On passing, wishing for darker skin, and finding your people: A conversation between two mulattos

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-08-23 21:41Z by Steven

On passing, wishing for darker skin, and finding your people: A conversation between two mulattos


Collier Meyerson

In 10th grade, I auditioned for the role of Julie in the musical Show Boat, one of the most famous portrayals of the tragic mulatto trope. I was cast, instead, as Queenie, the mammy. I deserved the part of Julie. I had a good singing voice. But there were no black people in my school to play the part of Queenie.

My first personal tragic mulatto moment.

Playing the mammy in Show Boat made me realize something my black mother had always told me and I never believed: the world did not see me as Julie, trying to manage two different backgrounds. It saw me as black. Specifically, white people saw me as black.

On Wednesday, I spoke with Mat Johnson, the author of Loving Day, a new novel that explores the mulatto experience—one that Johnson sees as a subset of the black experience. And one that the United States didn’t recognize until 2000, the first year the Census collected data on people of more than one race…

CM: I don’t personally pass as white. And I’ve always wondered about others who can. Do you ever choose to intentionally pass as white?

MJ: Every single time I get pulled over by a cop. And I feel guilty as I’m doing it, but you have never met a whiter man than me pulled over by a police officer. I mean, I sound like Gomer Pyle.

When I moved to New York I wondered what would happen if I stopped playing up my black identity. And I basically just let that go. I didn’t cut my hair in a way to look blacker. Didn’t have facial hair in a way that made me look blacker. I wore clothes that were more ethnically generic, just generally bland preppy. And I went through this whole period. It was maybe like a month where I just let that disappear…

Read the entire interview here.

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“I identify as a black woman”

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Passing, Social Science on 2016-08-21 02:19Z by Steven

“I identify as a black woman”

Kings Review
King’s College, Cambridge

Tanisha Spratt
Department of Sociology
Cambridge University

Rachel Dolezal poses with her interracial family in 2013
Source: Facebook.

In the United States race transcends physicality. A black person can look physically white but identify as black if he or she is supported by the right credentials, and a white person who looks racially “other” can pass as black or white if he or she “acts the part.” Racial passing requires a great deal of work. In order to pass successfully the subject has to not only diligently maintain their physical appearance and actively form relationships with people from outside of their race but also, often, deny their families and other close acquaintances because their presence threatens his or her fabricated racial identity. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries numerous blacks who were light-skinned enough to pass as white did so in order to evade the social and legal barriers that blacks of all shades faced.

One of the primary incentives to pass was the prospect of living a life that was not conditioned by their inferior racial status. By passing they were given greater access to social, educational, and economic opportunities. Conversely, today there are many benefits of passing as black in the United States. A person who does so is given access to affirmative action programs, social networking groups such as Jack and Jill of America, Inc.,[1] and job opportunities that are race specific.[2] In their 2010 study “Passing as Black: Racial Identity Work Among Biracial AmericansNikki Khanna and Cathryn Johnson note that the majority of their biracial respondents “have, at one time or another, passed as black and they do this for several reasons – to fit in with black peers, to avoid a [white] stigmatized identity, and/ or for some perceived advantage or benefit.”[3] Too dark to pass as white in a white setting, respondents often claimed to “pass as black [in order] to find a place with their black peers” and, thus, avoid complete social isolation. Passing has been, and continues to be, orchestrated by many biracial Americans in order to navigate the strict and seemingly impermeable borders governing “blackness” and “whiteness.”…

Read the entire article here.

