Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Epigraph

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword: Passing and “Post-Race”

Gayle Wald

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pp. ix-xiv

Coeditors Mollie Godfrey and Vershawn Ashanti Young open their introduction to this volume with a citation of a 1952 Jet magazine article, “Why ‘Passing’ Is Passing Out.” Penned at a hopeful moment of the incipient Civil Rights Movement, it posits the notion that passing will become “passé” as African Americans achieve political equality and full citizenship rights. The article asserts that as racial barriers to “decent employment” fall away—by means of civil rights agitation as well as state and federal nonsegregation mandates—Negroes who might have been able to pass for white will no longer find an...

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Acknowledgments

Mollie Godfrey and Vershawn Ashanti Young

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pp. xv-xx

With the third printing of Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929), the concluding paragraph of the novel—which we feature as an epigraph to this volume—had suddenly disappeared. Passing now ended with the line, “Then everything was dark,” instead of the original, “Let’s go up and have another look at that window.” And since no evidence exists as to why the original ending was removed, subsequent editors and scholars must make a choice about which one to use, which one to discuss, which one is “real.” As editors of the current volume, we present our acknowledgments in the context of Passing’s unstable ending—an...

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Introduction: The Neo-Passing Narrative

Mollie Godfrey and Vershawn Ashanti Young

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pp. 1-28

On July 17, 1952, the African American weekly Jet magazine featured the article “Why ‘Passing’ Is Passing Out.” This editorial suggests that since the growing Civil Rights Movement might put an end to Jim Crow legislation and its persistent racial bias, then racial passing—the phenomenon whereby some African Americans with optically white skin choose to live as Caucasian—would also cease. Based, as it was, on nascent signs of racial progress, Jet’s article on the end of passing is more hope than fact: “With new and greater opportunities, the Negro is competing more and more on even terms with other men in a...

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Appendix to the Introduction: Neo-Passing Narratives: Teaching and Scholarly Resources

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pp. 29-40

We include here a working bibliography of neo-passing narratives, including related scholarship, that has appeared to date. The entries are divided into Comics and Graphic Novels, Creative Nonfiction, Drama, Fiction, Film, Music, Poetry, Television and Radio, Visual and Performance Art, and Scholarship.

Of course, such a list can never be comprehensive, but we offer it as evidence of the neo-passing narrative’s proliferation and diversification in the post–Jim Crow period and as a resource for teachers, students, and scholars working on this topic. This resource was developed in consultation with contributors to this...

PART I: NEW HISTORIES

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Introduction: Passing at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century

Allyson Hobbs

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pp. 43-48

Just a few days after January 1, 1932, Lieutenant William J. French was found on a desolate road near Gilroy, California, with his pistol in his crashed car and a gunshot wound to his head. Police ruled his death a suicide. The uproar among military personnel at the Presidio in San Francisco was just beginning when a far more startling revelation appeared on the front page of the New York Times: “Army Man’s Suicide Reveals He Is Negro.” The Times announced that French had spent eighteen years “masquerading” as a white man. French had given the army almost two decades of “brilliant” service, reported the Times, and distinguished...

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1. Why Passing Is (Still) Not Passé after More Than 250 Years: Sources from the Past and Present

Martha J. Cutter

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pp. 49-67

In 1845 an African American woman named Fanny ran away from her Alabama owner. Since Fanny could read and write, her owner speculates in an advertisement posted in the Alabama Beacon of June 14, 1845, that she might forge a pass for herself. But Fanny’s master also comments that “she is as white as most white women, with straight light hair, and blue eyes, and can pass herself for a white woman.”1 Fanny can pass for white, but indeed one wonders what her owner means when he says that she is “as white as most white women.” Are many “white women” not quite “pure” white? And yet, they are not subject...

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2. Passing for Postracial: Colorblind Reading Practices of Zombies, Sheriffs, and Slaveholders

Christopher M. Brown

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pp. 68-83

In the second episode of the hit television series The Walking Dead, a survivor of the zombie apocalypse fires his rifle indiscriminately from the rooftop of an Atlanta office building at the “walkers” below. The shooter, Merle, is a caricature of a Southern racist: profane, violent, contemptuous of authority, indiscriminate in his prejudice. When one of his fellow survivors insists that he stop drawing attention to their location, Merle balks at taking orders from a “nigger” and attacks the lone black member of the group. Amid their fighting, Sheriff Rick Grimes intervenes, subduing and handcuffing Merle and...

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3. Adam Mansbach’s Postracial Imaginary in Angry Black White Boy

Brandon J. Manning

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pp. 84-95

In the fall of 2014 I went to the Renegades of Rhythm concert that featured DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist, two white disc jockeys, who played and scratched Afrika Bambaataa’s personal record collection. I had recently moved to the Las Vegas area with my family, and this was the first trip to a show on the strip as a local. The concert was in a venue that served gourmet Southern cuisine ($25 fried chicken). I stood there feeling the bass vibrate through the soles of my feet, looking at two DJs mixing up Bambaataa, who at the time was a visiting professor at Cornell University. The DJs mixed on six turntables for a Las...

