Passing, in Moments

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-07-29 00:07Z by Steven

Passing, in Moments

Topic Magazine
Issue No. 25, Journeys
July 2019

Mat Johnson

The uneasy existence of being black and passing for white.

When I was 12, my Aunt Margaret told me, “You got straight hair, you got pale skin. If people don’t know you’re colored, don’t tell them.”

Aunt Margaret was black, but if you said “black” and not “colored,” she would go off on you. I was black too—still am—but I look white. Or I look whitish; it depends on the viewer. My father’s white and my mother is black, but high yellow and racially ambiguous. Though my mom insisted I was black too, I found a strong argument against that every time I looked in the mirror. And I grew up cut off from my extended black family, which just added to that feeling of disconnection. Sometimes I’d tell other kids I was black, and until they saw my mom, they wouldn’t believe me.

One time I told Aunt Margaret, “Nobody at school knows I’m black—”

“Colored.”

“Nobody at school knows I’m colored.”

She looked at me like I’d lost my mind. That’s when she said it, holding one of my flaccid brown curls in her hand like it was a piece of gold. “You got straight hair, you got pale skin. If people don’t know you’re colored, don’t tell them!”

At 12 years old, I thought Aunt Margaret was confused. I thought her response was antiquated, ridiculously old-fashioned, like how she insisted on using the word “colored” instead of “black.” I thought it was cute. I thought it was funny.

At 19, radical as all undergraduates should be, I thought that, despite how much I loved Aunt Margaret, that she was a color-struck sellout for telling me to live my life as a white man. That, in essence, she was encouraging me to abandon my roots, to reject the black community, in exchange for complete access to white privilege.

At 49, I think she told me what she told me because she loved me. Because she’d been black in America for 80-some years and she didn’t want me to have to endure the way she did. That she wanted the safety of whiteness for me. That she wanted me to thrive, but also to have the full force of America’s wind at my back, instead of getting hit with it head-on.

That Aunt Margaret was expressing what generations of black mothers sometimes told white-appearing children, particularly boys: escape from blackness for your survival.

(And, also, she was color-struck.)…

Read the entire article here.

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The passing of David Matthews

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-01-23 22:39Z by Steven

The passing of David Matthews

Savannah Now (Savannah Morning News)
Savannah, Georgia
2007-01-13

John Stoehr


David Matthews

In Harlem Renaissance author Claude McKay’s 1931 short story “Near-White,” Angelina Dove, a pale African American hoping to move up in the world, asks her mother “if some people are light enough to live like whites, why should there be such a fuss? Why should they live colored when they can be happier living white?”

Apparently many did. According to “The White African American Body,” by Charles D. Martin, a professor of literature at Florida State University, Ebony magazine published an article in 1948 titled “5 million U.S. white Negroes.”

The story, Martin wrote, proudly reported an upsurge in the number of African Americans who crossed the color line undetected by Jim Crow America. The article’s centerpiece was a series of photographs. The reader was invited to guess which person was black and which was white. Of the 14 portraits, three were white.

One of these “millions” of “white Negroes” was Anatole Broyard, the New York Times literary critic who, for decades, protected the Ivory Tower of European high culture from the unwashed proletariat while also “passing” for white, to the extent that even his wife and children didn’t know of his African ancestry until after his death in 1990.

Broyard’s hidden identity was revealed by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in a piece titled “The Passing of Anatole Broyard” for the New Yorker in 1996. The practice of racial passing, and the serious questions the social phenomena raises about the metaphysics of race and the paradox of racial identity, received wider attention four years later thanks to Philip Roth’s novel “The Human Stain” and its eventual movie adaptation.

In the decades since Martin Luther King Jr.’sI Have a Dream” speech, which have witnessed the rise of black nationalism, hip-hop, political correctness and influential black figures like Tiger Woods and Barack Obama, one might think passing for another race an archaic endeavor – discouraged by proud enfranchised blacks, dismissed by guilt-ridden whites.

As David Matthews demonstrates in his new memoir, “Ace of Spades,” however, passing continues. Like Angelina Dove, Matthews passed for white for the first 20 years of his life – throughout the 1970s, ’80s and into the ’90s – as a means of living more happily in an America still in thrall to the oppressive requirement of identification according to race…

Read the entire review here.

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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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