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14 "Lost Boundaries" Racial Passing and Poverty in Segregated New Orleans1 ARTHE A. ANTHONY On sunny summer Sunday afternoons in Harlem when the air is one interminable ball game and grandma cannot get her gospel hymns from the Saints of God in Christ on account of the Dodgers on the radio, on sunny Sunday afternoons when the kids look all new and far too clean to stay that way, and Harlem has its washed-and-ironed-and-cleaned-best out, the ones who've crossed the line to live downtown miss you, Harlem of the bitter dream, since their dream has come true. —Langston Hughes, 1951 i. Aversion of this paper, entitled "The Risks of Passing and the Stigma of Blackness: The Economics of Race and Racism in Segregated New Orleans," was presented at the joint meeting of the California and Rocky Mountain American Studies Associations at the University of Nevada, Reno, May i, 1993. Special thanks to Barbara Bradshaw, Raul Fernandez, John Higginson, and Monique M. Taylor for their comments, Vivian Clecak for her interest, Jeannette Altimus for her generosity, Marcia McCall for her assistance as 1993 Ford Foundation Sum295 296 ARTHE A. ANTHONY Racial passing is a well-known theme in pre-World War II African American literature.2 Adrian Piper's recent essay, "Passing for White, Passing for Black," is an example of continued interest in the topic.3 In addition, "passing" is used in cultural studies as a metaphor for masking the real—and most often marginalized—self.4 This essay examines racial passing, with an emphasis on the lives of black Creole women, in relation to the economic impact of racial repression and segregation on black life mer Research Fellow, and Gregory Osborn for his comments and research assistance . I am also indebted to Phenella Duplessis Perez for introducing me to the phrase they lost their boundaries, in reference to individualswho assumed new identities and, as a result, lost their black families of origin. She also brought my attention to W. L. White's Lost Boundaries (New York:Harcourt, Brace, 1947); this was also the title of a 1949 motion picture. Interview by author, Los Angeles, Calif, July 8, 1993. 2. Central texts include Charles W. Chesnutt, The Marrow of Tradition (1901); James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912); Jessie Redmon Fauset, Plum Bun: A Novel without a Moral (1928); and Nella Larsen, Passing (1929). Passing was also of interest, albeit for different reasons, to European American and European writers; see, for example,Joachim Warmbold, "If Only She Didn't Have Negro Blood in Her Veins: The Concept oiMetissage in German Colonial Literature," Journal of Black Studies 23 (1992): 200-9; A. L. Nielsen, "Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson and the Novel of the Tragic Mulatto," Grey friar: Siena Studies in Literature 26 (1985): 14-30; Daniel Aaron, "The Inky" The Inkyy. Curse: Miscegenation in the White American Literary Imagination," Social Science Information 22 (1983): 169-90; and James Kinney, "The Rhetoric of Racism: Thomas Dixon and the 'Damned Black Beast,' "American Literary Realism 15 (1982): 145-54. 3. Adrian Piper, "Passing for White, Passing for Black," Transition 58 (1992): 4-32. See also, for example, G. Reginald Daniels, "Passers and Pluralists: Subverting the Racial Divide," in Racially Mixed People in America, ed. Maria P. P. Root (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1992); James F. Davis, Who Is Black? One Nation's Definition (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991); Paul R. Spickard, Mixed Blood: Intermarriage and Ethnic Identity in Twentieth-Century America (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989); and Virginia R. Dominguez , White by Definition: Social Classification in Creole Louisiana (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1986). 4. See, for example,Lauren Berlant, "National Brand/National Body: Imitation of Life" in Comparative American Identities, ed. Hortense J. Spillers (New York: Routledge, 1991), 110-40; and bell hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation (Boston: South End Press, 1992). Valerie Smith has applied the term to the subtext of films in which black working-class characters attempt to transcend their class background to "pass" for middle class (paper delivered at the Symposium on Criti- "LOST BOUNDARIES" 297 in New Orleans.5 My conclusions are drawn,in large part, from an analysis of thirty extensive oral history interviews that I conducted with eighteen women and twelve men born between 1885 and 1905, and living in downtown New Orleans in ipyy.6 Each of these men and women thought of him- or herself...


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