Deep Dive with Dorian Warren: Passing

Posted in Audio, History, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-11-08 16:11Z by Steven

Deep Dive with Dorian Warren: Passing

The Takeaway
WNYC Studios
2021-11-04

Melissa Harris-Perry, Host and Managing Editor

Dorian Warren, Co-host

This month, “Passing,” a new film by writer and director Rebecca Hall premieres on Netflix. Adapted from Nella Larsen’s 1929 Harlem Renaissance novel of the same name, “Passing” is shot in black and white. It’s a complex film likely to revive old debates and provoke new conversations around unresolved and still unspoken meanings of race, class, gender, power, identity, and resistance. For this week’s Deep Dive, Melissa and co-host Dorian Warren use the film as a jumping off point to explore the thorny questions raised by the concept of passing.

Joining Melissa and Dorian to discuss her film and her family’s history with passing is Rebecca Hall. Adding context on the history of passing is Allyson Hobbs, associate professor of U.S. History and the Director of African and African American Studies at Stanford University and author of “A Chosen Exile.” Karla Holloway, James B. Duke Distinguished Professor Emerita of English at Duke University and author of Legal Fictions and A Death in Harlem: A Novel, discusses how race has been socially constructed over time. Brit Bennett, author of “The Vanishing Half,” explains how she explored colorism in her 2020 novel. Lauren Michele Jackson, assistant professor of English at Northwestern University and a contributing writer at The New Yorker, discusses the idea of “Blackfishing,” which is when white people and even more notably white women, attempt transgressing racial boundaries by adopting a performance of Blackness through darkening their skin excessively, wearing hairstyles and clothing trends that have been pioneered by Black people. Bliss Broyard, author of the award-winning memoir, “One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life- A Story of Race and Family Secrets,” talks about finding out in her mid twenties that her father had passed as white for most of his life. And finally, Dean Moncel, a freelance writer based in Switzerland and Aryah Lester, deputy director of the Transgender Strategy Center, join the show to discuss the ways passing emerges around gender and sexuality.

Listen to the story (00:59:26) here.

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“Lying about a Lie”: Racial Passing in US History, Literature and Popular Culture

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-11-05 16:07Z by Steven

“Lying about a Lie”: Racial Passing in US History, Literature and Popular Culture

Journal of American Studies
Volume 50, Issue 2 (May 2016)
DOI: 10.1017/S0021875816000219

Sinéad Moynihan, Associate Professor of English
University of Exeter

In June 2015, the parents of Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP, claimed that their daughter was passing as black. While she professed to be of mixed (white, African American) racial heritage, her parents asserted that she was of white European descent, with some remote Native American ancestry. The revelations precipitated Dolezal’s resignation from her role at the NAACP and a flurry of articles about the story that were disseminated around the world on Twitter under the “Rachel Dolezal” hashtag.

Much of the media coverage attempted to account for the fact that this story should elicit such impassioned reactions given that race has long been acknowledged as a performance. As Jelani Cobb wrote in the New Yorker, Dolezal had dressed herself in “a fictive garb of race whose determinations are as arbitrary as they are damaging.” This does not mean that Dolezal “wasn’t lying about who she is.” It means that “she was lying about a lie.” Meanwhile, in the New York Times, Daniel J. Sharfstein pointed out that the kind of passing we saw in Dolezal’s case – passing from white to black; so-called “reverse passing” – was not as historically uncommon as other writers had claimed. What is unusual is that Dolezal should feel the need to pass as black when there were no legal (and comparatively few social) obstacles to her forming “meaningful relationships with African-Americans, study[ing], teach[ing] and celebrat[ing] black history and culture and fight[ing] discrimination.” For Sharfstein, the explanation lies in the fact that “when blackness means something very specific – asserting that black lives matter – it follows for many people that categorical clarity has to matter, too.”

The pervasive media and public interest in the Dolezal story confirms the ongoing fascination with racial passing within and beyond the United States, a popular interest that has its counterpart in the proliferation of academic studies of the subject that have been published in the past twenty years. The scholarly attention paid to racial passing inaugurated, arguably, by Elaine K. Ginsberg in her edited volume Passing and the Fictions of Identity (1996) continues unabated in two recent works on the subject. Julie Cary Nerad’s edited volume Passing Interest is concerned with cultural representations of passing, while Allyson Hobbs’s A Chosen Exile grapples with its history.

Read or purchase the article here.

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Passing: On crossing the color line

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Videos on 2021-11-03 15:27Z by Steven

Passing: On crossing the color line

CBS Sunday Morning
CBS News
2021-10-24

Passing can be a gray area that some biracial or multiracial Americans face when navigating questions of identity and social acceptance, while defining the story we tell about ourselves. “CBS Saturday Morning” co-host Michelle Miller talks with Rebecca Hall, Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, the director and stars of the new film “Passing,” and with writers Lise Funderburg and Allyson Hobbs, about the social history of passing, and its impact upon perception and power.

