Shades of Complexity: A History of Racial Passing

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2018-01-25 03:54Z by Steven

Shades of Complexity: A History of Racial Passing

Literature and Digital Diversity
Department of English
Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts
2017-12-11

Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, Professor of English

Sarah Connell, Assistant Director, Women Writers Project

This archival exhibit was created by Vanessa Gregorchik in Literature and Digital Diversity, fall 2017.

Introduction

On the surface, race appears as a simple category to quantify—the color of one’s skin, the box one circles on the census, even the percentage that appears on an at-home DNA testing kit. But the reality of one’s racial identity is hardly objective. This archive outlines the stories of individuals who chose to “pass” as a different race, or as a portion of their racial background, often in pursuit of societal advancement that their given race prevented them from obtaining. The decision to accept or deny any aspect of one’s identity is a complex and difficult decision, and this collection aims to educate the public on those challenges and intricacies faced by those of multiracial backgrounds in both the era of segregation and today.

Organization

This archive is structured around the environments and dominant factors in each individual’s decision to pass—including emancipation, education, and employment. This division is not intended to claim that these are the sole or even intentional reasons to racially pass, but rather to thematically organize stories that share similar domains. To best tell the narrative of both the individuals and the broader social climate they lived in, I collected individual and family portraits, illustrations, and newspaper clippings. I aimed to represent both the singular person and the communities they were joining or leaving…

Read this entire digital archive here.

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Anatole Broyard wanted to be a writer—and not just a “Negro writer” consigned to the back of the literary bus. He followed the trail blazed by tens of thousands of light-skinned black Americans.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2016-06-19 02:16Z by Steven

Anatole Broyard wanted to be a writer—and not just a “Negro writer” consigned to the back of the literary bus. He followed the trail blazed by tens of thousands of light-skinned black Americans. He methodically cut ties with his family (including a mother and two sisters) and took up life as a white man with a white wife in white Connecticut. By the late 1980’s, he had been“white” for 40 years, with two adult children who were unaware that they were part of a large black family that included an aunt who lived an hour away in Manhattan.

Brent Staples, “Editorial Observer; Back When Skin Color Was Destiny — Unless You Passed for White,” The New York Times, September 7, 2003. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/07/opinion/editorial-observer-back-when-skin-color-was-destiny-unless-you-passed-for-white.html.

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Editorial Observer; Back When Skin Color Was Destiny — Unless You Passed for White

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-06-19 01:49Z by Steven

Editorial Observer; Back When Skin Color Was Destiny — Unless You Passed for White

The New York Times
2003-09-07

Brent Staples

The New Yorker was trying not to speak ill of the dead when it described Anatole Broyard as the ”famously prickly critic for the Times, a man who demanded so much from books that it seemed he could never be satisfied.” From his early reviews for The Times in the 1960’s up to his death in 1990, Mr. Broyard was often gratuitously cruel and clever at the author’s expense.

The novelist Philip Roth was one of the favored few. Mr. Broyard praised him in the column ”About Books” and seemed to see his life through Mr. Roth’s work. When Mr. Broyard was diagnosed with cancer, for example, he compared his symptoms to those of Portnoy, Mr. Roth’s fictional alter ego in ”Portnoy’s Complaint.”

The comparison made perfect sense. Mr. Roth’s great theme was his own struggle to preserve selfhood against the smothering pressures of ethnic identity. That, in a nutshell, was Mr. Broyard’s life. He was a light-skinned black man born in New Orleans in 1920 into a family whose members sometimes passed as white to work at jobs from which black people were barred. The largest private employer of black labor at the time was the Pullman Company, which sought college-educated black men to work essentially as servants on train cars that accommodated white travelers only…

Read the entire article here.

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Racial identity: Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Anatole Broyard

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-06-19 01:22Z by Steven

Racial identity: Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Anatole Broyard

The Globe and Mail
1999-11-23

Robert Fulford

For many years, Anatole Broyard of The New York Times was a dashing figure in literary New York, a critic of exceptional charm and wit. He was said to be one of those people who talk spontaneously in well-shaped and often funny sentences. After his death in 1990, at the age of 70, a friend remarked in an obituary, “When Anatole entered, the room would light up.”

His essays were full of engaging ideas, but it turned out that his life was even more interesting. He had a secret that even his wife wasn’t allowed to mention. As they used to say, he was “passing.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Creole Renegades: Rhetoric of Betrayal and Guilt in the Caribbean Diaspora

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing on 2016-04-01 02:37Z by Steven

Creole Renegades: Rhetoric of Betrayal and Guilt in the Caribbean Diaspora

University Press of Florida
2014-06-17
240 pages
6.125 x 9.256
Hard Cover ISBN 13: 978-0-8130-4979-3

Bénédicte Boisseron, Associate Professor in French and Francophone Studies
University of Montana

In Creole Renegades, Bénédicte Boisseron looks at exiled Caribbean authors—Edwidge Danticat, Jamaica Kincaid, V. S. Naipaul, Maryse Condé, Dany Laferriére, and more—whose works have been well received in their adopted North American countries but who are often viewed by their home islands as sell-outs, opportunists, or traitors.

