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Clearly Invisible

Racial Passing and the Color of Cultural Identity

By Marcia Alesan Dawkins

Publication Year: 2012

Everybody passes. Not just racial minorities. As Marcia Dawkins explains, passing has been occurring for millennia, since intercultural and interracial contact began. And with this profound new study, she explores its old limits and new possibilities: from women passing as men and able-bodied persons passing as disabled to black classics professors passing as Jewish and white supremacists passing as white.

Clearly Invisible journeys to sometimes uncomfortable but unfailingly enlightening places as Dawkins retells the contemporary expressions and historical experiences of individuals called passers. Along the way these passers become people—people whose stories sound familiar but take subtle turns to reveal racial and other tensions lurking beneath the surface, people who ultimately expose as much about our culture and society as they conceal about themselves.

Both an updated take on the history of passing and a practical account of passing’s effects on the rhetoric of multiracial identities, Clearly Invisible traces passing’s legal, political, and literary manifestations, questioning whether passing can be a form of empowerment (even while implying secrecy) and suggesting that passing could be one of the first expressions of multiracial identity in the U.S. as it seeks its own social standing.

Certain to be hailed as a pioneering work in the study of race and culture, Clearly Invisible offers powerful testimony to the fact that individual identities are never fully self-determined—and that race is far more a matter of sociology than of biology.

For more, including photos, author interviews, news, and author appearances, visit ClearlyInvisibleBook.com.

Published by: Baylor University Press


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p. 1-1

Half Title Page, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Epigraph

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-11

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pp. xi-xiii

Passing is a strange thing. It has a large circumference. It is a way for us to see and not see, a way for us to be seen and not be seen. It looks at us and turns away from us at the same time. Passing shifts our social positions amidst social limitations. Constant movement is what makes passing so easy for us to wonder ...

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pp. xv-xvi

No book is written alone. This book would be unwritten without the encouragement, insights, and contributions of the following people: Teresa A. Nance, Kermit Moore, Lawrence Little, Ed Goff, Randall A. Lake, Larry Gross, Tom Goodnight, George A. Sanchez, Stacy L. Smith, Colleen Keough, Robin D. G. Kelley, ...

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Introduction: Passing as Passé?

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pp. 1-6

On rare occasions I find an expression that is sassy, succinct, and thus sexy enough to make its veracity inconsequential. Such is the case with a phrase coined by historians decades ago: “Passing is passé.”1 Passing, usually understood as an abbreviation for “racial passing,” describes the “fact of being ...

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1. Passing as Persuasion

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pp. 7-30

It was one o’clock in the morning when I made a startling discovery. Insomnia led me to my iPad in search of new applications to pass the time. While scrolling through the iTunes App Store I came across a game called Guess My Race. ...

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2. Passing as Power

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pp. 31-54

In December 1848, Ellen and William Craft ended their lifelong search for answers. Ellen was at her master’s plantation, and William was busy at work as a cabinetmaker. Until this moment it seemed as though they sustained only one conversation for months, even years. ...

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3. Passing as Property

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pp. 55-77

Forty-six years after the Crafts boarded a train in Georgia to use passing as power, Homer A. Plessy boarded a train in Louisiana to use passing as property.1 The plan was simple: imbue passing with a new meaning that would be exploited to challenge section 2 of Act 111 of the 1890 Louisiana legislature, ...

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4. Passing as Principle

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pp. 79-104

Iola and Harry Leroy grew up thinking they were white. Their father was white. Their mother was white. Their grandparents and aunts and uncles were white. Their family even owned slaves. But as the Civil War approached, Iola and Harry found out that they were not white after all. Frances E. W. Harper brings this ...

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5. Passing as Pastime

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pp. 105-127

Coleman Silk is not the only passer in The Human Stain. Crammed with passers of all sorts—racial, ethnic, class, professional, ability, mental health—the story is set during the months leading up to the Clinton presidential impeachment hearings in 1998 and during the postwar era of the 1940s and 1950s. ...

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6. Passing as Paradox

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pp. 129-152

Many of us have been on jury duty hoping not to be selected to serve for trial. And if we have not been on jury duty or served as jurors, we have probably witnessed depictions of others who have. We endure and imagine ourselves enduring all kinds of questions about who we are and what we know. ...

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Conclusion: Passing as Progress?

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pp. 153-158

Every story of passing is both an ending and a beginning. Passing is an ending because it discourages inquiry. It invites us to pass by, to keep moving, and not to look beneath surfaces. Passing tempts us to accept people as they appear to us and, therefore, as we say they are. End of conversation. ...

Appendix: Passwords for Passing

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pp. 159-160


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pp. 161-224


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pp. 225-251


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pp. 253-269

E-ISBN-13: 9781481300438
E-ISBN-10: 1481300431
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602583122
Print-ISBN-10: 1602583129

Page Count: 285
Illustrations: 5 b/w images
Publication Year: 2012