We Wear the Mask: 15 Stories about Passing in America

Posted in Anthologies, Asian Diaspora, Autobiography, Books, Forthcoming Media, Gay & Lesbian, History, Judaism, Latino Studies, Native Americans/First Nation, Passing, Religion on 2017-07-21 19:06Z by Steven

We Wear the Mask: 15 Stories about Passing in America

Beacon Press
2017-10-10
224 Pages
Paperback ISBN: 978-080707898-3
Ebook ISBN 978-080707899-0
Size: 5.5 x 8.5 Inches

Edited by:

Brando Skyhorse, Associate Professor of English
Indiana University, Bloomington

Lisa Page, Acting Director of Creative Writing
George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

Fifteen writers reveal their diverse experiences with passing, including racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, gender, and economic.

American history is filled with innumerable examples of “passing.” Why do people pass? The reasons are manifold: opportunity, access, safety, adventure, agency, fear, trauma, shame. Some pass to advance themselves or their loved ones to what they perceive is a better quality of life.

Edited by authors Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page, We Wear the Mask is a groundbreaking anthology featuring fifteen essays—fourteen of them original—that examine passing in multifaceted ways. Skyhorse, a Mexican American, writes about how his mother passed him as an American Indian before he gradually learned and accepted who—and what—he really is. Page writes about her mother passing as a white woman without a black ex-husband or biracial children. The anthology also includes essays by Marc Fitten, whose grandfather, a Chinese Jamaican, wanted to hide his name and ethnicity and for his children to pass as “colored” in the Caribbean; Achy Obejas, a queer Jewish Cuban woman who discovers that in Hawaii she is considered white. There’s M. G. Lord, who passes for heterosexual after her lesbian lover is killed; Patrick Rosal, who, without meaning to, “passes” as a waiter at the National Book Awards ceremony; and Sergio Troncoso, a Latino man, who passes for white at an internship on Capitol Hill. These and other compelling essays reveal the complex reality of passing in America.

Other contributors include:

  • Teresa Wiltz, who portrays how she navigated racial ambiguity while growing up in Staten Island, NY
  • Trey Ellis, the author of “The New Black Aesthetic,” who recollects his diverse experiences with passing in school settings
  • Margo Jefferson, whose parents invite her uncle, a light-complexioned black man, to dinner after he stops passing as white
  • Dolen Perkins-Valdez, who explores how the glorification of the Confederacy in the United States is an act of “historical passing”
  • Gabrielle Bellot, who feels the disquieting truths of passing as a woman in the world after coming out as trans
  • Clarence Page, who interrogates the phenomenon of “economic passing” in the context of race
  • Susan Golomb, a Jewish woman who reflects on the dilemma of having an identity that is often invisible
  • Rafia Zakaria, a woman who hides her Muslim American identity as a strategy to avoid surveillance at the airport
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

New Perspectives on James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-07-21 19:05Z by Steven

New Perspectives on James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

University of Georgia Press
2017-07-15
272 pages
Trim size: 6 x 9
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-8203-5097-4
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-8203-5096-7

Edited by

Noelle Morrissette, Associate Professor of English
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) exemplified the ideal of the American public intellectual as a writer, educator, songwriter, diplomat, key figure of the Harlem Renaissance, and first African American executive of the NAACP. Originally published anonymously in 1912, Johnson’s novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man is considered one of the foundational works of twentieth-century African American literature, and its themes and forms have been taken up by other writers, from Ralph Ellison to Teju Cole.

Johnson’s novel provocatively engages with political and cultural strains still prevalent in American discourse today, and it remains in print over a century after its initial publication. New Perspectives contains fresh essays that analyze the book’s reverberations, the contexts within which it was created and received, the aesthetic and intellectual developments of its author, and its continuing influence on American literature and global culture.

