white woman who had misrepresented herself as being partly black. In the wake of the media frenzy that followed, commentators took pains to point out that, even though it was unusual to see a white assuming an identity as black, passing itself was nothing new in U.S. history. “The history of people breaching social divides and fashioning identities for themselves is as old as America,” an editorial in the New York Times proclaimed in response to the controversy. But while the act of passing has long been a part of the American story, it has not, until now, been the subject of a sweeping chronological and narrative history. A Chosen Exile by historian Allyson Hobbs succeeds in the ambitious project of crafting a social and cultural history of the most famous version of the practice, that of people of black ancestry who passed as white. Racial passing, of course, was meant to be hidden and to leave no trace. But in A Chosen Exile, Hobbs demonstrates not only that sources exist to recover the history of blacks who assumed white identities, but also that historians have offered a rather onesided story of black-to-white passing that does not mine the experience fully for what it can tell us about the lived experience of racial identity in different eras in American history.

Drawing on creative research in sources—including runaway slave ads, diaries and letters, census and military data, student college records, and novels—A Chosen Exile offers a wide-ranging chronological history of the experience of blacks who passed as white from the late eighteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries. In taking that approach to the subject, it stands out from most of the existing literature on passing. Scholarly work on passing, for the most part, falls into one of two camps: studies by literary and media scholars that explore literary and cultural representations of the practice, such as Gayle Wald’s Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in Twentieth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture (2000) or more historical works that take a biographical approach to reconstruct the lives and stories of specific individuals or families who passed as white. Gerald Horne’s The Color of Fascism: Lawrence Dennis, Racial Passing, and the Rise of Right-Wing Extremism in the United States (2009), for example, sheds light on the strange life of Lawrence Dennis, a former child-preacher who chose to pass as white and who eventually became an outspoken supporter of fascism in the 1930s. Legal historian Daniel Sharfstein follows the lives of three families who changed from black to white from the colonial era to today in The Invisible Line: A Secret History of Race in America (2012). But A Chosen Exile has a much broader scope. Although Hobbs offers lengthy discussions of some key historical figures, she seeks to bring together as many stories of passing as possible to “reveal larger social, cultural, and national dynamics that would be far less visible if viewed through a lens fixed on the idiosyncrasies of a single person, family, or place” (p. 25).

That approach enables Hobbs to develop arguments about how the meanings and practice of passing have changed over time—arguments that are simply not possible in works that are more narrowly focused. She shows, for example, that passing was a relatively egalitarian practice that both elites and the poor engaged in when circumstances allowed; although, as the book progresses, it is clear that Hobbs has found more evidence to reconstruct the stories of economically privileged blacks than she has for poorer ones. She includes the experiences of both men and women who crossed the color line, and she compares the experiences of those who passed strategically—or who temporarily claimed a white identity in order…

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