Before Rachel Dolezal, what did it mean to ‘pass’?

Before Rachel Dolezal, what did it mean to ‘pass’?

Christian Science Monitor

Randy Dotinga, President
American Society of Journalists and Authors

Allyson Hobbs, author of ‘A Chosen Exile,’ says the debate stirred up by Rachel Dolezal’s resignation from the NAACP hits historic chords.

Allyson Hobbs, a history professor at Stanford University, remembers hearing a story from her aunt about a distant cousin who grew up on the South Side of Chicago during the 1920s and 1930s.

The cousin was African-American, like Hobbs. But she was light-skinned, “and when she was in high school, her mother wanted her to go to Los Angeles and pass as a white woman,” Hobbs recalls. “Her mother thought this would be the best thing she could do.”

The cousin didn’t want to go but followed her mother’s wishes. She married a white man and had children. About a decade later, Hobbs says, the cousin’s mother contacted her: “You have to come home immediately, your father is dying.”

But it was not to be. “I can’t come home. I’m a white woman now,” the cousin replied. “There’s no turning back. This is the life that you made for me, and the life I have to live now.”

This remarkable tale inspired Hobbs to investigate the long history of blacks passing as whites in her well-received 2014 book A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life.

The topic of racial passing has filled the airwaves this month amid the controversy over a once-obscure local civil-rights official named Rachel Dolezal. Hobbs adds to the debate this week with New York Times commentary that offers an unexpectedly sympathetic take amid vitriol aimed at Dolezal…

Read the entire interview here.

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