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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 american citizens handed as white, forsaking households and pals, roots and neighborhood. It used to be, as Allyson Hobbs writes, a selected exile, a separation from one racial id and the bounce into one other. This revelatory heritage of passing explores the chances and demanding situations that racial indeterminacy awarded to women and men dwelling in a rustic keen about racial differences. It additionally tells a story of loss.

As racial family in the United States have developed so has the importance of passing. To cross 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 before everything hopeful interval of Reconstruction proved short-lived, passing turned a chance to defy Jim Crow and strike out on one’s own.

even if black americans who followed white identities reaped merits of multiplied chance and mobility, Hobbs is helping us to acknowledge and comprehend the grief, loneliness, and isolation that accompanied—and frequently outweighed—these rewards. via the dawning of the civil rights period, increasingly more racially combined americans felt the lack of family and neighborhood used to be an excessive amount of to endure, that it was once time to “pass out” and include a black identification. even supposing contemporary a long time have witnessed an more and more multiracial society and a growing to be attractiveness of hybridity, the matter of race and identification continues to be on the middle of public debate and emotionally fraught own decisions.

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

Example text

But frequently, I have recounted the stories of men and women who were barely known, often nameless, sometimes only described through the vague and fuzzy recollections of their relatives. I have tried to create a panoramic view by drawing on testimony of family members to sharpen the resolution at the edges, to bring the distant uncle into view, or to try to explain the estranged aunt’s absence. 24 p r o l o g u e Recounting the lives of people who sought so assiduously to pass unknown to history inevitably results in a portrait that is at times uneven and blurred.

During those moments when American society revalued black identity in positive terms, nearly white African Americans could choose to embrace both sides of their putative racial selves. Claiming hybridity seemed to be a plausible substitute for passing. The choices of racially mixed people in these periods—including, most famously, Charles Chesnutt, Jean Toomer, and Barack Obama—reveal moments when racial categories appeared more malleable. Racial passing in the American context must be acknowledged as a subset of a much larger phenomenon that encompasses multiple disguises and forms of dissemblance.

It is my conviction that multiple photographs can reveal larger social, cultural, and national dynamics that would be far less visible if viewed through a lens fi xed on the idiosyncrasies of a single person, family, or place. This history of passing is a composite of cultural and political history. I rely heavily on the diverse set of cultural sources that passing produced while keeping my eye on the political and economic conditions that motivated the desire to pass. The curious phenomenon of passing arose precisely out of a confluence of social and political developments.

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