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

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-08-31 18:13Z by Steven

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

49th Parallel: an interdisciplinary journal of North American Studies
Issue 37 (2015)
pages 66-68

Christopher Allen Varlack, Lecturer
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Popularized in part during the Harlem Renaissance of the early to midtwentieth century, the passing novel, including James Weldon Johnson’s 1912 The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, Walter White’s 1926 Flight, and Jessie Redmon Fauset’s 1928 Plum Bun: A Novel Without a Moral, has received a wide range of scholarship. Elaine K. Ginsberg’s 1996 study, Passing and the Fictions of Identity explores the politics of passing from the early experiences of African slaves through the present day while Gayle Wald’s 2000 Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in Twentieth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture explores cinematic and literary representations of passing produced in the United States. Together, these works reveal the struggle of an African-American community marginalized and disenfranchised within an American society defined by its Jim Crow culture and racial hierarchy. Under these circumstances, racial passing is most often an attempt to obtain what Cheryl L. Harris terms “whiteness as property” as a result of the very limited opportunities and restricted social mobility afforded to blacks. Such scholarship provides insight into the historical function of passing and the ways in which the passing novel brings to the forefront of the American consciousness an increased awareness of its changing socio-racial landscape.

In her critical work, appropriately titled, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, Allyson Hobbs seeks to add a new dimension to this existing conversation, her book is “an effort to recover those lives” lost in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as “countless African Americans [knowingly] passed as white, leaving behind families, friends, and communities without any available avenue for return” (4). Hobbs‟ work, a welcomed addition to the field, thus uses the lives of the everyday participants of passing to show not only what they gained from assuming their white identities—economic opportunity, social mobility, increased acceptance, etc.—but also what they lost along the way—the all-important connection to family and community that had long sustained the African-American people in the midst of cultural oppression. Because racialization exists all around us and “[r]ace is reproduced . . . at every level of society, including in our everyday lives”, the concerns that Hobbs advances in what proves a vital study of racial passing in American life will certainly remain, even despite the growing number of claims (which Hobbes disputes) that America has transitioned into a post-racial society (277).

Read the entire review here.

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Multi Racial Reads #20 and #21

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-07-26 00:13Z by Steven

Multi Racial Reads #20 and #21

Carol Baldwin’s Blog
2019-07-22

Carol Baldwin

It’s been awhile since I’ve shared the books that I read while writing Half-Truths. Here are two more books that have helped me understand one of my characters, Lillian Harris.

If you aren’t familiar with Half-Truths, this is the pitch for my book:

In the heavily segregated South, fifteen-year-old Kate Dinsmore’s world is shaken when she realizes she’s related to her grandmother’s Black housemaid. This knowledge leads Kate to truths that threaten to destroy her family.

Ever since I saw the pictures of the principals in the hallway of the former Rosenwald School in Charlotte, NC and saw a man who appeared White but was Black, I knew that my book would revolve around two girls—Kate Dinsmore and Lillian Harris—who were related but belonged to two different races.

What I didn’t know was what Lillian looked like.

Light, Bright, and Damn Near White by Michelle Gordon Jackson helped me figure that out…

…But what about the Blacks who chose to pass? What was their life like?

Allyson Hobbs’ book, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, pointedly showed me the pain and difficulties associating with passing…

Read the entire article here.

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Historian, master storyteller

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-07-10 18:15Z by Steven

Historian, master storyteller

PUNCH Magazine
March 2019
pages 30-34

Sheri Baer, Editorial Director
Irene Searles, photography

Allyson Hobbs distinctly remembers the first time she saw Stanford University. After flying out from Chicago for a final interview in January 2008, she was chatting with a faculty member as they arrived on campus. “We were talking about Ohio State football and we turned down Palm Drive,” she recalls. “All of a sudden, my breath was taken away. I couldn’t believe the beauty of it. I thought to myself, ‘Wow! I desperately want to teach here.’”