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White People, Stop Saying You’re ‘Black On The Inside’

Posted in Arts, Autobiography, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-08-17 17:49Z by Steven

White People, Stop Saying You’re ‘Black On The Inside’

The Establishment

Natasha Diaz

White and Wrong

White people are consistent; I’ll give them that. They take Black culture as the blueprint for their fashion, entertainment, music, and new hip terms to enhance their Urban Dictionary posts. They colonize neighborhoods, forcing out people who have lived there for generations, stripping the area of culture, and filling it with ridiculous storefronts that specialize in multiple varieties of a single condiment that could easily be made at home. Just when you thought they couldn’t take any more, they’ll figure out a way to snatch even the intangible away. Take #BlackLivesMatter, a slogan built to anchor a human rights movement, stolen to protect Smurfs. (Presumably that’s what “Blue Lives Matter” is about, since otherwise it makes no goddamn sense.) Usually, white people want everything Black, except to actually be Black. That is, until Friday, June 12th, 2015, when Rachel Dolezal and her circus full of weave and spray tan came marching out into the public eye.

Everyone I knew emailed to tell me about Dolezal. As a woman of mixed race that inadvertently passes as white, I clearly needed to be in the know. A few idiots even reached out to say that they “finally understood now” where I was coming from in explaining my racial background. Let’s have a moment of silence for those poor unfortunate souls, now eternally “unfriended” in all senses of the term—R.I.P. But none of my friends’ and ex-friends’ responses were as offensive as Dolezal’s spurious claim to be Black…

Read the entire article here.

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The Heart of Whiteness: Interracial Marriage and White Masculinity in American Fiction, 1830-1905

Posted in Dissertations, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-08-16 00:58Z by Steven

The Heart of Whiteness: Interracial Marriage and White Masculinity in American Fiction, 1830-1905

Washington University in St. Louis
August 2015
201 pages

Lauren M. W. Barbeau

A dissertation presented to the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences of Washington University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Building on whiteness scholars’ notion that whiteness can be gained, my dissertation argues that a property in whiteness, and its attendant privileges, can be lost. By examining representations of interracial marriage in American literature between 1830 and 1905, I identify marriage across the color line as one of the primary modes through which white men can lose their privilege. Interracial marriage violates what I term the marriage contract, a tri-party agreement between man, woman, and nation that guaranteed democratic rights to white men and privileges to their dependents in return for white-white marriage. Men who violated this contract by marrying exogamously suffered the loss of their property in whiteness. Literary depictions of interracial marriage occur most frequently within a genre of fiction critics have termed “tragic mulatta” plots. While these plots have served as important sites for exploring black femininity in the nineteenth century, I call attention to the presence of the white male characters, or white suitors, who court the mulattas and play key roles in making the narrative tragedy possible. The white suitor faces his own tragedy as his involvement with a black lover leads to his identity crisis and subsequent loss of privilege. Antebellum and postbellum, black and white, egalitarian and racist authors alike shared an interest in how interracial marriage affects white masculinity. I conclude that this topic interested authors during the nineteenth century because the white suitor and his tragedy provided a proxy through which to contemplate the nation’s own identity crisis as it approached, survived, and recovered from a civil war that questioned the United States’ self-identification as “a white man’s country.”

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: The Un-Making of a White Man: The Marriage Contract and Intermarriage
  • Chapter 1: “We are All Intermingled, without Regard to Colour”: Amalgamation Debates, White Privilege, and the Rise of Interracial Marriage Plots in the 1830s and ’40s
  • Chapter 2: “Manhood Rights” and Marriage Rites: Whiteness as Property in Clotel and The Garies and Their Friends
  • Chapter 3: “The Perfection of the Individual is the Sure Way to Regenerate the Mass”: Reconstructing White Masculinity in A Romance of the Republic
  • Chapter 4: Caught in a Bad Romance: Interracial Marriage and the White Male Identity Crisis in The Chamber over the Gate and The Clansman
  • Coda: “An Insurmountable Barrier between Us”: The Decline of Interracial Marriage Plots and the Rise of Passing
  • Bibliography
  • Appendix

Read the entire dissertation here.

