Passing in reverse: What does an NAACP leader’s case say about race?

Passing in reverse: What does an NAACP leader’s case say about race?

The Washington Post

Krissah Thompson, Staff Writer

Passing in this country has usually operated in one direction: black skin passing for white, marginalization traded for privilege, the burden of the minority cast off.

Until now. Enter Rachel Dolezal, 37, the head of the NAACP in Spokane, Wash., who seized headlines and set social media afire this week when relatives claimed that she is a white woman who has been passing as African American.

Her story was a head-scratcher for many, raising questions about the determination to self-identify when it comes to race. Is “passing in reverse” a thing? And what does Dolezal’s supposed decision say about being white in modern America? Was whiteness the weight she cast off?

“In this society, people would prefer to be identified with the race that is least stigmatized,” says Derald Wing Sue, a professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, where he has studied racial identity. “It baffles everyone when it goes the other way.”

But it does not surprise Sue, who has studied the ways white Americans become sensitive to racial dynamics…

…Take, for example, Walter White, born in 1893. Blue-eyed and blond-haired with fair skin, the product of Atlanta’s black community had more white ancestors than black, according to some accounts. And he saw himself as black, although he passed as white to enable his travels through the South investigating lynchings and hate crimes. Later in life, he married a white woman and was forced to defend himself against accusations that he was white passing as black — all while serving as the national head of the NAACP from 1931 to 1955.

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,