Allyson secured the position and made the move. Now an associate professor of American History, she is also director of Stanford’s African and African American Studies program (AAAS), which is marking its 50th anniversary this year. Founded in 1969, AAAS was Stanford’s first ethnic studies program and the first of its kind at a private academic institution. “Many programs are having their 50th anniversary around this time,” Allyson notes, adding that it’s no coincidence. “These programs were created in response to student protests in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Originally from Morristown, New Jersey, Allyson says that she was raised in a very supportive community. “My parents really shielded me and gave me an idyllic childhood,” she says. “They always talked about how lucky we were to live in that kind of environment.” Allyson attended Harvard in the mid-’90s, where she was exposed to a broader perspective. “There was a robust conversation about race at that time in college, and I think that really ignited my interest.

Allyson especially appreciated the rich storytelling of her aunt, who served as the family historian. When Allyson came home fascinated by a story about racial passing, her aunt recounted the experiences of a distant cousin who had grown up on Chicago’s South Side in the ’30s and ’40s. According to her aunt, this cousin was very light-skinned and when she graduated from high school, her mother encouraged her to move to Los Angeles and pass as a white woman. “Her mother was insistent and believed that passing as white would give her daughter a better life,” Allyson was told.

That story inspired Allyson to write her first book, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, tracing the practice back to the late 18th century. “People who passed were able to access better jobs and live in better neighborhoods, but I wanted to uncover what it really meant to the people who walked away, what they had to give up,” Allyson says. “Writing the history of passing is really writing the history of loss.”…

Read the entire article here.

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What is Racial Passing?

Posted in Economics, History, Law, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Passing, Slavery, United States, Videos on 2019-03-03 03:59Z by Steven

What is Racial Passing?

Digital Studios: Origin of Everything
PBS Digital Studios
Public Broadcasting Service
Season 2, Episode 13 (First Aired: 2019-02-27)

Danielle Bainbridge, Host, Writer, and Postdoctoral Fellow
Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois

What motivates someone to disguise their race, gender, religion, etc.? Today Danielle explores the complicated history of passing in the United States.

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Family Storytellers Inspired Professor-Historian

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2018-11-09 03:37Z by Steven

Family Storytellers Inspired Professor-Historian

Diverse Issues in Higher Education
2018-10-30

LaMont Jones, Senior Staff Writer


Dr. Allyson Hobbs

Dr. Allyson Hobbs comes from a family of storytellers, perhaps chief among them her Aunt Shirley.

It was Shirley Kitching’s fascinating stories shared during holiday and summer visits to Chicago – particularly one about an ancestor who was sent to the West Coast to live her life as a White woman by “passing” – that influenced Hobbs’ decision to become a historian and author.

Now Hobbs, an associate professor of American history and director of African and African-American Studies at Stanford University, spends a lot of time researching historical people, places and phenomena and bringing those stories to life for the public – the same way Kitching and other relatives did for her…

…“You have to understand Chicago to understand African-American history,” Hobbs contends, noting its longtime centrality to Black culture.

And that, along with one of Aunt Shirley’s stories, is what led to research and ultimately an award-winning book about the racial phenomenon of passing – when very light-skinned and European-featured Black Americans secretly pass themselves off as White people. Published in 2014, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life explored the history of passing in the United States from the 1700’s to current times…

Read the entire article here.

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Melissa Harris-Perry in Conversation with Allyson Hobbs

Posted in Interviews, Live Events, Media Archive, Social Justice, United States on 2018-05-18 15:46Z by Steven

Melissa Harris-Perry in Conversation with Allyson Hobbs

Stanford University
Cubberley Auditorium
Stanford, California
Wednesday, 2018-05-23, 17:00-18:30 PDT (Local Time)

Contact: rmeisels@stanford.edu

Join us for an evening of conversation with Melissa Harris-Perry, Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University, founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center, Editor-at-Large, Elle.com and Author of Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, in conversation with Allyson Hobbs, Associate Professor of History and Director of African and African American Studies [and author of A Chosen Exile: History of Racial Passing in American Life].

Sponsored by: Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Humanities Center, African & African American Studies, Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, History Department, and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education.

For more information, click here.

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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

Transatlantica
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
2017-07-14

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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