They Sacrificed Their Blackness To Be White

July 9, 2019

Racial passing was a practice that sprang forth from the days of slavery. 

Enslaved Black women raped by slaveowners often bore “mulatto” children. Further whitening occurred when mulattoes coupled. Offspring born of this union were practically indistinguishable from whites to the dominant culture - an open door to reap the benefits of whiteness.

But, according to Stanford professor Allyson Hobbs, passing wasn’t chock full of privileges.

In her book, ‘A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life,’ Hobbs explores this perspective. “I am not interested in what people gained by being white, but rather in what they lost by not being black… by rejecting a black racial identity.”

Through narratives of those who disappeared into whiteness, Hobbs reveals how painful passing could be. It was like a mini-death - a passing away from oneself and culture.

Fortunately, social and economic shifts have led to what historian Robert Fikes, Jr., calls “the passing of passing.” 

With the success of the Civil Rights Movement, the rise of Black Power, the wave of a Black middle class, and the increase of non-white immigrants, white dominance was “permanently altered,” as was the need to pass. 

Today, an interesting reversal has happened: more folks are attempting to pass for Black. 

And, while we still battle colorism, more Black people - in all of our shades - continue to be Black and proud.

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