Can You Be “White Passing” Even if You Aren’t Trying?

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Communications/Media Studies, History, Latino Studies, Media Archive, Passing, Social Science, United States on 2022-01-12 15:59Z by Steven

Can You Be “White Passing” Even if You Aren’t Trying?

Mother Jones
January-February 2022 Issue

Andrea Guzmán, Ben Bagdikian Editorial Fellow

Lisa Taniguchi

The phrase has become popular on social media. But there’s a lot left out of the conversation.

When pop star Olivia Rodrigo released her album Sour in May 2021, listeners took to TikTok to debate whether she was “white passing.” The question was not really about how Rodrigo perceives or publicly identifies herself. She is of both Filipino and white ancestry. Rather, it was about whether others see her as white. The Rodrigo discourse soon enflamed more general discussion about who deems one “white passing.” As one Iranian-born TikToker explained, she “did not grow up being white” when she came of age in post-9/11 America, but after others began to associate her appearance with whiteness—partially because of the rise of the Kardashians—she now recognizes the privilege of being “white passing.”

The conversation differed from how “passing” has traditionally been used in the United States. In the Jim Crow era—when “one drop” of Black ancestry subjected a person to segregation—“passing” was a deception to assume the privileges of whiteness. From 1880 to 1940, experts suspect about 20 percent of Black men passed for white at some point. It was commonly an attempt to “access things that wouldn’t have been available to them otherwise,” says Nikki Khanna, a sociology professor at the University of Vermont. But it was also a certain betrayal—leaving behind collective uplift for personal gain…

Read the entire article here.

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Whiter: Asian American Women on Skin Color and Colorism

Posted in Anthologies, Asian Diaspora, Autobiography, Books, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2020-03-06 18:06Z by Steven

Whiter: Asian American Women on Skin Color and Colorism

New York University Press
March 2020
280 pages
6.00 x 9.00 in
Paperback ISBN: 9781479800292
Hardcover ISBN: 9781479881086

Edited by:

Nikki Khanna, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of Vermont


Heartfelt personal accounts from Asian American women on their experiences with skin color bias, from being labeled “too dark” to becoming empowered to challenge beauty standards

“I have a vivid memory of standing in my grandmother’s kitchen, where, by the table, she closely watched me as I played. When I finally looked up to ask why she was staring, her expression changed from that of intent observer to one of guilt and shame. . . . ‘My anak (dear child),’ she began, ‘you are so beautiful. It is a shame that you are so dark. No Filipino man will ever want to marry you.’” —“Shade of Brown,” Noelle Marie Falcis

How does skin color impact the lives of Asian American women? In Whiter, thirty Asian American women provide first-hand accounts of their experiences with colorism in this collection of powerful, accessible, and brutally honest essays, edited by Nikki Khanna.

Featuring contributors of many ages, nationalities, and professions, this compelling collection covers a wide range of topics, including light-skin privilege, aspirational whiteness, and anti-blackness. From skin-whitening creams to cosmetic surgery, Whiter amplifies the diverse voices of Asian American women who continue to bravely challenge the power of skin color in their own lives.

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Call for Essays: Shades of Prejudice: Asian American Women on Colorism in America from NYU Press, Edited by Nikki Khanna (Forthcoming 2018)

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Autobiography, Media Archive, United States, Wanted/Research Requests/Call for Papers, Women on 2017-10-17 02:34Z by Steven

Call for Essays: Shades of Prejudice: Asian American Women on Colorism in America from NYU Press, Edited by Nikki Khanna (Forthcoming 2018)

Nikki Khanna, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of Vermont
Department of Sociology
31 South Prospect Street
Burlington, Vermont 05405
Telephone: (802) 656-2162


DEADLINE: Manuscripts will be accepted on a rolling basis, though the final deadline is OCTOBER 31, 2017.

I am pleased to announce an open submission call for my forthcoming anthology from New York University Press, SHADES OF PREJUDICE, a collection of essays written by Asian American women about their personal experiences with colorism.

Colorism is the practice of discrimination whereby light skin is privileged over dark, and is a global issue affecting racial groups worldwide. Colorism exists is just about every part of Asia and affects Asian diasporas, including most Asian American communities—including those descended from Southeast Asia (e.g., India, Pakistan, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia), but also those from Japan, China, and other parts of Eastern Asia.

I am looking for Asian American women (including multiracial American women with Asian ancestry) to share their personal experiences with colorismhow has your skin shade (and other “racialized” physical features like eye color, eye shape, and other facial features) influenced your life?


  • Submissions should be sent to: (in the subject heading, please type in all-caps: SHADES OF PREJUDICE SUBMISSION)
  • Please send your personal narrative as a Microsoft® Word document and label your document: “LASTNAME_FIRSTNAME.doc.”
  • Essays should be approximately 1,000-2,500 words, double-spaced, and Times New Roman font.


