Book Launch: A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life by Allyson Hobbs
The Powerhouse Arena
37 Main Street
Brooklyn, New York 11201
Wednesday 2016-06-15, 19:00-21:00 EDT (Local Time)
Focusing on individuals and their experiences, Allyson Hobbs examines how racial passing became both a strategy for survival and an avenue to loss.
About A Chosen Exile:
Racial passing is an exile, sometimes chosen, sometimes not. Between the late-eighteenth and midtwentieth centuries, countless African Americans passed as white, leaving behind families, friends, and communities, without any available avenue for return. Lives were lost only to be remembered in family stories. In A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, Allyson Hobbs helps us to understand how racial ambiguity can be a cross to bear as well as a blessing for those of indeterminate color.
Much of the existing literature on passing is dominated by a focus on what its practitioners gained socially, culturally, economically or politically through assuming a white identity; Hobbs departs from this interpretation by suggesting that passing also resulted in loss, most significantly the loss of family and community ties. To pass as white was to make the decision to turn one’s back on a black racial identity and to claim to belong to a group to which one was not legally assigned.
When one decided to pass as white, a sense of embeddedness in a community or a collectivity was lost. Passing reveals that the essence of identity is not in an individual’s qualities, but rather in the ways that one recognizes himself or herself and is recognized as kindred. These forms of recognition may begin with superficial markers such as skin color, speech, and dress, but these are only indicators of relations to powers, ways of being in the world, and an imagined sharing of a common origin and iconic experiences. Passing, then, works as a prism: it refracts different aspects of what we commonly think of as race and reveals what is left once an ascribed status is stripped away.
Hobbs explores how race-making goes beyond skin color to one’s connection to family, culture, and community as well as to the popular perception of race in the larger society. Focusing on individuals and their experiences, A Chosen Exile examines how passing became both a strategy for survival and an avenue to loss.
About the Author:
Allyson Hobbs is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Stanford University. You can find more information on her website: http://allysonhobbs.com/.
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