From the Editors: Issues and Comments
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502 Issues and Comments Passing for White, Passing for Black: Adrian Piper In a long, finely written article in Transition (vol. 58, no. 4 [1992]), the philosophy professor Adrian Piper recounts some of her experiences as a very lightskinned black. Her article, a portion of which appears as Chapter 69 of this book, well rewards reading in its entirety for its in,:,entory of such events as: • A graduate student reception in which an eminent professor confronted her, a newly minted member of her class, and demanded to know why she considered herself black (p. 58); • Childhood encounters with dark-skinned black teenagers and classmates who accuse her of acting white (p. 6) or of not having suffered enough (p. 7); • The awkwardness and outrage of some whites, including friends and colleagues, on learning for the first time that she considers herself black (pp. 9-11, 19, 22-23); • Whites who spoke disparagingly of blacks in her presence, unaware of her racial identification (pp. 26-28). Piper writes of her experiences: I've learned that there is no '"right" way of managing the issue of my racial identity, no way that will not offend or alienate someone, because my designated racial identity itself exposes the very concept of racial classification as the offensive and irrational instrument ... it is. We see this in the history of the classifying terms ... : first "blacks," then"darkies," then "Negroes ," then '"colored people,'" then "blacks" again, now"Afro-Americans." Why is it that we can't seem to get it right, once and for all? The reason ... is that it doesn't really matter what term we use ... , because whatever term is used will eventually turn into a term of derision and disparagement by virtue of its reference to those who are derided and disparaged (p. 30). Even when they are used without racial animus, "[t]he fact is that the racial categories that purport to designate any of us are too rigid and oversimplified to fit anyone accurately" (p.31). From the Editors: Issues and Comments Can a person fully "pass for white"? Can he or she fool everyone? Including himself or herself? Can a person have variable race-that is, live as a black for the first half of his or her life, and then as a white the rest? A number of our writers describe themselves as white blacks, so light-skinned that everyone on meeting them assumes they are white. But if everyone treats them as white, are they not then white? That is, if race is a social construct, and if everyone in society decides one is white, does it not follow that one is simply mistaken about one's own identity? If you were head of a black advocacy group, would you hail or deplore the proposed multiracial census category? Suppose you are a peace-loving, tolerant white? Suppose you were, in fact, multiracial-where would you stand? Would you want the government to offer such a category, and would you choose it for yourself? Copyrighted Material ...