Nikki Khanna is an associate professor of Sociology at the University of Vermont and has written extensively on issues regarding race. You can read more about the author here: and


  • What do you consider (physically) beautiful and why? Where does your image of beauty come from? (family, friends, media, or somewhere else?)
  • What is the importance of skin shade in your Asian ethnic community and how has this affected your life? For example, has it had an effect on dating or finding a mate? Has it influenced your interactions or relationships with family members or others? Has it affected any of your life opportunities? (job, education, etc.?).
  • How did you learn that light skin was preferred over dark skin in your Asian ethnic community? Can you provide specific examples?
  • Have you personally benefitted from having light skin? If so, how so? Is there a particular experience that you can share?
  • How have your family, community, peers, friends, media or others reinforced the stereotype that light skin is somehow more desirable than dark skin?
  • Have you felt pressure to use products designed to lighten or whiten your skin? If yes, why and what types of products? What has your experiences been with these products? How do you feel about whitening products?
  • Have you tried any other means to lighten or change the shade of your skin?
  • Have you felt pressure from your ethnic community or larger American society to conform to particular beauty standards? How so? Explain.
  • Have you struggled with, resisted, or actively challenged the “light is beautiful” message? How so?
  • Have other physical/facial characteristics (those that are often related to race) had an influence on your life (e.g., your eye color, eye shape, nose shape)?
  • Have you felt pressure to surgically alter any of your physical features to conform to a particular beauty standard in your Asian ethnic community or in larger American society (e.g., eyelid surgery)? Explain.
  • Do you think light skin is seen as desirable because some people desire to look/be white, because light skin is related to social class or caste, or to something else? Why? What in your personal life has informed the way you explain why light skin is considered more desirable than dark?
  • Do you think the impact of your skin color on your life is influenced by other factors – such as your gender, social class/caste, ethnic group, generation, or other factors? For example, do you think skin color more so affects women than men? Why or why not? Do you think that your experiences are similar or different to male family members or men in your Asian ethnic community? Do you think your generation (whether you are 1st, 2nd, 3rd or later generation Asian American) has influenced the importance of skin color in your life?
  • Did growing up in America challenge or reinforce the idea that light skin is better than dark? How so? Could you share a particular example? Relatedly, how have American beauty standards affected your vision of what is considered beautiful and how does this related to beauty standards in your ethnic community? Are those standards complementary or contradictory?

For more information, click here.

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Race Policy and Multiracial Americans

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Campus Life, Family/Parenting, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Latino Studies, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2016-01-27 14:41Z by Steven

Race Policy and Multiracial Americans

Policy Press (Available in North America from University of Chicago Press)
226 pages
234 x 156 mm
Hardback ISBN: 9781447316459
Paperback ISBN: 9781447316503

Edited by:

Kathleen Odell Korgen, Professor of Sociology
William Paterson University, Wayne, New Jersey

Race Policy and Multiracial Americans is the first book to look at the impact of multiracial people on race policies—where they lag behind the growing numbers of multiracial people in the U.S. and how they can be used to promote racial justice for multiracial Americans. Using a critical mixed race perspective, it covers such questions as: Which policies aimed at combating racial discrimination should cover multiracial Americans? Should all (or some) multiracial Americans benefit from affirmative action programmes? How can we better understand the education and health needs of multiracial Americans? This much-needed book is essential reading for sociology, political science and public policy students, policy makers, and anyone interested in race relations and social justice.


  • Introduction ~ Kathleen Odell Korgen
  • Multiracial Americans throughout the History of the U.S. ~ Tyrone Nagai
  • National and Local Structures of Inequality: Multiracial Groups’ Profiles Across the United States ~ Mary E. Campbell and Jessica M. Barron
  • Latinos and Multiracial America ~ Raúl Quiñones Rosado
  • The Connections among Racial Identity, Social Class, and Public Policy? ~ Nikki Khanna
  • Multiracial Americans and Racial Discrimination ~ Tina Fernandes Botts
  • “Should All (or Some) Multiracial Americans Benefit from Affirmative Action Programs?”~ Daniel N. Lipson
  • Multiracial Students and Educational Policy ~ Rhina Fernandes Williams and E. Namisi Chilungu
  • Multiracial Americans in College ~ Marc P. Johnston and Kristen A. Renn
  • Multiracial Americans, Health Patterns, and Health Policy: Assessment and Recommendations for Ways Forward ~ Jenifer L. Bratter and Chirsta Mason
  • Racial Identity Among Multiracial Prisoners in the Color-Blind Era ~ Gennifer Furst and Kathleen Odell Korgen
  • “Multiraciality and the Racial Order: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”~ Hephzibah V. Strmic-Pawl and David L. Brunsma
  • Multiracial Identity and Monoracial Conflict: Toward a New Social Justice framework ~ Andrew Jolivette
  • Conclusion: Policies for a Racially Just Society ~ Kathleen Odell Korgen
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Prof. Khanna widely consulted in Dolezal controversy