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4. Black President Bush: The Racial and Gender Politics behind Dave Chappelle’s Presidential Drag

Eden Osucha

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pp. 96-116

Before the election of 2008 made the first African American president a historical reality, black presidents were an established trope of US popular culture. This figure belongs to an archive of national fantasy that charts a history of dominant discourses of the present, including the deep ambivalence, antipathy, and contradictory racializations that attend the public image of President Barack Hussein Obama. Its earliest notable instance is the 1933 Warner Brothers musical short Rufus Jones for President, in which the black-president trope operates on behalf of some of the crudest caricatures of the era’s white-supremacist...

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5. Seeing Race in Comics: Passing, Witness, and the Spectacle of Racial Violence in Johnson and Pleece's Incognegro

Jennifer Glaser

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pp. 117-132

Probably no medium more clearly dramatizes the dialectic between seeing and being seen—the twin registers of visual culture—than that of comics. Until recently, little scholarly attention has been given to the ways in which comics construct race.1 This chapter addresses this absence by analyzing Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece’s Incognegro (2008), a neo-passing narrative about race, lynching, and (mis-)recognition in America. Johnson and Pleece’s depiction of race in Incognegro troubles assumptions about visual typology and racial identification while making a strong case for the importance of bringing conversations...

PART II: NEW IDENTITIES

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Introduction: Passing at the Intersections

Marcia Alesan Dawkins

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pp. 135-141

As actress and New York Times best-selling author Issa Rae expresses with these poignant lines, passing is not always deliberate, purposeful, or even eventful in its first stages.1 Over time, however, passing exposes our concerns with the way things are and our curiosities about the way things ought to be. As a passer like Rae, I certainly carry my own concern with and curiosity about life’s limitations and possibilities. I learned to pass, and hence to craft, present, and preserve a carefully “edited self,” when I needed to attend all-day elementary school in a New York City neighborhood different than the one in which I lived. Like...

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6. Passing Truths: Identity-Immersion Journalism and the Experience of Authenticity

Loran Marsan

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pp. 142-157

John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me holds a unique place in the history of passing narratives. Published in 1961 in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and desegregation—after Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the Montgomery bus boycott (1955–57) and before the Civil Rights Act of 1964—Black Like Me was unlike the conventional passing narratives that preceded it. Where conventional passing narratives focus on black individuals passing as white, Griffin’s text focuses on a white individual passing as black. And where those conventional texts usually depict passing as an individualistic act carried out...

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7. Passing for Tan: Snooki and the Grotesque Reality of Ethnicity

Alisha Gaines

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pp. 158-174

From 1995 to 1999, I was touched by large quantities of white girls exactly once a year. As a token black girl in my northeast Ohio high school, I came to expect it. Aside from the ongoing microagressive questions about my hair, featuring curious white hands pulling and examining it without consent, my black girl body was always the center of attention the first day back to school after spring break. Fresh from sunny vacations mostly in Florida, white girls preened in bathroom and locker mirrors to admire their tans. However, a sun-kissed glow was not enough. For the tan to be legitimately praiseworthy, it had to be darker...

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8. The Pass of Least Resistance: Sexual Orientation and Race in ZZ Packer’s “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere"

Derek Adams

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pp. 175-192

“Orientation games began the day I arrived at Yale from Baltimore.”1 The opening line in ZZ Packer’s short story “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” appears fairly straightforward. On its surface, the line references the getting-to-know-you series of workshops and activities incoming freshman are unrelentingly subjected to on college campuses across the nation as a way of facilitating their assimilation into an unfamiliar campus culture. Probing beneath this surface, readers discover the centrality of sexual orientation in the speaker’s move from urban Baltimore to Yale. The term orientation games is Packer’s subtle hint that...

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9. Neo-Passing and Dissociative Identities as Affective Strategies in Frankie and Alice

Deborah Elizabeth Whaley

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pp. 193-218

Passing is a social construction. In order for a person to pass for an identity unlike the one socially ascribed, the viewer of the person must hold essentialist ideas about what constitutes and looks like a given identity. As I argue elsewhere in regards to racial passing, the language and grammars of passing require interrogation, as moving from one identity descriptor to another highlights the slippage in discourses and material manifestations of difference, challenging one to see passing as something that the viewer constructs, rather than something that the object of the gaze performs.1 Put simply, it is the viewer that is...

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10. “A New Type of Human Being”: Gender, Sexuality, and Ethnicity as Perpetual Passing in Jeffrey Eugenide's Middlesex

Lara Narcisi

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pp. 219-240

Intersex, immigrant, incest, intertexts. In Jeffrey Eugenides’s 2002 epic novel Middlesex are part of an ever-evolving I, a series of complex identity transformations. Calliope Stephanides is born an apparent girl, but her body transforms during adolescence into a masculine one.1 This rare-but-real condition, alpha-5 reductase deficiency (A5RD), causes genetic males to appear female as children but to develop a male physiognomy at puberty. Such men unintentionally pass for women, and even their responsible gene itself may be considered to be passing, hiding recessively on the fifth chromosome until two carriers give...

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Afterword: Why Neo Now?

Michele Elam

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pp. 241-246

What is it about passing that lets it live so large and so long in the public imagination? Passing—both as literary trope and as lived experience—seems to have such an unlikely and extended historical and literary shelf life that, as this volume attests, it has apparently evolved into the neo-passing stage. The introduction to the current volume suggests that the neo-ness of contemporary cultural narratives about the phenomenon can be divined through a continuity of genre or themes or simply by awareness of its own obsolescence, “typified by direct engagement with the idea that...by now, passing should have passed.”...

Contributors

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pp. 247-250

Index

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pp. 251-276