Tags: , ,

Uncompromising Activist: Richard Greener, First Black Graduate of Harvard College

Posted in Biography, Books, Forthcoming Media, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2017-07-19 03:49Z by Steven

Uncompromising Activist: Richard Greener, First Black Graduate of Harvard College

Johns Hopkins University Press
September 2017
216 pages
7 b&w photos
Hardback ISBN: 9781421423296
E-book ISBN: 9781421423302

Katherine Reynolds Chaddock, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Education
University of South Carolina

Richard Theodore Greener (1844–1922) was a renowned black activist and scholar. In 1870, he was the first black graduate of Harvard College. During Reconstruction, he was the first black faculty member at a southern white college, the University of South Carolina. He was even the first black US diplomat to a white country, serving in Vladivostok, Russia. A notable speaker and writer for racial equality, he also served as a dean of the Howard University School of Law and as the administrative head of the Ulysses S. Grant Monument Association. Yet he died in obscurity, his name barely remembered.

His black friends and colleagues often looked askance at the light-skinned Greener’s ease among whites and sometimes wrongfully accused him of trying to “pass.” While he was overseas on a diplomatic mission, Greener’s wife and five children stayed in New York City, changed their names, and vanished into white society. Greener never saw them again. At a time when Americans viewed themselves simply as either white or not, Greener lost not only his family but also his sense of clarity about race.

Richard Greener’s story demonstrates the human realities of racial politics throughout the fight for abolition, the struggle for equal rights, and the backslide into legal segregation. Katherine Reynolds Chaddock has written a long overdue narrative biography about a man, fascinating in his own right, who also exemplified America’s discomfiting perspectives on race and skin color. Uncompromising Activist is a lively tale that will interest anyone curious about the human elements of the equal rights struggle.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: A Search for Identity
  • 1. Boyhood Interrupted
  • 2. Being Prepared
  • 3. Experiment at Harvard
  • 4. An Accidental Academic
  • 5. Professing in a Small and Angry Place
  • 6. The Brutal Retreat
  • 7. Unsettled Advocate
  • 8. A Violent Attack and Hopeless Case
  • 9. Monumental Plans
  • 10. Off White
  • 11. Our Man in Vladivostok
  • 12. Closure in Black and White
  • Epilogue: The Passing of Richard Greener
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
Tags: , , , , , ,

‘Krazy Kat,’ and all that jazz

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-07-19 02:50Z by Steven

‘Krazy Kat,’ and all that jazz

The Boston Globe
2017-06-23

Matthew Guerrieri, Globe Correspondent

This Sunday is the anniversary of the end of one of the greatest comic strips of all time. On June 25, 1944, the final installment of “Krazy Kat” was published, two months after the death of its creator, George Herriman. In various forms since 1910, the strip’s essential paradox — Ignatz, a mouse, forever beans Krazy with bricks, who nevertheless loves him back — yielded seemingly inexhaustible variations.

In its day, “Krazy Kat” was more a critical than a popular favorite, though publisher William Randolph Hearst, a fan, continued to give Herriman carte blanche despite the strip’s sometimes meager readership. But its dreamlike artwork, linguistic fantasy, and self-referential tinkering with comic-strip form influenced numerous other art forms — music included.

The dense, idiosyncratic argot of Herriman’s dialogue and his precisely-dashed linework and zig-zagging scenery (a stylization of Herriman’s beloved southwestern landscapes) found its musical counterpart in syncopation. As early as 1911 — only a year after Krazy and Ignatz first appeared in the margins of Herriman’s strip “The Dingbat Family” — a New York composer-pianist named Ben Ritchie published “Krazy Kat Rag,” with a Herriman illustration on the cover. In later years, saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer’s Orchestra (which included such jazz luminaries as Bix Beiderbecke, Eddie Lang, and Joe Venuti), expatriate bandleader Sam Wooding, and clarinetist Artie Shaw all recorded “Krazy Kat” tributes.

