White-to-Black Passing in American Culture
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: University of Massachusetts Press
Table of Contents
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When do white people lose their whiteness? Consider four scenarios:
In his Picture of Slavery, published in 1834, George Bourne describes the case of a seven-year-old white boy who is stolen from his parents and “tattooed, painted and tanned. Every other method was also adopted which wickedness could devise, to change the exterior appearance of the unfortunate creature, ...
Chapter 1 - White Panic and White Passing: Slavery and Reconstruction
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In his 1816 antislavery tract The Book and Slavery Irreconcilable, the Reverend George Bourne declared that “slave-holders would wade through seas of the blood of white men, as well as black men, to gratify their despotic propensities if they were not restrained.”1 ...
Chapter 2 - Dy(e)ing to Be Black: “Mars Jeems’s Nightmare,” Black Like Me, and Watermelon Man
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Socially speaking, white passing involves a move from the center to the margin. Why might such a move be made? In the texts discussed in chapter 1, it was made by slaves, who had this shift foisted upon them; they were products of what Jane Gaines has called “coerced passing.”1 In this chapter I consider the move from center to margin as made by those who do possess varying de-...
Chapter 3 - Black Like She: Grace Halsell and the Sexuality of Passing
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During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, miscegenation was broadly conceived in terms of its transformative power: it could potentially turn white babies black. In the popular imagination, however, more than the baby could be blackened by sexual proximity between black and white. In 1732 the South Carolina Gazette published a poem, “The Chameleon Lover,” which envisioned...
Chapter 4 - Contagious Beats: Passing, Autobiography, and Discourses of American Music
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In 1926 the Salvation Army of Cincinnati received a court injunction to halt the construction of a movie theater next door to one of its homes for expectant mothers. It was not the sights emanating from this theater that so vexed Cincinnati residents but rather the sounds that might seep out of its doors. ...
Chapter 5 - Is Passing Passé in a “Post-Race” World?
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Is passing passé? Evidence to the contrary abounds. Recent years have witnessed an upsurge in racial passing narratives, the theme remaining central to at least three highly touted novels—Danzy Senna’s Caucasia (1998), Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist (1999), and Philip Roth’s The Human Stain (2000)—as well as to the screen adaptations of Roth’s novel, starring Anthony...
Epilogue: Hits and Misses of a Racial Free-for-All
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Not all white-to-black passing scenarios make for poignant memoirs or become gripping films. Some make headlines and become talk show fodder. In 1988 the New York Times reported on Philip and Paul Malone, “fair-haired, fair complexioned” twins who applied for jobs as firefighters in Boston in 1975 but were rejected because of low civil service test scores. They reapplied two years...
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Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2008