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Passing, Social Science, United States on 2015-06-17 22:41Z by Steven

Prof. Khanna widely consulted in Dolezal controversy

UVM Department of Sociology
University of Vermont

Prof. Nikki Khanna, an expert in shifting racial identities and the social construction of race, has been widely sought after by the media in the wake of the controversy about Rachel Dolezal. Some of the media outlets where she was quoted or appeared include:

Read the entire press release here.

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Whites pass for black to gain empathy, experts say in wake of Dolezal case

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-06-13 23:39Z by Steven

Whites pass for black to gain empathy, experts say in wake of Dolezal case

USA Today

Melanie Eversley, Breaking News Reporter

In history and in many black American families, there’s talk of black people passing for white, especially during the days of Jim Crow laws or slavery when it benefited them or even saved their lives.

But not as much has been written about the white people who pass for black or adopt black culture — from celebrities who adopt traditionally black hairstyles and vernacular, or, as social media has been abuzz with since Thursday, Rachel Dolezal, the NAACP Spokane, Wash., branch president whose parents say she is white.

English professor Alisha Gaines, who is publishing a book about white people who pass for black, says the phenomenon is rooted in a need to identify and empathize with black culture. Some people throughout history have passed for black as a way to immerse themselves in the experience, says Gaines, who teaches at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

One of the people referenced in her book, Black for a Day: Fantasies of Race and Empathy, is Grace Halsell, a late journalist who posed as a black woman for a few weeks in the deep South and wrote about her experiences in a book titled Soul Sister

…The main reason people choose to pass for black is they have a need or desire to promote civil rights and racial justice, says Marcia Dawkins, author of Clearly Invisible: Racial Passing and the Color of Cultural Identity

…Author and educator Nikki Khanna believes it also can be about being accepted.

“Maybe for this particular woman — it seems as if she cares about African-American issues, she heads the chapter of the NAACP in Spokane, I don’t know if she felt that was her way of fitting in,” says Khanna, who has studied how biracial Americans identify in terms of race

Read the entire article here.

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Black Is, Black Ain’t: Biracials, Middle-Class Blacks, and the Social Construction of Blackness

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2014-10-27 18:44Z by Steven

Black Is, Black Ain’t: Biracials, Middle-Class Blacks, and the Social Construction of Blackness

Sociological Spectrum
Volume 30,  Issue 6, 2010
pages 639-670
DOI: 10.1080/02732173.2010.510057

Cherise A. Harris, Associate Professor of Sociology
Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut

Nikki Khanna, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of Vermont

Several scholars claim that group cohesion among black Americans is necessary for black advancement. Our research examines the extent to which group cohesion is possible given the increasing diversity of Black America, particularly with regard to race and class. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 33 middle-class blacks and 40 black-white biracials, we explore (1) the similarities and differences in the experiences of both groups, (2) their encounters with marginalization, (3) how they negotiate perceived marginalization, and (4) the extent to which all of the above are shaped by socially constructed ideas of blackness. We find that narrow notions of “authentic” blackness challenge group cohesion and threaten to splinter the black community along class and ethnic/racial lines. However, we find evidence of greater tolerance for the community’s racial diversity than its class diversity. Nevertheless, the data presented here suggest that the increasing heterogeneity of Black America poses significant challenges to group cohesion.

Read or purchase the article here.

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I find that biracial respondents frequently explain their black identities as due, in part, to how they believe they are viewed by “others” and by “larger society.”

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2013-07-15 01:21Z by Steven

This study adds to the growing body of literature on multiracial identity by illustrating the importance of reflected appraisals in shaping racial identity. Importantly, these findings also show how reflected appraisals are fundamentally shaped by the one-drop rule (for black-white Americans in particular). Few studies examine reflected appraisals as a determinant of racial identity (Khanna 2004), and I find that biracial respondents frequently explain their black identities as due, in part, to how they believe they are viewed by “others” and by “larger society.” As suggested by Brunsma and Rockquemore (2001), however, who argue that how biracial people think others view them is moderated by social context, many respondents draw distinctions between how they believe they are perceived depending upon whether the observers are white or black. Other white people, they argue, see them as black, while other black people are more likely to recognize their multiracial backgrounds. These conflicting perceptions have the potential to shape different “racial reflections” (e.g., as black or multiracial), yet I find that the one-drop rule affects the entire reflected appraisal process, subsequently shaping “internalized” black identities for the majority of respondents.