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Escaping Whiteness

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-08-07 03:10Z by Steven

Escaping Whiteness

The Huffington Post

Jennifer Delton, Professor of History
Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York

The exposure of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman passing for black, was just a blip in a year of more urgent stories about race in the United States. Indeed, many expressed annoyance that the story was given so much play, in light of more serious injustices. But the interest in Dolezal’s story was not just crass sensationalism. The issues it raises should concern anyone who has tried to understand what exactly constitutes “race” in the United States and, more specifically, whether one can escape or overcome the race one was born into.

The question asked over and over about Dolezal’s deception was: Why would anyone want to be black??? Why would someone give up the privileges of being white in America and willingly embrace the disadvantages that come with being black? People asked this as if it were truly perplexing, but why on earth would anyone want to be identified with a race that practiced a brutal form of slavery for over two hundred years, then set up a system of segregation and discrimination bolstered by white terrorism and an ideology of white supremacy, the effects of which still linger today despite legislative attempts to overcome them? Who wants that as their “racial heritage?” Who wouldn’t give up their privilege if they could escape that burden?…

Read the entire article here.

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Passing: A Bi-Racial Perspective On Racial Inequality In America

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-08-06 15:22Z by Steven

Passing: A Bi-Racial Perspective On Racial Inequality In America

Cappuccino Queen

Hera McLeod

In the past few years, it seems like topic of race has gotten to a boiling point many times. Particularly, it seems, as it relates to the American Justice System. When Trayvon Martin was gunned down in February of 2012, I sat in horror as his killer walked free under the baffling and absurd “stand your ground” law in Florida. While this case seemed outrageous to me, what seemed more troubling was how public opinion on this case seemed to split down racial lines. In many cases, all reason flew out the window as people tried to justify George Zimmerman’s actions by agreeing that a black man wearing a hooded sweatshirt was “intimidating”.

Now, we fast forward a little over two years and another young black man is gunned down – Michael Brown. This time, however, it wasn’t a hot headed neighborhood watch (police officer wannabe), it was an actual police officer. This time, however, the case never even made it to trial, witnesses were never cross examined, and violent protests broke out all across the country as a result. Similar to the Martin case, though, I see logic fly out the window as people join opinion camps based largely on their racial affiliation.

These tragic cases force us to face painful realities about our country. While we can all wear the badge of honor of having a black President, we must also come to terms with the fact that we have yet to reach the Utopia of racial equality that some of our countrymen like to claim we have. For those of you who don’t know, I am multi-racial. From a young age, however, I realized that it didn’t matter as much what I defined myself as because America had my label picked out before I was born. Any bi-racial people in America (who is at all black) would likely agree that the “one drop rule” still exists. Without getting into the history of the one drop rule, let me just give you this example:

Say a police officer pulls over a car full of people. In that car, there are a few black people, a white person, and a bi-racial people. If the officer says, “All the black folks need to get out of the car”…the bi-racial person will be getting out of the car. I would say nine times out of ten, no matter how pale that bi-racial person is, he/she will get out.

So, at this point you might be wondering why I am boring you with these strange distinctions about race. I say this to offer my perspective, as a multi-racial American on all the race drama that has occurred over the past few years. When these news events arise, it is never simple for us. We never get to just jump on a race side, and we are always reminded of both how we define ourselves and how society defines us…

Read the entire article here.

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Born a Slave: Rediscovering Arthur Jackson’s African American Heritage

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2016-08-05 23:51Z by Steven

Born a Slave: Rediscovering Arthur Jackson’s African American Heritage

The Orderly Pack Rat
328 pages
6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
Paperback ISBN: 978-0970430816

David W. Jackson

By the close of the Civil War in 1865 all American slaves became free citizens. Suddenly a new life dawned for them and their descendants.

Arthur Jackson, a slave born in 1856 in Kanawha County, Virginia, was nine-years-old when he and his family were emancipated in Franklin County, Misouri. He took the surname of his master, Richard Ludlow Jackson, Sr., within whose household he was born and lived intermittently until adulthood.