Most ambitious was composer John Alden Carpenter’s “Krazy Kat” ballet, subtitled “A Jazz Pantomime.” First performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1921, and first staged in 1922 — choreographed by Russian-born Adolph Bolm, with scenery designed by Herriman himself (he also illustrated the sheet music) — the ballet was well-received, but Carpenter’s score (possibly the first concert work to include the word “jazz” in the title) was soon overshadowed by more overt rapprochements between jazz and classical music. Carpenter’s version of jazz was tame, owing more to the “sweet” jazz of white dance bands than the “hot” jazz of their African-American counterparts. But the composer effectively mined jazz’s capacity for charm and whimsy…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Allyson Hobbs’ A Chosen Exile makes summer reading lists

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-07-17 00:15Z by Steven

Allyson Hobbs’ A Chosen Exile makes summer reading lists

Stanford News
Stanford University, Stanford, California
2017-07-14

Alex Shashkevich


Allyson Hobbs

A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, written by historian ALLYSON HOBBS, made it to the 2017 summer reading lists of Harvard University Press and The Paris Review.

The 2014 book examines the phenomenon of racial passing, which is an intentional attempt by a person to assume a different racial identity, in the United States from the late 18th century to the present. Hobbs was inspired by a story her aunt told her about a distant cousin who passed as a white woman in the 1940s.

“Necessarily, Hobbs writes, passing involves erasure: gradations gone, subtleties of color and culture reduced to black and white,” wrote Julie Orringer in The Paris Review. “What’s lost in the process: families and friends, a sense of belonging. A Chosen Exile illuminates those losses with acuity, rigor and compassion.”…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,

An Octoroon

Posted in Arts, Forthcoming Media, Live Events, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2017-07-16 13:43Z by Steven

An Octoroon

Woolly Mammoth Theater
641 D Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20004
Telephone: 202-393-3939

2017-07-17 through 2017-08-06

By Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Directed by Nataki Garrett

Last year’s most talked-about, most unforgettable production is returning to Woolly for a limited three-week run: An Octoroon by new MacArthur “Genius Grant”-winner Branden Jacobs-Jenkins!

A plantation on the brink of foreclosure. A young gentleman falling for the part-black daughter of the estate’s owner. An evil swindler plotting to buy her for himself. Meanwhile, the slaves are trying to keep things drama-free, because everybody else is acting crazy.

An Octoroon, Jacobs-Jenkins’ Obie-winning riff on a 19th century melodrama that helped shape the debate around the abolition of slavery, is an incendiary adaptation. Part period satire, part meta-theatrical middle finger, it’s a provocative challenge to the racial pigeonholing of 1859—and of today.

Featuring company members Shannon Dorsey, Jon Hudson Odom, and Erika Rose

Two and a half hours, with one intermission

For more information, click here.

Tags: , , , ,

“So If You’re From Africa, Why Are You White?”

Posted in Africa, Articles, Autobiography, Media Archive, Passing on 2017-07-16 00:40Z by Steven

“So If You’re From Africa, Why Are You White?”

FLY: (Freedom. Love. You.)
Cambridge University
2017-03-16

Nina Grossfurthner

I woke up a week ago and started my day eating breakfast and scrolling through Facebook. I usually read my Bible in the morning, but on that particular day I had a lot to get through before mid-day lectures so I decided I would leave it to the evening. Thinking back now, perhaps skimming through a quick verse would have allowed me to approach what happened next with a bit more grace. I don’t know how many of you have been keeping up with the story of Rachel Dolezal, in all honesty I don’t encourage you to do so. But, for those of you who haven’t I will briefly outline who this woman is and why I needed to write about her, a decision that didn’t come easy because I didn’t want to assign her any more space than that which she has so carelessly claimed.

Rachel Dolezal blew up on the internet a few years ago by claiming that she, a fully Caucasian woman, identified as ‘black’. When I first came across the story, I quickly scrolled past because I didn’t think it worth my time to hear her try and justify why she should appropriately be called black. However, what made me stop scrolling that morning, was the recent name change which Dolezal has undertaken.