These expatriate and second-generation authors refuse to be simple bearers of Caribbean culture, often dramatically distancing themselves from the postcolonial archipelago. Their writing is frequently infused with an enticing sense of cultural, sexual, or racial emancipation, but their deviance is not defiant.

Underscoring the typically ignored contentious relationship between modern diaspora authors and the Caribbean, Boisseron ultimately argues that displacement and creative autonomy are often manifest in guilt and betrayal, central themes that emerge again and again in the work of these writers.

Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Note on Translations
  • Introduction: The Second-Generation Caribbean Diaspora
  • 1. Anatole Broyard: Racial Betrayal and the Art of Being Creole
  • 2. Maryse Condé’s Histoire de la femme cannibale: Coming Out in the French Antilles
  • 3. Edwidge Danticat and Dany Laferrière: Parasitic and Remittance Diaspora
  • 4. V. S. Naipaul and Jamaica Kincaid: Rhetoric of National Dis-Allegiance
  • 5. Creole versus Bossale Renegade: “Turfism” in the Black Diaspora of the Americas
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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A Tale of Two Dinners

Posted in Articles, Audio, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-01-24 01:44Z by Steven

A Tale of Two Dinners

The Moth: True Stories Told Live
Added: 2015-05-12
Recorded: 1999-04-19

Bliss Broyard

A daughter discovers her father’s painstakingly kept secret.

Listen to the episode here.

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In other words, Creole can be either black or white, and not necessarily black and white.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2015-12-14 03:40Z by Steven

Broyard was, according to Henry Louis Gates’s 1996 New Yorker article “The Passing of Anatole Broyard,” some kind of a trickster. The word Creole requires rigorous semantic handling. Just as New Orleans became the home of French, Arcadian, and Haitian refugees, the very word Creole carries an underlying sense of evasion, a connotation of which Broyard clearly took advantage. Broyard’s Creole was an evasion in the same way that “he’d mostly evaded [my italics] the question, saying something vague about ‘island influences’” when Bliss’s mother had once asked her husband about his racial background. The word Creole could have indeed meant “mixed race” for a worldly person like Cheven, but the mixed-race connotation in Creole carries an added value: the mixing of races is not necessarily in a given person, but it can also occur in a given environment between blacks and whites living in the same space and sharing a common history and culture. In other words, Creole can be either black or white, and not necessarily black and white.

Bénédicte Boisseron, Creole Renegades: Rhetoric of Betrayal and Guilt in the Caribbean Diaspora, (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2014), 31.

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WorldLink: Racial identities and the politics of color

Posted in Audio, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-09-01 01:45Z by Steven

WorldLink: Racial identities and the politics of color

Deutsche Welle (DW)
2015-06-19

Bliss Broyard responds to the recent controversy surrounding Rachel Dolezal’spassing” as black, and describes how racial identities have shaped her own life and career.

Download the interview (00:07:55) here.

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One woman’s quest to uncover her heritage

Posted in Articles, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Videos on 2015-08-29 02:23Z by Steven

One woman’s quest to uncover her heritage

The Today Show
2007-11-12

Bliss Broyard writes about her journey to discover her hidden black roots

Bliss Broyard grew up a “Wasp” in Connecticut with her mother, father and brother. For 23 years she was white, but it wasn’t until her father was on his deathbed that she found out he was “part-black.” After her father died, Broyard began a quest to learn more about her hidden heritage and adopt it in her life. She wrote about it in “One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life.” Here’s an excerpt:..

Read the excerpt here.

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Rachel Dolezal isn’t alone – my family history proves choosing a racial definition is hard

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-06-16 19:45Z by Steven

Rachel Dolezal isn’t alone – my family history proves choosing a racial definition is hard

The Guardian
Monday, 2015-06-15

Bliss Broyard

Bliss Broyard’s father kept his black roots a secret his whole life. Her journey of self-discovery led her to the understanding that believing the results of a DNA cheek swab to be more meaningful than one’s experiences is a ridiculous notion

How do you determine who is black? Is it simply a matter of inheritance – you are what your parents are? Does having a black grandparent make a person black? Must she have been raised as black, in a black community? Is one black ancestor, one drop of blood, enough?

These were the kinds of questions asked during the legal trials undertaken in the late 19th and early 20th century throughout southern and midwestern US states, to determine a person’s “true” racial identity. Then, as now, ancestry trumped lived experience. In Ohio the courts ruled that having 50% black ancestry, a single black parent or two mixed parents, made a person black – and hence socially and politically inferior – while in Louisiana, the “one drop” rule prevailed, and any traceable amount of Negro ancestry denied one certain legal rights, including the right to vote and the right to marry a person of another race…

Read the entire article here.

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