“This damned business of colour”: Passing in African American novels and memoirs

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2012-04-24 03:26Z by Steven

“This damned business of colour”: Passing in African American novels and memoirs

Lehigh University
230 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3167071
ISBN: 9780542026218

Irina C. Negrea

Presented to the Graduate and Research Committee of Lehigh University in Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English

The topic of this dissertation is an analysis of racial passing, as depicted in the novels The House Behind the Cedars by Charles Chesnutt, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, by James Weldon Johnson, and Passing by Nella Larsen, as well as in the memoirs The Sweeter the Juice by Shirlee Taylor Haizlip, Notes of a White Black Woman by Judy Scales-Trent, and Life on the Color Line by Gregory Williams.

Starting from the premise that passing is a complex phenomenon that reinforces and subverts the racial system simultaneously, this dissertation focuses on the subversive side of passing that comes to light especially when the passer is found out—a side that becomes obvious in the reactions it provokes in white racists: horror, fear, disgust, and insecurity.

One other new element that this dissertation brings into the field is a classification of passing that can be used as a tool for the analysis of similar literary works. The majority of passers fall into one of two categories: identificatory and performative. Identificatory passing is predicated on the passer’s identification with the white ideology. It is permanent, and the passer breaks all ties with his/her African American ancestry. At the other end of the spectrum is performative passing, based on the view of race as performance—a matter of props, makeup, and/or behavior. The passer crosses the color line and “acts” white, but in most cases, s/he does not break his/her ties with his/her African American roots and community. Rather, the performative passer tries to acknowledge both his/her racial identities, refusing to be boxed in one narrow racial category. These types of passing do not exist in a “pure” state; there are characters who start as performers of race and end up identifying with whiteness, for example, but the two basic types exist, in one combination or another, in all the stories of passing ever written. These two different types of passing engender different types of subversion of the racial system, and they are discussed as well in this dissertation.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter I: “Gone Over on the Other Side:” Charles Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars
  • Chapter II: “They Wouldn’t Know you from White:” The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
  • Chapter III: “They Always Come Back:” Nella Larsen’s Passing
  • Chapter IV: The Family’s “Heart of Darkness:” Passing in African American Memoirs
  • Bibliography

Purchase the dissertation here.

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Blinded By the Light; But Now I See (Book Review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Law, Media Archive on 2010-08-12 02:41Z by Steven

Blinded By the Light; But Now I See

Western New England Law Review
Western New England College
Volume 20, Issue 2 (1998)
pages 491-504

Leonard M. Baynes, Professor of Law and Inaugural Director of The Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development
St. Johns University


In the United States, interracial discrimination is considered the norm. The use of the word “discrimination” brings to mind George Wallace standing in the doorway of the University of Alabama [in 1963] to bar the entry of African American students. It brings to mind slavery. After all, we ostensibly fought the Civil War over slavery and the right to hold Black people as slaves. White against-Black discrimination occupies an almost sacred historical position in our society.

Today, discrimination often comes in more subtle forms, and, of course, White people now claim that they are victims of so-called “reverse discrimination.” Racial discrimination by Whites against Blacks is not the exclusive discrimination paradigm. African American society has its own internal form of discrimination—often light against dark—which sadly was modeled on the White—against-Black paradigm. It was not uncommon for very light-skinned Blacks (sometimes nicknamed the blue vein society because their veins could be seen through their skin) to exclude dark-skinned Blacks from their clubs and activities based on skin color. Other organizations would discriminate based on whether a person’s skin color was lighter than a brown paper bag. Many of these organizations have changed and now include African Americans of a wide rainbow of colors.

These days, discrimination in the African American community is often dual-sided-light versus dark and dark versus light. Spike Lee, in the film School Daze, which takes place on an all Black college campus, underscores this duality and divides the students into two groups: (1) the wannabees (more often light-skinned, and middle class) who are members of fraternities and sororities and (2) the jigaboos (more often dark-skinned, and from lower economic backgrounds) who are often members of Black militant groups. In the film, it was evident that the two groups despised and intimidated each other.

