The Fiction of the Color Line

Posted in Articles, Biography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-10-21 01:01Z by Steven

The Fiction of the Color Line

Vulture
2021-10-18

Brittany Luse

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo: Getty, Yale University Library

Black women writers have long used passing stories to crack our façades of race, class, and gender.

Somewhere on Long Island around 1980, a blondish preteen is onstage at summer camp channeling Hodel from Fiddler on the Roof, her confident voice and star power self-evident. Her tawny-skinned father beams from the audience, and as she takes her bow, soaking in the applause, he approaches the stage bearing a hefty bouquet of daisies. He hands her the flowers, their eyes and hearts locking for a beat in shared pride. Then the girl realizes that every other parent, instructor, and child in the auditorium is staring at them. “Not in a way that felt good, not because I had given the outstanding performance of the night,” she would recall decades later. “They were staring because my father was the only Black man in sight, and I belonged to him.” The others had assumed until that moment that Mariah Carey — the girl with the frizzy honey-blonde hair — was white like them.

The Meaning of Mariah Carey, the singer’s delectable memoir co-written with Michaela Angela Davis, a former editor at Essence and Vibe, recalls many such stories. In doing so, it’s in direct conversation with the American literary tradition of novels about passing and passing-capable Black women — stories about the concealment, or the possibility of concealment, of one’s Black parentage and all of the attendant personal and social complexity. Since the late-19th century, writers have used passing as a narrative tool to do everything from encouraging white readers to sympathize with the struggles of Black characters to scrutinizing the hypocrisy of America’s racial hierarchy…

Read the entire article here.

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Understanding the Legacy of Nella Larsen’s Passing

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-02-10 16:24Z by Steven

Understanding the Legacy of Nella Larsen’s Passing

The Mary Sue
2021-02-04

Princess Weekes, Assistant Editor

Right now on the Sundance circuit is the Rebecca Hall-directed film Passing, starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga. It is an adaptation of the Harlem Renaissance classic Passing by Nella Larsen. Embedded into the text is a rich powerful narrative about the Black American experience and the lengths people go to survive in America.

Nella Larsen was both in 1890s Chicago as the daughter of a mixed-race Afro-Caribbean man and a white Danish immigrant woman. Larsen didn’t grow up with her father and in 1891 the Great Migration hasn’t happened yet, so the Black population was less than 2%. After her mother remarried, they moved to a mostly white neighborhood filled with German and Scandinavian immigrants. As a result, Larsen did not grow up in the usual world of Black Americanness. Or Blackness period…

…While it would be easy to dismiss Passing as a typical “tragical mulatto” story, I have always felt that it was more Larsen reflecting on the ultimate tragedy of those who have passed.

In A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life by Allyson Hobbs, the author explains that this is a narrative of loss. “I started to realize that writing this history of passing is really writing a history of loss,” Hobbs told NPR….

Read the article here.

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Passing Revisited: Racial Passing and White Supremacy

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2020-09-13 00:34Z by Steven

Passing Revisited: Racial Passing and White Supremacy

Medium
2020-09-04

Jennifer Rittner

In the wake of the white supremacist marches in 2017, I wrote a short reflection on racial passing. In that essay I wrote about my Black mother, my white son, and the absurd mythologies of racial purity needed by white supremacists to support their beliefs. Those marchers surely counted among them many who had direct African American heritage as a result of near ancestors who had passed for white in the inhospitable environments of legal slavery and Jim Crow.

The White Supremacy of Masquerading as Black

White supremacy rears its head again in another form of passing, as men and women who have grown up as white children in white families have taken to masquerading as Black adults in order to achieve personal success as race warriors. Jessica Krug and Rachel Dolezal, two sisters-in-deceit, both manipulated their ways to success by passing as a Black woman, and in the process, denying actual women of color the opportunities they took for themselves. Their behavior should cause us to reflect on our United States of Racial Anxiety as we are all, in fact, oppressed by our nation’s historical, collective weaponization of race. While adamantly censuring both of these women, we can use their deceptions as opportunities to reflect on how the social conditions we construct and perpetuate demand certain forms of racial authenticity, often built on the anxieties we all feel about passing as something.

First, two resources for anyone interested in the history of passing:

Allyson Hobbs, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life is a well-researched and beautiful read on the topic. James Baldwin, Another Country was one of the first books in which I felt seen around the question of passing as a social act…

Read the entire article here.

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Allyson Hobbs, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014. 382 pp.

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-08-31 18:13Z by Steven

Allyson Hobbs, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014. 382 pp.