Adding insult to injury, Rachel Dolezal recently made the decision to change her name to Nkechi Diallo – a confusing medley of both the Igbo language of southern Nigeria and that of the Fulani tribe whose people can be found in many West African nations (because African nations were effectively decided by white men using a ruler and a pen). Setting aside the obvious disturbance of taking on an ‘African sounding’ name, the seeming thoughtlessness behind picking whatever name she felt suited her reflects the same precarious attitude with which she chooses to engage with the ‘black’ identity…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,

Unsettling intersectional identities: historicizing embodied boundaries and border crossings

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing on 2017-07-13 01:34Z by Steven

Unsettling intersectional identities: historicizing embodied boundaries and border crossings

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 40, Issue 8 (2017)
pages 1312-1319
DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2017.1303171

Ann Phoenix, Professor of Psychosocial Studies
University College London, United Kingdom

At a time when the pace of global change has led to unprecedented shifts in, and unsettling of, identities, Brubaker brings “trans/gender” and “trans/racial” creatively into conversation to theorize the historical location of identity claims and to examine the question of whether identities are optional, self-consciously chosen and subject to political claims rather than biologically pre-given. His main argument is that the distinction between sex and gender allows us to construct gender identity as personal, individual and separate from the (biologically) sexed body. In contrast, other people always have a stake in allowing or challenging identity claims to racial identity. Brubaker’s argument is persuasive. However, he treats both race and sex/gender as solipsistic and neglects the wider social context that has produced the conditions of possibility for the entrenched differences he records. An intersectional approach would have deepened his discussion of the place of categories in “trans” arguments.

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , ,

A Mysterious Heart: ‘Passing’ and the Narrative Enigma in Faulkner’s “Light in August” and “Absalom, Absalom!”

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-07-13 00:29Z by Steven

A Mysterious Heart: ‘Passing’ and the Narrative Enigma in Faulkner’s “Light in August” and “Absalom, Absalom!”

Amerikastudien / American Studies
Volume 58, Number 1, 2013
pages 51-78

Marta Puxan-Oliva
Department of Modern Language and Literatures and English Studies
University of Barcelona , Barcelona, Spain

This essay argues that William Faulkner’s Light in August and Absalom, Absalom! use the device of the narrative enigma to effectively tell stories in which the cultural practice of ‘passing for white‘ in the United States under the Jim Crow system is strongly suggested. The secret is the essential feature of the social practice of passing, which makes the construction of the plot around a narrative enigma especially suitable. By not resolving the narrative enigma, the novels not only preserve the secret of the supposed ‘passers,’ but construct a narrative that departs from the most important conventions of the so-called genre of the passing novel. The truly modernist narrative strategy of placing an unresolved mystery to drive the plot even allows Faulkner to go a step further: the narrative can portray the Southern white fear of passing with even more significance than the actual act of passing itself. It is precisely the fact that the main characters, Joe Christmas and Charles Bon, have uncertain blood origins that allows and even urges the white community of Jefferson to build a story set only upon conjecture along established racial patterns. Therefore, the effect of the narrative enigma is twofold: it retains the racialization of the story and preserves the secret of the passers, while ambiguously uncovering the false grounds upon which the fear of miscegenation constructs and maintains racial boundaries.