For many Blacks, discussion of this internal discrimination is still a taboo subject. It is understood, but rarely discussed or investigated. But recently, critical race theorists have begun to examine the complex foundation and mechanisms of color-based discrimination. Professor Judy Scales-Trent of State University of New York at Buffalo is the author of the book entitled Notes of a White Black Woman: Race, Color, Community, and Dean Gregory Howard Williams, dean of the Ohio State University College of Law, is the author of the book entitled Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black. Both books are exceptional personal narratives, which allow the reader to examine first-hand, incidents and introspection surrounding color-based discrimination in the United States. Both authors describe many experiences of discrimination that they have encountered within the African American community, as well as by Whites.

Many African Americans are dark enough so that racial recognition is never at issue. Many who are very easily recognized as Black often wonder what it would be like to be so light. Both Scales-Trent and Williams answer that question. They both highlight those unique issues that they encounter as light-skinned African Americans who are so light that they cannot easily be racialized. Both authors contribute to the color analysis by challenging our historical conceptions of race, identity, and racial solidarity. Ultimately, they help us to better understand and address how they have encountered discrimination by both sides. It is also very important to point out that both of these people could have passed as White if they wanted to, but they did not. They chose to stay Black and be involved in the African American community.

In this Book Review, I discuss the law regarding intra-race discrimination based on color. I then discuss excerpts from the books of Professor Scales-Trent and Dean Williams, concluding that it is sometimes difficult to be an African American who is too light…

Read the entire article here.

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Notes of a White Black Woman: Race, Color, Community

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Law, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Science, United States, Women on 2009-10-17 20:36Z by Steven

Notes of a White Black Woman: Race, Color, Community

Penn State Press
206 pages
6 x 9
cloth: ISBN 978-0-271-01430-2
paper: ISBN 978-0-271-02124-9

Judy Scales-Trent, Floyd H. & Hilda L. Hurst Faculty Scholar, Professor Emerita
State Univerisity of New York at Buffalo Law School

“I remember one time in particular, after the cab I was in crashed into the car in front, then backed into the one behind. A policeman stopped to help.  As he was taking down my name and address, I noticed that he had checked the ‘white’ box.  ‘Officer,’ I said politely, ‘you made an error on your form. I am not white. I am black.’ He gave me a long, bored look, decided not to discuss it, and said, ‘Sure, lady.  If you say so.’ If I say so? If I say so!  As if it were my idea!  I was enraged at his assumption that all of this—the categories, the racial purity laws, the lives that are stomped, mangled, ruined because of those categories and those laws ïwas based on my say-so.  If I said so, we would do away with all of it ïthe sickness and fear, the need to classify as a way to control, the need to make some appear smaller so that others can appear larger. ‘If I say so’ indeed.”

While the “one-drop rule” in the United States dictates that people with any African ancestry are black, many black Americans have white skin.  Notes of a White Black Woman is one woman’s attempt to describe what it is like to be a “white” black woman and to live simultaneously inside and outside of both white and black communities.

Law professor Judy Scales-Trent begins by describing how our racial purity laws have operated over the past four hundred years.  Then, in a series of autobiographical essays, she addresses how race and color interact in relationships between men and women, within families, and in the larger community.  Scales-Trent ultimately explores the question of what we really mean by “race” in this country, once it is clear that race is not a tangible reality as reflected through color.

Scales-Trent uses autobiography both as a way to describe these issues and to develop a theory of the social construction of race.  She explores how race and color intertwine through black and white families and across generations; how members of both black and white communities work to control group membership; and what happens to relations between black men and women when thelayer of color is placed over the already difficult layer of race.  She addresses how one can tell–and whether one can tell–who, indeed, is “black” or “white.”  Scales-Trent also celebrates the richness of her bicultural heritage and shows how she has revised her teaching methods to provide her law students with a multicultural education.

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The Social Construction of Race and Ethnicity in the United States (2nd Edition)

Posted in Anthologies, Anthropology, Books, Census/Demographics, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2009-10-17 19:19Z by Steven

The Social Construction of Race and Ethnicity in the United States (2nd Edition)

Prentice Hall
525 pages
Paperback ISBN-10: 0130283231; ISBN-13:  9780130283238

Edited By:

Joan Ferrante
Northern Kentucky University

Prince Brown, Jr.
Northern Kentucky University

For undergraduate courses in race and ethnic relations.

This groundbreaking collection of classic and cutting edge sociological research gives special attention to the social construction of race and ethnicity in the United States. It offers an in-depth and eye-opening analysis of (a) the power of racial classification to shape our understanding of race and race relations, (b) the way in which the system came into being and remains, and (c) the real consequences this system has on life chances.

