So passing has been on my mind lately. Or rather, it keeps coming up in conversation and books, and stories people tell me. Indeed, it is truly a fascinating concept to consider; shedding one's own racial or ethnic heritage to assume another. And getting away with it! Equally fascinating is why people pass in the first place. For survival? For fun? For love?
Usually in this country, when we bring up the idea of passing, people assume we are talking about the custom of light-skinded Blacks passing for White. A practice adopted since we adopted the heinous practice of enslaving other human beings. But of course Black Americans were not the first nor the last to pretend to be something they weren't. Weren't all of those Muslims and then Jews passing as Christians in order to spare their lives and livelihoods in 15th century Spain? Just one example. Of course one must ask then if religious conversion = passing of another sort?
Anywhoo, most recently I've been hearing and reading about instances of Whites passing for Black here in the United States and wondered if there has been any exhaustive study on this practice. Because it did happen in the past and continues to happen in the present. In her memoir about her father, One Drop, Bliss Broyard discovers that one of her White ancestors in Louisiana passed for Black when he fell in love with a Black woman because that was the only way they could legally marry. Interestingly, he found life as a Black person too difficult and eventually passed back to White. In Sana Butler's arresting new book Sugar of the Crop: My Journey to Find the Children of Slaves, she too makes mention of a White man who passes as Black for the love of a Black woman. And then of course there's author James McBride's White mother who passed as Black so she could raise her Mixed kids in New York City and pass them off as fully Black so they wouldn't be ostracized.
What would be the implications of admitting that more than one or two White people passed in order to be with their Black loved ones in this country? Again I wonder, has a book already been written about this practice? If anyone knows, please share. Or maybe I'll just have to write it myself.
And to thank you for reading this blog, in the spirit of passing, anybody who comments on today's post, before midnight on Sunday, March 15, will be part of a random drawing to win a signed copy of Bliss Broyard's book, One Drop: My Father's Hidden Life-A Story of Race and Family Secrets.