He passes away under a cloud, inscrutable at heart, forgotten. unforgiven, and excessively romantic.
Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

Sometimes literature illuminates in a striking way the emotional and historical effects that contemporary social practices—no longer operative today—had in the past, providing an understanding that an analysis from the viewpoint of our transformed, contemporary societies cannot offer. This is the case with the practice of ‘passing’ in the United States, and with the series of novels that constitute what has been labeled the passing novel genre. Joel Williamson defines ‘passing’ as “crossing the race line and winning acceptance as white in the white world” (100). Movement in the opposite direction is less common. Even though the practice survives—broadened to include gender passing, but still primarily denoting racial or ethnic mobility—the force and historical function that passing for white had during the Jim Crow period, which peaks in the late nineteenth century and the interwar period, perished with the end of segregation. Viewed as a genre, the…

Tags: , , , ,

No Exit: Mixed-Race Characters and the Racial Binary in Charles Chesnutt and Ernest J. Gaines

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-07-11 01:14Z by Steven

No Exit: Mixed-Race Characters and the Racial Binary in Charles Chesnutt and Ernest J. Gaines

Studies in the Literary Imagination
Volume 49, Number 1, Summer 2016
pages 33-48
DOI: 10.1353/sli.2016.0003

Keith Byerman, Professor
Department of English
Indiana State University

While Ernest J. Gaines has generally emphasized the importance of white writers rather than black ones in his career, he shares with Charles Chesnutt an interest in the role of mixed-race characters in narrative. Repeatedly in his brief fiction-writing career, Chesnutt engaged with both the passing tradition and the status of those who were marked as black though they clearly had white ancestry. Similarly, Gaines, in both novels and short stories, depicted the social and racial pressures on light-skinned characters.1 The focus of this essay will be on narratives of those who have been clearly labeled black regardless of ancestry. While Gaines shows little interest in stories of passing, he shares with Chesnutt a concern for Black Creoles and for those who choose or are compelled to identify as black. The texts I will be examining are Chesnutt’s Paul Marchand, F. M. C. and “The Wife of His Youth” and Gaines’s Catherine Carmier and “Bloodline.” The two novels treat Creole characters and their status within multiracial and multiethnic societies, while the two stories focus on light-skinned men and their relationships to other blacks as well as whites.

Each of these works in one way or another signifies on the tradition of the tragic mulatto/a. For example, there is no deceit or confusion on the part of the central characters about their racial category, as there is in Chesnutt’s House Behind the Cedars. Nor is there the angst of white and mulatto romance such as we see between Robert and Mary Agnes in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Instead, we find a free man of color who turns out to be white, a “black” man who has the arrogance and racial superiority of his white father, a family of Black Creoles who are the only members of the community who define themselves as different from blacks, and a light-skinned man who at the end of the story may or may not identify with his black past.

Both authors, in effect, depict complex performances of race along the socially constructed boundary that constitutes the color line. Thus, each of them rejects straightforward ideas of essentialism, but does so in the context of his particular historical moment. For Chesnutt, this moment of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is the time of retrenchment in civil rights, white racial terrorism, and the development of a racial “science” that sought to give a biological, social, and anthropological basis for essentialist thinking and policies. Gaines’s moment came at the high point of the civil right movement, with the emergence of black nationalism and a reversed claim of essentialism that asserted black moral superiority. Thus, it can be argued that each writer uses mixed-race characters to subvert fixed notions of race while acknowledging the power of such notions in shaping the lives of their characters.

It is also worth noting that all four works involve some moral violation that extends beyond white supremacy (which both writers see as a fixed aspect of the societies they depict) and the violations of black women’s bodies that produced the mixed-race characters that are their subjects. Thus, the texts create an implicit link between such figures and the moral failure that is the nation’s racial ideology.

In “The Wife of His Youth,” Chesnutt can be seen as critiquing if not satirizing the pretensions of northern, middle-class, light-skinned blacks. It is worth noting that this is Chesnutt’s own social category, so the story may be read as self-criticism. The central character, Mr. Ryder, has become the leader of the Blue Vein Society, so called because its members are assumed to be light enough to have visibly blue veins. While the group denies such an exclusionary requirement, Ryder himself, though slightly darker than others, establishes a standard:

“I have no race prejudice,” he would say, “but we people of mixed blood are ground between the upper and the nether millstone. Our fate lies between absorption by the white race…

Tags: , , , , , ,