Friday, February 26, 2010

On Passing

The writer Toure's recent piece Do Not Pass focuses on passing, you know, the whole act of a person from one race secretly assimilating into another race.

According to Toure, "for those who’ve been able to complete the sociopolitical fantasy trip and become racial transvestites, it usually ends badly." He then references various novels, including James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929), William Faulkner’s Light in August (1932), Philip Roth’s The Human Stain (2000), and Ralph Ellison's posthumous Juneteenth/Three Days Before the Shooting (1999/2010) to support his argument.

Well, I'm not buying it. Sure, things end badly for folks in those novels, but then, can't we assume that we hardly know enough about those who are successfully passing? Novelists, at least those mentioned above, tend to deal with instances of when passing goes wrong.

Of course, there are some tremendous benefits, for some, when it comes to passing, acting white, selectively assimilating, or adopting aspects of various other cultures. Recall that Senator Harry Reid felt Obama's chances at becoming president were heightened because Obama was 'a light-skinned' African-America 'with no Negro dialect."

I suspect that there are numerous other instances where folks benefit from some degree of passing or assimilating.

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