Eventually Arthur met Ida May Anderson, a white woman, and they raised a family together. Their six children passed for white and Arthur’s African American heritage became a family secret and was eventually forgotten. During the following century, five generations of Arthur and Ida’s descendants lived as white Americans.

Thirty years of genealogical research by one of their great-great-grandsons, the author, revealed the secret that Arthur was born a slave, that he and Ida were a biracial couple, and that their children were of mixed racial heritage.

Born a Slave: Rediscovering Arthur Jackson’s African American Heritage explores this man’s birth, childhood, life as a freedman, his ancestry, and his master’s family. It also calls all Americans—regardless of apparent race or ethnicity—to abandon preconceptions and explore their every ancestor objectively and with an open mind… especially if they may have been a slaveholder, or if they were born a slave.

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Putting The Past Behind Them: Slave Descendant Unites With Plantation Owner

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2016-08-05 23:30Z by Steven

Putting The Past Behind Them: Slave Descendant Unites With Plantation Owner

Growing Wisconsin

Lynne Hayes

The dinner was historic on many levels. On one side of the table sat Nkrumah Steward, 44, the ancestor of a slave. On the other side of the table sat Robert Adams, the ancestor of the man who owned that slave.

This was a meeting of two men who shared a complicated past, one that forever ties them together by blood and circumstance.

If it weren’t for Steward’s fascination with genealogy and his desire to complete a family tree, the two men might never have met.

Digging Into His Past

Over the last 20 years, Nkrumah Steward, of Canton, Michigan, an IT Technician for Coca-Cola, has questioned relatives, plowed through archival papers, and hunted down details through online genealogy sites to piece together his family tree.

He was fortunate to have known his great-grandfather, James Henry, who he knew was the first to be born a free man on his mother, Linda’s, side. Steward had always been curious as to why James Henry looked so “white.”

Through his research, Steward came to learn why. Not only was he descended from slaves, but the line began with a union between his 4th great grandmother, Sarah, a house slave, and, Joel Robert Adams, the slave owner of a South Carolina plantation known as Wavering Place.

Steward’s maternal family tree branched out like this: Sarah and her master, Joel Robert Adams, had Louisa in 1835; Louisa had Octavia. Octavia’s son, James Henry, was the first to be born free. James Henry later fathered Steward’s grandfather, J.D.; and J.D. fathered Steward’s mother, Linda.

Though he was born free, James Henry’s mixed blood made life complicated. He was allowed only to attend a black college; but when he moved from South Carolina to Detroit, Michigan, he “passed” for white and was able to get jobs he would never have had as a black man…

Read the entire article here.

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Uncanny Compulsions: Automatism, Trauma, and Memory in Of One Blood

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-07-26 20:41Z by Steven

Uncanny Compulsions: Automatism, Trauma, and Memory in Of One Blood

Volume 39, Number 2, Spring 2016
pages 473-492
DOI: 10.1353/cal.2016.0076

Joshua Lam, Adjunct Professor, American Literature and Composition
State University of New York, Buffalo

In recent years, critics have begun to frame slavery in the United States in terms of haunting and trauma studies, directing us to consider the ways in which texts such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) “disturb our sense of historical time” (Tuhkanen 335). Yet as Mikko Tuhkanen suggests in his analysis of temporality in Hagar’s Daughter (1901–1902), Pauline Hopkins may well have been one of the first African American novelists to situate slavery in terms of trauma’s ghostly presence. Indeed, Hopkins’s turn-of-the-century fictions are filled with references to spirits and specters, and are overwhelmingly concerned with the continued effects of slavery on the post-slavery nation. Scholars have been especially attentive to the prevalence of racial passing in Hopkins’s narratives, focusing on the ways in which her novels expose the imbrication of slavery and miscegenation in order to combat the ideology of racial purity. Yet few scholars have discussed the connection between Hopkins’s ghostly depictions of slavery and the discourse of hysteria in French psychiatry and American psychology, especially evident in her novel Of One Blood: Or, the Hidden Self (1902–1903). This is perhaps because the novel is singular in its use of hysterical illness, historically the provenance of European and Anglo-American white women, to frame the traumas propagated by the legacy of slavery upon black bodies. Indeed, while feminist critiques of the discourse of hysteria are now well known, scholars have been less attentive to the ways in which this discourse intersects with turn-of-the-century racial ideologies. Yet as Of One Blood demonstrates, the nascent discourse of hysteria, with its genesis in nineteenth-century mesmerism and spiritualism, provides an uncanny lens through which the complex legacies of slavery, miscegenation, and historical trauma can be witnessed.

