Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Passing as Black? Or White?

A researcher uncovers the fact that a nineteenth-century writer -- Emma Dunham Kelley-Hawkins -- who had been thought of as "black" was actually "white." She describes her discovery as involving a choice between two alternatives:

"At first, I wondered if Kelley-Hawkins and her family were only 'passing' as white."

vs.

"How have her overwhelmingly 'white' texts successfully passed as black for so long in the absence of any corroborating historical data?"

Question: What is the difference between a "black" person who has enough white ancestry that she can "pass as white," and a "white" person who only appears to be a "black" person who has enough white ancestry that she can pass as white? On what basis does anyone say that the former person is really black while the latter is really white? I don't get it.

2 Comments:

Blogger Tim McNabb said...

An interesting book on this topic was The Human Stain. Here is my review of it:

The Human StainThis makes me think of racial preferences and a Father's lament that he was too Jewish to get into Harvard, and his son was too White.

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Passing as white would mean that she thought of herself as black and knew she had some black ancestry but hid that from others.

In this case there is no evidence she had any black ancestry or thought of herself as black. The puzzle is how some literary critics suddenly decided she was black.

5:55 PM  

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