On Being Non-White, But Passing Terribly Well

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Latino Studies, Passing, United States on 2014-12-17 15:30Z by Steven

On Being Non-White, But Passing Terribly Well

Everyday Feminism
2014-05-08

Patricia Gutierrez
Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

“Psst… Hey, Patty! You speak Spanish? Ignoring me? Hey! You speak Spanish?”

P.E., third period, seventh grade.

Every time Ricardo saw me, he would ask me the same question.

At first, I would answer yes, but he would always get me back with a “Nah, prove it. Say something.” I never did.

I would often imagine myself yelling, “¡Que sí, güey! ¿Ya cuántas veces te tengo que decir, pues? Pinche metiche,” but in reality, my face would blush and my hands would sweat in frustration such so that I’d slip while trying to do a pushup.

I stopped talking to most kids at school when I moved to a new district at five (also when I was given a “new” name by my white teacher who pronounced it wrong; I didn’t have the voice to correct anyone until two years ago), and I didn’t really start again until high school. I wasn’t going to open up for Ricardo.

But Ricardo wasn’t the first person to demand proof, to demand to know why my last name and my appearance didn’t make sense to them (“Pues, es que mi familia es de Nayarit y Jalisco.” “Aaah, bueno, por eso.”), and he wouldn’t be the last….

Read the entire article here.

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Little White Lie

Posted in Autobiography, Forthcoming Media, Identity Development/Psychology, Passing, Religion, United States, Videos on 2014-12-15 00:59Z by Steven

Little White Lie

Independent Lens
Public Broadcasting Service
Monday, 2015-03-23, 22:00 EST (21:00 CST) (check schedule here)

Little White Lie tells Lacey Schwartz’s story of growing up in a typical upper-middle-class Jewish household in Woodstock, NY, with loving parents and a strong sense of her Jewish identity — despite the open questions from those around her about how a white girl could have such dark skin. She believes her family’s explanation that her looks were inherited from her dark-skinned Sicilian grandfather. But when her parents abruptly split, her gut starts to tell her something different.

At age 18, she finally confronts her mother and learns the truth: her biological father was not the man who raised her, but an African American man named Rodney with whom her mother had had an affair. Afraid of losing her relationship with her parents, Lacey doesn’t openly acknowledge her newly discovered black identity with her white family. When her biological father dies shortly before Lacey’s 30th birthday, the family secret can stay hidden no longer. Following the funeral, Lacey begins a quest to reconcile the hidden pieces of her life and heal her relationship with the only father she ever knew.

Schwartz pieces together her family history and the story of her dual identity using home videos, archival footage, interviews, and episodes from her own life. Little White Lie is a personal documentary about the legacy of family secrets, denial, and redemption.

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The Talk: After Ferguson, a Shaded Conversation About Race

Posted in Articles, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-12-14 22:08Z by Steven

The Talk: After Ferguson, a Shaded Conversation About Race

The New York Times
2014-12-13

Dana Canedy, Senior Editor

LIKE so many African-American parents, I had rehearsed “the talk,” that nausea-inducing discussion I needed to have with my son about how to conduct himself in the presence of the police. I was prepared for his questions, except for one.

“Can I just pretend I’m white?”

Jordan was born to African-American parents, but recessive genes being what they are, he has very fair skin and pale blue eyes. I am caramel brown, and since his birth eight years ago people have mistaken me for his nanny.

When I asked why he would want to “pass” for white, I struggled with how to respond to his answer.

“Because it’s safer,” Jordan replied. “They won’t hurt me.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Racecraft: Stories of Racial Passing

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-12-12 21:35Z by Steven

Racecraft: Stories of Racial Passing

Los Angeles Review of Books
2014-12-05

Lucy McKeon, Writer and Photographer
New York, New York

THE VERY NOTION of racial “passing” implies a test. Those who believed clear racial categorization was possible might test for race by measuring physical traits to indicate “blood purity”: slight physical traits that could be identified, such as the half-moon of a nail bed or the whites of ones eyes. In apartheid South Africa, the “pencil test” was devised: categorizing people based on whether a pencil would remain or fall from their hair. Physical markers were used to fix and control whole futures.

“White people were so stupid about such things,” says Irene, the narrator of Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929). “They usually asserted that they were able to tell; and by the most ridiculous means, finger-nails, palms of hands, shapes of ears, teeth.”