Nikki Khanna, “‘If You’re Half Black, You’re Just Black’: Reflected Appraisals and the Persistence of the One-Drop Rule,” Sociological Quarterly, Volume 51, Issue 1 (Winter 2010). 113-114.

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I propose that the one drop rule no longer trumps physical appearance, but nonetheless it continues to influence racial identity today.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2013-07-14 16:29Z by Steven

I propose that the one drop rule no longer trumps physical appearance, but nonetheless it continues to influence racial identity today. In particular, the one drop rule affects how black-white biracials’ physical appearances are perceived by others. Despite the range in their physical appearances (e.g., some have dark and others light skin), black-white biracial Americans are frequently raced as black. This is because the legacy of the one drop rule has shaped how Americans (of all racial and ethnic backgrounds) perceive normative “black” phenotypes. According to Russell, Wilson, and Hall (1992), black Americans show a “kaleidoscope of skin tones” (9), due both to the long history of interracial mixing between blacks and whites and to the broad definition of “blackness.” Under the one drop rule, individuals with any degree of black ancestry were classified as black; thus, the normative phenotypic image of a “black” person became broad, and we can see today that black phenotypes vary widely in skin tone and other physical characteristics (e.g., nose shape, hair texture). Even today, having some “white” phenotypic characteristics—such as light skin, blue eyes, and straight hair—does not necessarily conflict with Americans’ image of blackness. For example, actress Vanessa Williams and recording artist Beyoncé Knowles are both “black” with some degree of white ancestry and “white” features. While Williams and Knowles do not outwardly appear white (i.e., they could not pass as white), they do have some physical features that reflect their white ancestry; Vanessa Williams has light skin and blue eyes, and Beyonce Knowles has light skin and long, straight hair. Having these “white” normative physical characteristics, however, does not necessarily conflict with Americans’ image of what it looks like to be black.

This broad image of blackness not only influences how Americans view blacks, but also how they view biracial black-white Americans. Regardless of any “white” physical characteristics biracial individuals may have, others tend simply to classify them as black because their perceptions of what a “black” person looks like do not preclude normative “white” physical characteristics. For instance, a biracial person may have straight, long hair, but so do many black Americans (either because of white ancestry or because of hair straightening/“relaxing” techniques common among black women today). As a consequence, many Americans are unable to distinguish between black and biracial phenotypes. Thus, appraisals of these phenotypes (both real and reflected) are influenced by the historical legacy of the one drop rule, which continues to shape black identities even today.

Nikki Khanna, Biracial in America: Forming and Performing Racial Identity, (Lahnam, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2011), 47.


Teaching & Learning Guide for: Multiracial Americans: Racial Identity Choices and Implications for the Collection of Race Data

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, My Articles/Point of View/Activities, Social Science, Teaching Resources, United States on 2013-04-03 02:36Z by Steven

Teaching & Learning Guide for: Multiracial Americans: Racial Identity Choices and Implications for the Collection of Race Data

Sociology Compass
Volume 6, Issue 6 (June 2012)
pages 519–525
DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2012.00463.x

Nikki Khanna, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of Vermont

This guide accompanies the following article: Nikki Khanna, ‘Multiracial Americans: Racial Identity Choices and Implications for the Collection of Race Data’, Sociology Compass 6/4 (2012): 316–331, 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00454.x.

Author’s introduction

In 2010, approximately nine million Americans self-identified with two or more races on the United States Census – a 32 percent increase in the last decade. President Barack Obama, the son of a white Kansas-born mother and Kenyan father, was not one of these self-identified multiracial Americans. In fact, Obama chose only to check the ‘black’ box, illustrating that multiracial ancestry does not always translate to multiracial identity. Since the 1990s, there has been a growing body of research examining the multiracial population and key questions have included: How do multiracial Americans identify themselves? And why? This paper reviews this research, with a focus on the factors shaping racial identity and the implications regarding the collection of race data in the US Census.

Author recommends

Khanna, Nikki. 2011. Biracial in America: Forming and Performing Race. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Looking at black-white biracial Americans, this book examines the influencing factors and underlying social psychological processes shaping their multidimensional racial identities. This book also investigates the ways in which biracial Americans perform race in their day-to-day lives…

Online materials

Race: Are We So Different?

This website explores the common misconceptions about race through several interactive activities.

Race: The Power of an Illusion

This website explores the question ‘What is Race?’ through several interactive activities.

Mixed-Race Studies

This website is a useful resource for anyone interested in mixed-race studies. Included here is information about articles, books, dissertations, videos, multimedia, and other resources related to multiracial people…

Read the (entire?) guide here.

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