It’s been a theme in Hollywood for years, from “Imitation of Life,” to “The Human Stain.” And off-screen, the subject of “passing” – crossing the color line – is just as complex.

“The world perceives me as White, at least visually,” said Chicago lawyer Martina Hone, who has lived her whole life balancing her Black mother’s identity with her European father’s privilege.

“CBS Saturday Morning” co-host Michelle Miller asked, “Have you ever passed at any point in your life?”…

Read the story here.

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The Fiction of the Color Line

Posted in Articles, Biography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-10-21 01:01Z by Steven

The Fiction of the Color Line

Vulture
2021-10-18

Brittany Luse

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo: Getty, Yale University Library

Black women writers have long used passing stories to crack our façades of race, class, and gender.

Somewhere on Long Island around 1980, a blondish preteen is onstage at summer camp channeling Hodel from Fiddler on the Roof, her confident voice and star power self-evident. Her tawny-skinned father beams from the audience, and as she takes her bow, soaking in the applause, he approaches the stage bearing a hefty bouquet of daisies. He hands her the flowers, their eyes and hearts locking for a beat in shared pride. Then the girl realizes that every other parent, instructor, and child in the auditorium is staring at them. “Not in a way that felt good, not because I had given the outstanding performance of the night,” she would recall decades later. “They were staring because my father was the only Black man in sight, and I belonged to him.” The others had assumed until that moment that Mariah Carey — the girl with the frizzy honey-blonde hair — was white like them.

The Meaning of Mariah Carey, the singer’s delectable memoir co-written with Michaela Angela Davis, a former editor at Essence and Vibe, recalls many such stories. In doing so, it’s in direct conversation with the American literary tradition of novels about passing and passing-capable Black women — stories about the concealment, or the possibility of concealment, of one’s Black parentage and all of the attendant personal and social complexity. Since the late-19th century, writers have used passing as a narrative tool to do everything from encouraging white readers to sympathize with the struggles of Black characters to scrutinizing the hypocrisy of America’s racial hierarchy…

Read the entire article here.

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Understanding the Legacy of Nella Larsen’s Passing

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-02-10 16:24Z by Steven

Understanding the Legacy of Nella Larsen’s Passing

The Mary Sue
2021-02-04

Princess Weekes, Assistant Editor

Right now on the Sundance circuit is the Rebecca Hall-directed film Passing, starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga. It is an adaptation of the Harlem Renaissance classic Passing by Nella Larsen. Embedded into the text is a rich powerful narrative about the Black American experience and the lengths people go to survive in America.

Nella Larsen was both in 1890s Chicago as the daughter of a mixed-race Afro-Caribbean man and a white Danish immigrant woman. Larsen didn’t grow up with her father and in 1891 the Great Migration hasn’t happened yet, so the Black population was less than 2%. After her mother remarried, they moved to a mostly white neighborhood filled with German and Scandinavian immigrants. As a result, Larsen did not grow up in the usual world of Black Americanness. Or Blackness period…

…While it would be easy to dismiss Passing as a typical “tragical mulatto” story, I have always felt that it was more Larsen reflecting on the ultimate tragedy of those who have passed.

In A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life by Allyson Hobbs, the author explains that this is a narrative of loss. “I started to realize that writing this history of passing is really writing a history of loss,” Hobbs told NPR….

Read the article here.

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Passing Revisited: Racial Passing and White Supremacy

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2020-09-13 00:34Z by Steven

Passing Revisited: Racial Passing and White Supremacy

Medium
2020-09-04

Jennifer Rittner

In the wake of the white supremacist marches in 2017, I wrote a short reflection on racial passing. In that essay I wrote about my Black mother, my white son, and the absurd mythologies of racial purity needed by white supremacists to support their beliefs. Those marchers surely counted among them many who had direct African American heritage as a result of near ancestors who had passed for white in the inhospitable environments of legal slavery and Jim Crow.

The White Supremacy of Masquerading as Black

White supremacy rears its head again in another form of passing, as men and women who have grown up as white children in white families have taken to masquerading as Black adults in order to achieve personal success as race warriors. Jessica Krug and Rachel Dolezal, two sisters-in-deceit, both manipulated their ways to success by passing as a Black woman, and in the process, denying actual women of color the opportunities they took for themselves. Their behavior should cause us to reflect on our United States of Racial Anxiety as we are all, in fact, oppressed by our nation’s historical, collective weaponization of race. While adamantly censuring both of these women, we can use their deceptions as opportunities to reflect on how the social conditions we construct and perpetuate demand certain forms of racial authenticity, often built on the anxieties we all feel about passing as something.

First, two resources for anyone interested in the history of passing:

Allyson Hobbs, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life is a well-researched and beautiful read on the topic. James Baldwin, Another Country was one of the first books in which I felt seen around the question of passing as a social act…

Read the entire article here.

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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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