49th Parallel: an interdisciplinary journal of North American Studies
Issue 37 (2015)
pages 66-68

Christopher Allen Varlack, Lecturer
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Popularized in part during the Harlem Renaissance of the early to midtwentieth century, the passing novel, including James Weldon Johnson’s 1912 The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, Walter White’s 1926 Flight, and Jessie Redmon Fauset’s 1928 Plum Bun: A Novel Without a Moral, has received a wide range of scholarship. Elaine K. Ginsberg’s 1996 study, Passing and the Fictions of Identity explores the politics of passing from the early experiences of African slaves through the present day while Gayle Wald’s 2000 Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in Twentieth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture explores cinematic and literary representations of passing produced in the United States. Together, these works reveal the struggle of an African-American community marginalized and disenfranchised within an American society defined by its Jim Crow culture and racial hierarchy. Under these circumstances, racial passing is most often an attempt to obtain what Cheryl L. Harris terms “whiteness as property” as a result of the very limited opportunities and restricted social mobility afforded to blacks. Such scholarship provides insight into the historical function of passing and the ways in which the passing novel brings to the forefront of the American consciousness an increased awareness of its changing socio-racial landscape.

In her critical work, appropriately titled, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, Allyson Hobbs seeks to add a new dimension to this existing conversation, her book is “an effort to recover those lives” lost in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as “countless African Americans [knowingly] passed as white, leaving behind families, friends, and communities without any available avenue for return” (4). Hobbs‟ work, a welcomed addition to the field, thus uses the lives of the everyday participants of passing to show not only what they gained from assuming their white identities—economic opportunity, social mobility, increased acceptance, etc.—but also what they lost along the way—the all-important connection to family and community that had long sustained the African-American people in the midst of cultural oppression. Because racialization exists all around us and “[r]ace is reproduced . . . at every level of society, including in our everyday lives”, the concerns that Hobbs advances in what proves a vital study of racial passing in American life will certainly remain, even despite the growing number of claims (which Hobbes disputes) that America has transitioned into a post-racial society (277).

Read the entire review here.

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Multi Racial Reads #20 and #21

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-07-26 00:13Z by Steven

Multi Racial Reads #20 and #21

Carol Baldwin’s Blog
2019-07-22

Carol Baldwin

It’s been awhile since I’ve shared the books that I read while writing Half-Truths. Here are two more books that have helped me understand one of my characters, Lillian Harris.

If you aren’t familiar with Half-Truths, this is the pitch for my book:

In the heavily segregated South, fifteen-year-old Kate Dinsmore’s world is shaken when she realizes she’s related to her grandmother’s Black housemaid. This knowledge leads Kate to truths that threaten to destroy her family.

Ever since I saw the pictures of the principals in the hallway of the former Rosenwald School in Charlotte, NC and saw a man who appeared White but was Black, I knew that my book would revolve around two girls—Kate Dinsmore and Lillian Harris—who were related but belonged to two different races.

What I didn’t know was what Lillian looked like.

Light, Bright, and Damn Near White by Michelle Gordon Jackson helped me figure that out…

…But what about the Blacks who chose to pass? What was their life like?

Allyson Hobbs’ book, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, pointedly showed me the pain and difficulties associating with passing…

Read the entire article here.

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Historian, master storyteller

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-07-10 18:15Z by Steven

Historian, master storyteller

PUNCH Magazine
March 2019
pages 30-34

Sheri Baer, Editorial Director
Irene Searles, photography

Allyson Hobbs distinctly remembers the first time she saw Stanford University. After flying out from Chicago for a final interview in January 2008, she was chatting with a faculty member as they arrived on campus. “We were talking about Ohio State football and we turned down Palm Drive,” she recalls. “All of a sudden, my breath was taken away. I couldn’t believe the beauty of it. I thought to myself, ‘Wow! I desperately want to teach here.’”

Allyson secured the position and made the move. Now an associate professor of American History, she is also director of Stanford’s African and African American Studies program (AAAS), which is marking its 50th anniversary this year. Founded in 1969, AAAS was Stanford’s first ethnic studies program and the first of its kind at a private academic institution. “Many programs are having their 50th anniversary around this time,” Allyson notes, adding that it’s no coincidence. “These programs were created in response to student protests in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Originally from Morristown, New Jersey, Allyson says that she was raised in a very supportive community. “My parents really shielded me and gave me an idyllic childhood,” she says. “They always talked about how lucky we were to live in that kind of environment.” Allyson attended Harvard in the mid-’90s, where she was exposed to a broader perspective. “There was a robust conversation about race at that time in college, and I think that really ignited my interest.

Allyson especially appreciated the rich storytelling of her aunt, who served as the family historian. When Allyson came home fascinated by a story about racial passing, her aunt recounted the experiences of a distant cousin who had grown up on Chicago’s South Side in the ’30s and ’40s. According to her aunt, this cousin was very light-skinned and when she graduated from high school, her mother encouraged her to move to Los Angeles and pass as a white woman. “Her mother was insistent and believed that passing as white would give her daughter a better life,” Allyson was told.