Drawing upon the vast network of associations linking hysterical “automatism” to double consciousness, automatic writing, and hypnosis, Of One Blood evokes a variety of discourses—psychological, psychical, spiritualistic, historical, romantic, occult—to interrogate the trauma and historical violence perpetrated against black bodies and psyches. The novel focuses upon two African American characters, Reuel Briggs and Dianthe Lusk, who both pass as white and suffer from different hysterical illnesses: Reuel from a neurasthenic melancholy, and Dianthe from “nervous shock” and what Reuel (a doctor) calls “a dual mesmeric trance” (Hopkins, Of One Blood 472). More than merely adopting a medical discourse that primarily applied to Anglo-Americans, however, the novel uses “automatism” to represent conflicted acts of ambiguous agency and volition. Throughout the novel, Reuel and Dianthe are shocked, silenced, moved, mesmerized, and manipulated by others—cast as living automatons. Indeed, Hopkins’s novel presents a decisive understanding of the ways in which automatism—hysterical, mesmeric, or traumatic—signals suspended agency, and Of One Blood is inseparable from the connections between these discourses and the legacy of racial violence in the United States.

Hopkins’s endeavor hinges upon its incompletion, however, for Of One Blood equally participates in a project of racial uplift in which individual will is subordinated to the will of a God who has made us “all of one blood.” Adopting popular pan-African themes in what Kevin Gaines identifies as a key strategy of racial uplift ideology, Hopkins “sought to make civilization a racially inclusive, universal concept by calling attention to its origins in African society” (111). In this context, the hysterical illnesses of black characters might even indicate a gesture of inclusion (e.g., non-whites, too, are susceptible to the travails of “civilization”). This inclusive view of “civilization” is in tension, however, with the mute figure of the black automaton, whose silence amid the vocal protestations of turn-of-the-century uplift movements indicates Hopkins’s critical awareness of the continued effects of slavery upon the present. Rather than reifying the silence of Hopkins’s passive characters, the trope of the black automaton critically links compromised agency to the wider historical and discursive systems that produce it, suggesting that critique and skepticism are crucial components of even the most utopian endeavors. This tension…

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Pensive in Prague: Examining Identity Abroad, June 20th

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Europe, Latino Studies, Media Archive, Passing on 2016-07-26 02:20Z by Steven

Pensive in Prague: Examining Identity Abroad, June 20th

The Harvard Independent

Gabby Aguirre

This is the second in a series of summer blog posts where the author reflects on her time as a first-generation Latina studying abroad in Prague. You can find the first blog post here.

The date is June 20th, and I’m just about physically adjusted to being several time-zones away from home.

However, in many ways being here is something I’m not sure I can ever get used to. To forward this, and something I should’ve mentioned in my first blog post, is that while I am a Latina, I am white-passing.

Passing as white grants me many privileges at home and abroad – and particularly in the Czech Republic – that many would not be afforded. For example, as I take a tram to Malostronské Náměstí (Malostronska Square for those of you still brushing up on your Czech), a graffiti that says “White Power,” would not have been painted with the intent of asserting dominance and instilling fear in someone who looks like me…

Read the entire article here.

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