A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life by Allyson Hobbs

By Allyson Hobbs

Between the eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, numerous African americans handed as white, abandoning households and associates, roots and neighborhood. It used to be, as Allyson Hobbs writes, a selected exile, a separation from one racial identification and the bounce into one other. This revelatory heritage of passing explores the probabilities and demanding situations that racial indeterminacy offered to women and men dwelling in a rustic keen about racial differences. It additionally tells a story of loss.

As racial relatives in the United States have developed so has the importance of passing. To go as white within the antebellum South used to be to flee the shackles of slavery. After emancipation, many African american citizens got here to treat passing as a kind of betrayal, a promoting of one’s birthright. while the in the beginning hopeful interval of Reconstruction proved short-lived, passing turned a chance to defy Jim Crow and strike out on one’s own.

even supposing black american citizens who followed white identities reaped merits of extended chance and mobility, Hobbs is helping us to acknowledge and comprehend the grief, loneliness, and isolation that accompanied—and frequently outweighed—these rewards. by way of the dawning of the civil rights period, increasingly more racially combined americans felt the lack of family members and group used to be an excessive amount of to undergo, that it used to be time to “pass out” and include a black id. even supposing contemporary many years have witnessed an more and more multiracial society and a starting to be popularity of hybridity, the matter of race and id continues to be on the middle of public debate and emotionally fraught own decisions.

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Extra info for A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life

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23 As historian Jill Lepore observed, “To write was to defy bondage. . ”24 Masters cautioned even the most astute and “the most careful” slave catchers of the likelihood of being duped by a fugitive slave who would “write any Pass . . ” They also feared that slaves might collude with others willing to write passes for them. ”25 In October 1764, Moses Grimes was taken to a Pennsylvania jail on the suspicion that he was a runaway slave. 26 C. H. ”27 Some masters underestimated the talents of their slaves.

In each historical period, the conjuncture of political and cultural forces shaped the lived experience of racially ambiguous men and women. Passing is a continuous and enduring historical phenomenon that opens a wide window onto larger issues about inconstant racial definitions, the changing dynamics of race relations, and the complex and circuitous routes along which African American identity has developed in the United States. The chapters that follow offer a cultural history of racial passing from the late eighteenth century to the moment when it reportedly “passed out” in the 1950s.

Indeed, it is my contention that the core issue of passing is not becoming what you pass for, but losing what you pass away from. The chapters that follow examine several historical moments from the late eighteenth century to the present. In each moment, the question of how to live with race was tested and contested. In each period, racially ambiguous people maneuvered around the terrain of a racist society and made choices based on the particular social formation in which they lived. These choices were constrained, anguished, and guided by the structure of the particular racial environment of the historical period.

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