To pass the faulty test of white scrutiny is not difficult; Larsen’s Passing, and other 18th to 20th century fiction and 20th century film, work to demonstrate that categorization by race relies on arbitrary rules and unsound logic — proving, in other words, the falsely naturalized or socially constructed nature of “race” itself. As Stanford historian Allyson Hobbs reminds us in her recent cultural history A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, the gains and losses of racial passing — when someone from one racial group “passes,” or is accepted, as another — were historically contingent, like “race” itself. Indeed, one’s semblance could rarely be taken as trustworthy evidence. “Skin color and physical appearance were usually the least reliable factors,” writes Hobbs, “whereas one’s associations and relationships were more predictive” of who was deemed white and who was not. If white people can’t actually tell who is white and who isn’t, whiteness is exposed as simply the external perception of being white — the privilege, power, and civic membership afforded to someone recognized as such. This is white supremacy in practice.

Michael Yudell’s Race Unmasked examines the history of the concept of biological race — in large part tied to the history of genetics, which “at its founding was inseparable from eugenics theories” — in order to show that race is “neither a static biological certainty nor a reflection of our genes. Instead, race is a historical and cultural phenomenon.” We’ve known this, of course. But Yudell’s recent book provides scientific documentation of the process of “racecraft,” a term coined by Karen Fields and Barbara Fields in their 2012 book by the same name: the “mental terrain” where our deep and pervasive belief in race as meaningful is conjured, then ritualized into reality. “Race” comes to explain social effects like poverty, as witchcraft might explain failing crops. What’s real is not “race,” but the ideology of racism: the belief in “race” as a tool with which to rationalize cause and consequence.

In this way, while both fictive and biographical representations of passing demonstrate the absurdity of “race,” they also emphasize the very real effects of racial categorization. From the point of view of those passing, Hobbs writes,

race was neither strictly a social construction nor a biological fact. The line between black and white was by no means imaginary; crossing it had profound, life-changing consequences. Race was quite real to those who lived with it, not because of skin color or essentialist notions about biology, but because it was social and experiential, because it involved one’s closest relationships and one’s most intimate communities.

Passing, in other words, demonstrates how “race” is both socially constructed and, as experienced, extremely meaningful.

Hobbs focuses on the experience of great loss in her cultural history of passing. As she points out, “Historians and literary scholars have paid far more attention to what was gained by passing as white than to what was lost by rejecting a black racial identity.” But “racial passing is an exile, sometimes chosen, sometimes not.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Racial Passing and the Raj

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Forthcoming Media, History, Live Events, Papers/Presentations, Passing on 2014-12-02 21:03Z by Steven

Racial Passing and the Raj

American Historical Association
129th Annual Meeting
New York, New York
2015-01-02 through 2015-01-05

Saturday, 2015-01-03, 15:10 EST (Local Time)
Park Suite 3 (Sheraton New York)

Uther Charlton-Stevens
Volgograd State University, Volgograd, Russia

Racial passing is a subject that has attracted much attention in the historiography of the Americas, as well as other settings such as South Africa. It has hitherto been overlooked in the South Asian context. Mixed race groups in South Asia have until recently also been largely neglected by historians, while attracting more attention from geographers and anthropologists.

Mixed race groups such as Anglo-Indians have been perceived as marginal, despite existing on the fault line of constructed racial difference. In many ways they embody the colonial connection and the transnational most tangibly, and through their mere presence make problematic the binary of ruler and ruled, colonizer and colonized. The British perceived not only those of mixed race but also poor whites of Indian domicile as undermining their racial prestige in the eyes of their Indian subjects, treating the two groups as essentially one class. However the socio-racial and class-based hierarchies which the British sought to erect and to police motivated widespread attempts at transgression, resulting in widespread passing in hopes of upward mobility along the spectrum from Indian Christians to mixed-race Anglo-Indians to supposedly unmixed Domiciled Europeans and even into the ranks of the British population, such as those who came out to take senior positions on the railways. This world of racial mixing and transgression was one which the British found unsettling and which later Indian Hindu nationalists, concerned with concepts of purity, also had reasons to overlook. Exploring racial passing across the boundaries erected by the Raj should yield us far greater insight into the nature of race in late colonial India and the lasting impact of the imperial presence.

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11-2 Insight Dr. Yaba Blay Author of One Drop – Shifting the Lens on Race

Posted in Audio, Identity Development/Psychology, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, Social Science, United States on 2014-11-28 04:50Z by Steven

11-2 Insight Dr. Yaba Blay Author of One Drop – Shifting the Lens on Race

Power 99FM, WUSL-FM
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
2014-10-30

Loraine Ballard Morill, Host

Yaba Blay, Assistant Teaching Professor of Africana Studies
Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Dr. Yaba Blay author of (1)ne Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race talks about the changing definition of race and whether it matters.

