Passing as Black: How Biracial Americans Choose Identity

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Passing, Social Science, United States on 2010-12-19 03:45Z by Steven

Passing as Black: How Biracial Americans Choose Identity

Time Magazine: Healthland
Friday, 2010-12-16

Meredith Melnick, Reporter and Producer

The practice of passing—identifying with and presenting oneself as one race while denying ancestry of another—reached its peak during the Jim Crow era. Needless to say, the notion of having to “pass” as white is outdated and offensive, but as sociologists Nikki Khanna and Cathryn Johnson report in a new study, passing is still alive and well today. It just happens in the other direction.

For their study, Khanna and Johnson interviewed 40 biracial American adults about their racial identity, and were surprised by what they found: most people tended to suppress or reject their white ancestry altogether and claim to be entirely African American. It wasn’t simply about calling oneself black, but also aggressively changing one’s behavior, looks and tastes to appear more “black.”…

…The question is whether strongly identifying with a racial minority really qualifies as passing. The researchers argue that it does, because it involves a concerted effort to reveal one portion of ancestry while concealing and rejecting another. The volunteers in the study also behaved strategically to project their race—something that sociologists call “identity work.” The authors of the current study prefer to call it “performing race”: they characterize the racial identities of their subjects as a strategically constructed, outwardly projected performance, and in this sense they liken it to the behavior of those who passed during the Jim Crow era…

Read the entire article here.

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