That story inspired Allyson to write her first book, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, tracing the practice back to the late 18th century. “People who passed were able to access better jobs and live in better neighborhoods, but I wanted to uncover what it really meant to the people who walked away, what they had to give up,” Allyson says. “Writing the history of passing is really writing the history of loss.”…

Read the entire article here.

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What is Racial Passing?

Posted in Economics, History, Law, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Passing, Slavery, United States, Videos on 2019-03-03 03:59Z by Steven

What is Racial Passing?

Digital Studios: Origin of Everything
PBS Digital Studios
Public Broadcasting Service
Season 2, Episode 13 (First Aired: 2019-02-27)

Danielle Bainbridge, Host, Writer, and Postdoctoral Fellow
Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois

What motivates someone to disguise their race, gender, religion, etc.? Today Danielle explores the complicated history of passing in the United States.

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Family Storytellers Inspired Professor-Historian

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2018-11-09 03:37Z by Steven

Family Storytellers Inspired Professor-Historian

Diverse Issues in Higher Education
2018-10-30

LaMont Jones, Senior Staff Writer


Dr. Allyson Hobbs

Dr. Allyson Hobbs comes from a family of storytellers, perhaps chief among them her Aunt Shirley.

It was Shirley Kitching’s fascinating stories shared during holiday and summer visits to Chicago – particularly one about an ancestor who was sent to the West Coast to live her life as a White woman by “passing” – that influenced Hobbs’ decision to become a historian and author.

Now Hobbs, an associate professor of American history and director of African and African-American Studies at Stanford University, spends a lot of time researching historical people, places and phenomena and bringing those stories to life for the public – the same way Kitching and other relatives did for her…

…“You have to understand Chicago to understand African-American history,” Hobbs contends, noting its longtime centrality to Black culture.

And that, along with one of Aunt Shirley’s stories, is what led to research and ultimately an award-winning book about the racial phenomenon of passing – when very light-skinned and European-featured Black Americans secretly pass themselves off as White people. Published in 2014, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life explored the history of passing in the United States from the 1700’s to current times…

Read the entire article here.

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Melissa Harris-Perry in Conversation with Allyson Hobbs

Posted in Interviews, Live Events, Media Archive, Social Justice, United States on 2018-05-18 15:46Z by Steven

Melissa Harris-Perry in Conversation with Allyson Hobbs

Stanford University
Cubberley Auditorium
Stanford, California
Wednesday, 2018-05-23, 17:00-18:30 PDT (Local Time)

Contact: rmeisels@stanford.edu

Join us for an evening of conversation with Melissa Harris-Perry, Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University, founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center, Editor-at-Large, Elle.com and Author of Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, in conversation with Allyson Hobbs, Associate Professor of History and Director of African and African American Studies [and author of A Chosen Exile: History of Racial Passing in American Life].

Sponsored by: Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Humanities Center, African & African American Studies, Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, History Department, and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education.

For more information, click here.

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Neo-Passing: Performing Identity after Jim Crow

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2018-03-14 16:57Z by Steven

Neo-Passing: Performing Identity after Jim Crow

University of Illinois Press
March 2018
296 pages
6 x 9 in.
11 black & white photographs
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-252-04158-7
Paper ISBN: 978-0-252-08323-5
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-252-05024-4

Edited by:

Mollie Godfrey, Assistant Professor of English
James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia

Vershawn Ashanti Young, Associate Professor of Drama and Speech Communication
University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Crossing old boundaries to create new identities

African Americans once passed as whites to escape the pains of racism. Today’s neo-passing has pushed the old idea of passing in extraordinary new directions. A white author uses an Asian pen name; heterosexuals live “out” as gay; and, irony of ironies, whites try to pass as black.

Mollie Godfrey and Vershawn Ashanti Young present essays that explore practices, performances, and texts of neo-passing in our supposedly postracial moment. The authors move from the postracial imagery of Angry Black White Boy and the issues of sexual orientation and race in ZZ Packer’s short fiction to the politics of Dave Chappelle’s skits as a black President George W. Bush. Together, the works reveal that the questions raised by neo-passing—questions about performing and contesting identity in relation to social norms—remain as relevant today as in the past.

Gale Wald offers a foreword and Michele Elam an afterword.

Contributors: Derek Adams, Christopher M. Brown, Martha J. Cutter, Marcia Alesan Dawkins, Alisha Gaines, Jennifer Glaser, Allyson Hobbs, Brandon J. Manning, Loran Marsan, Lara Narcisi, Eden Osucha, and Deborah Elizabeth Whaley

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