Download the interview here.

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Allyson Hobbs (Book) A Chosen Exile

Posted in Audio, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-11-25 17:04Z by Steven

Allyson Hobbs (Book) A Chosen Exile

Joe Madison The Black Eagle
SiriusXM Urban ViewAfrican-American Talk
2014-11-13

Joe Madison, Host

Allyson Hobbs, Assistant Professor of History
Stanford University

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‘A Chosen Exile,’ by Allyson Hobbs [Senna Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-11-22 03:00Z by Steven

‘A Chosen Exile,’ by Allyson Hobbs [Senna Review]

The New York Times
Sunday Book Review
2014-11-21

Danzy Senna

A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life By Allyson Hobbs; Illustrated. 382 pp. Harvard University Press. $29.95.

One of the best birthday presents anybody ever gave me was a “calling card” by the conceptual artist Adrian Piper. I was in college at the time, and it felt like the ultimate inside joke handed from one racially ambiguous person to another.

Slim and innocuous as a business card, it reads: “Dear Friend, I am black. I am sure you did not realize this when you made/laughed at/agreed with that racist remark. In the past I have attempted to alert people to my identity in advance. . . . I regret any discomfort my presence is causing you, just as I’m sure you regret the discomfort your racism is causing me.”

To be black but to be perceived as white is to find yourself, at times, in a racial no man’s land. It is to feel like an embodiment of W. E. B. Du Bois’s double consciousness — that sense of being in two places at the same time. It is also to be perpetually aware of both the primacy of race and the “bankruptcy of the race idea,” as Allyson Hobbs, an assistant professor of history at Stanford University, puts it in her incisive new cultural history, “A Chosen Exile.”

Hobbs is interested in the stories of individuals who chose to cross the color line — black to white — from the late 1800s up through the 1950s. It’s a story we’ve of course read and seen before in fictional accounts — numerous novels and films that have generally portrayed mixed-race characters in the sorriest of terms. Like gay characters, mulattoes always pay for their existence dearly in the end. Joe Christmas, the tormented drifter in William Faulkner’sLight in August,” considers his blackness evidence of original sin (a.k.a. miscegenation) and ends up castrated and murdered. Sarah Jane, a character in Douglas Sirk’s 1959 remake of the film “Imitation of Life,” denies her black mother in her attempt to be seen as white. Her tragedy once again feels like mixed fate. As her long-suffering mother puts it, “How do you tell a child that she was born to be hurt?”…

Read the entire review here.

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A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life – Allyson Hobbs

Posted in Audio, History, Interviews, Live Events, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-11-09 19:46Z by Steven

A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life – Allyson Hobbs

Research at the National Archives and Beyond
BlogTalk Radio
Thursday, 2014-11-06, 21:00 EST (Friday, 2014-11-07, 02:00Z)

Bernice Bennett, Host

Allyson Hobbs is an assistant professor in the history department at Stanford. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and she received a Ph.D. with distinction from the University of Chicago. She has received fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, and the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity at Stanford. Allyson teaches courses on American identity, African American history, African American women’s history, and twentieth century American history. She has won numerous teaching awards including the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Prize. She has appeared on C-SPAN and National Public Radio and her work has been featured on CNN.com and Slate.com. Allyson’s first book, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, published by Harvard University Press, examines the phenomenon of racial passing in the United States from the late eighteenth century to the present.

For more information, click here. Download the audio here.

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241F Performances of Passing, Performances of Resistance

Posted in Communications/Media Studies, Course Offerings, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-11-09 17:54Z by Steven

241F Performances of Passing, Performances of Resistance

Hamilton College, Clinton, New York
Spring 2014

Yumi Pak, Ph.D., Visiting Assistant Professor of Africana Studies

An examination of the historical practice of passing in the United States. While the practice has most commonly referred to the history of racial passing for light-skinned African Americans in the early 20th century, this course will situate acts of passing as acts of resistance through close readings of literature, film and performance studies. Scholars and authors include Soyica Diggs Colbert, Fred Moten, Dael Orlandersmith and Suzan-Lori Parks. We will consider how performances of passing have the potential to challenge institutional power. (Same as English and Creative Writing 241.)

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