Patricia Riley, Adventures of an Indian Princess. Timothy Egan, Expelled in 1877, Indian Tribe is Now Wanted as a Resource. Lawrence Otis Graham, Black Man with a Nose Job. Garrett Hongo, Culture Wars in Asian America. Andrea Kim, Born and Raised in Hawaii, But Not Hawaiian. Yolanda Adams, Don’t Want to Be Black Anymore. Mitzi Uehara-Carter, On Being Blackanese. Joan Ferrante, Six Case Studies. Dympna Ugwu-Oju, What Will My Mother Say. Paul Andrew Dawkins, Apologizing for Being a Black Male. Judy Scales-Trent, Choosing Up Sides. Marilyn Halter, Identity Matters: The Immigrant Children. Sarah Van’t Hul, How It Was for Me. Joseph Tovares, Mojado Like Me. Yuri Kochiyama, Then Came the War.

Paul Knepper, Historical Origins of the Prohibition of Multiracial Legal Identity in the State and the Nation. Federal Statistical Directive No. 15 THE U.S. OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET, OMB’s Decisions: Revisions to Federal Statistical Directive. Prince Brown, Jr., Biology and the Social Construction of the “Race” Concept. Ian F. Haney Lopez, The Mean Streets of Social Race. Jack D. Forbes, “Indian” and “Black” as Radically Different Categories. Michael Granberry, A Tribe’s Battle for Its Identity. Madison Hemings, The Memoirs of Madison Hemings. Ariela J. Gross, Litigating Whiteness. Laura L. Lovett, Invoking Ancestors. Angelo N. Ancheta, Race Relations in Black and White . Time Magazine, How to Tell Your Friends From the Japs.

The U.S. Bureau of the Census, Questions Related to Ethnicity. Luis Angel Toro, Directive No. 15 and Self-Identification. Himilce Novas, What’s in a Name? Julie E. Sprott, The Mingling of Alaska Natives with “Foreigners”: A Brief Historical Overview. Mary C. Waters, Choosing an Ancestry. David Steven Cohen, Reflections on American Ethnicity. Yen Le Espiritu, Theories of Ethnicity. Rudolph J. Vecoli, Are Italian-Americans Just White Folk? Peter D. Salins, Americans United by Myths.

Judy Scales-Trent, On Being Like a Mule. Article XIX, Chinese, Constitution of the State of California, 1872; Repealed, November 4, 1952, State of California. Howard Zinn, Persons of Mean and Vile Condition. Stephen Jay Gould, Science and Jewish Immigration. J. A. Rogers, Remarks on the First Two Volumes of Sex and Race. Prince Brown, Jr., Why “Race” Makes No Scientific Sense: The Case of Africans and Native Americans. Albert Jacquard, Science, Pseudo-science and Racism. Charles A Gallagher, White Reconstruction in the University. Trina Grillo and Stephanie M. Wildman, Taking Back the Center. The U.S. Supreme Court, Plessy v. Ferguson. Cheryl I. Harris, Plessy. Albert Jacquard, Declaration of Athens: Scientists Speak Out Against Racism.

Vivian J. Rohrl, The Anthropology of Race: A Study of Ways of Looking at Race. Letter from Thomas Jefferson: Virginia’s Definition of a Mulatto. Cruz Reynoso, Ethnic Diversity: Its Historical and Constitutional Roots. Erich Loewy, Making Good Again. Stephen H. Caldwell and Rebecca Popenoe, Perceptions and Misperceptions of Skin Color. Selected Discrimination Cases Handled by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1999. Nicholas Peroff, Indianess. K.C. Cole, Brain’s Use of Shortcuts Can Be A Route to Bias. Richard T. Schaefer, Talking Past One Another. Ward Churchill, Let’s Spread the “Fun” Around: The Issue of Sports Team Names and Mascots. Lawrence Otis Graham, The Rules of Passing. Anthony S. Parent and Susan Brown Wallace, Childhood and Sexual Identity Under Slavery. Patricia Hill Collins, Toward a New Vision: Race, Class, and Gender as Categories of Analysis and Connection. Bruce N. Simon, White-Blindness. Robert Jensen, White Privilege Shapes the U.S. Robert Jensen, More Thoughts on Why the System of White Privilege is Wrong.

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