4002Re: The Long-Passed Days of "Passing" and 'Posing'
- Oct 4, 2009I agree. I have met many, MANY, "White" people over the years who claim to have Native American heritage, but when questioned further, it becomes apparent that they have no idea what tribe/nation or who these supposed "Indian" ancestors were. I think it's just a trendy thing to say. On the other hand, one rarely encounters a supposedly "White" person who mentions having Black ancestors, although many probably do.
--- In Generation-Mixed@yahoogroups.com,
quallagirl <latonyabeatty76@...> wrote:
In a way it is good to be able to choose. I guess people had to do what they had to do to get by. I couldn't speak from a white looking person's standpoint, considering my so-called exotic features.
It is also amazing at how many white people are clueless about their African ancestry. I also think alot choose to deny that part to avoid being looked down on. I notice that it is more accepting to claim Indian heritage. I don't ever remember meeting a white person that admits to having black heritage.
--- In Generation-Mixed@yahoogroups.com,
AP Gifts <soaptalk@...> wrote:
Passing: how "posing"
became a choice for
(An article written by Monica L. Haynes for
the 'Post-Gazette', Sunday, October 26, 2003
Although Barbara Douglass never told anyone
she was `White'*, people see her porcelain
skin and her silky hair and assume she is.
But Douglass, who lives in Wilkinsburg,
is a 53-year-old "black"^^ woman.
She could "pass" for `White'*
but she has never tried, she said
"Growing up, I knew of people who did,
and I was even instructed not to say,
at that time, that they were 'Colored'**.
In order to get their jobs, they
had to say they were `White'*"
**The term 'Colored'** as used here is a reference to
a person who is of a `Multiracial' / `Mixed-Race `lineage that
also includes some part or amount of `Black / Negro' ancestry.
^^The term "black"^^ or ""blacks"^^ as used here is
a reference to those `Multiracial' / `Mixed-Race' individuals
who were both of part-`Black / Negro' ancestry --*and*-- who
*also* came to be referred to / categorized by the term "black"^^.
This categorization would have arisen either as a result of
the racist `One-Drop Rule' and / or as a result of taking
on the socio-political `identification' that, since the late
1960's, has come to be referred to by the term "black"^^.
These terms "black"^^ and / or "blacks"^^ when in reference
to a socio-political "identification" -- were originally applied
largely as a way of describing the new socio-political mindset
that became popular in the late 1960s wherein many who
were of at least some-part `Black / Negro' lineage chose to:
------ openly support of the new 'pan-African,
anti-colonialist movement' of the late 1960s;
------ refused to hold or see the their or another's
'Black / Negro' ancestral lineage as being "shameful";
------ and by providing support for the whole idea of making
sure that equal rights would become granted to those
people who suffered discrimination due to having
'Black / Negro' ancestry in their familial,
ethnic, racial or even cultural lineage.
As a result of the racist `One-Drop Rule' the terms
"black"^^ and "blacks"^^ were broad-brushed applied to
entire people groupings (as a `political catch-phrase')
as instructed by the western media and politicians.
The term `Black' as used here is in reference those who
are of `Black / Negro' lineage and who also have very little
to no* known or acknowledged non-`Black / Negro' ancestry.
The "Racial"-Term `Black' is *not* the same as
the Socio-Political-`Identification' of "black"^^.
*The term `White'* as used here is a reference to a person who
has no known or acknowledged non-'White / Caucasian' ancestry.
The terms `Pass' and `Passing' as used here is
reference to a person who hid, denied or pretended to
have no known non-White (and particular `Black / Negro')
ancestry and / or who would simply choose to `remain
silent' on the whole matter and let strangers `draw their
own conclusions' based solely on their physical appearance.
Thelma Marshall knows that routine.
During the 1950s and early '60s, she did
what her mother before her had done.
What her grandmother and aunts had done.
She "passed" for `White'*
"One time I told a woman I was
"black"^^, 'Colored'** in those days,"
"She said, 'You won't get the job
unless you "pass" for `White'*."
So that's what Marshall did.
"I "passed" for `White'* on lots of jobs,"
"I had to be `White'* to get the jobs."
It's what many fair-skinned "blacks"^^ did during those times.
Marshall's remarks are without shame or remorse.
She felt she did what she had to do.
Still, it is a prickly subject, and the 76-year-old woman does not
want 'to offend' so she asked that her real name not be used.
[The act of] "passing" for `White'* offered not only opportunities,
but also the opportunities [that only] `White'* people received.
During [the] slavery [era], it could mean freedom.
There are many documented instances of fair-skinned
slaves who posed as [`White'* [in order] to escape.
In modern times, it meant being able to vote in the South.
It meant a job in the office rather than a job cleaning the office.
It meant schools with the latest equipment and books,
instead of dilapidated buildings and out-of-date texts.
It often meant better housing.
It meant being treated with respect, not disdain.
Barbara Douglass recalls the difference between
going out with her `White'* college friends
vs. her "black"^^ college friends.
"We went to a show, about
six of us ["black"^^ students].
The manager came and sat behind us.
I asked him
'Why are you sitting behind us?'
'I have to make sure you don't destroy anything.' "
Douglass said she told the manager that
he had never sat behind her before.
His response was,
"You never came with these people before."
Douglass, who the manager had assumed
was `White'*, encouraged her friends to
leave the theater rather than be insulted
Because of her fair skin, Barbara Douglass
of Wilkinsburg often witnessed -- but never
tolerated -- racism directed at other people.
When she was a young child, her parents
didn't emphasize racial differences.
"I just figured people came in
different shades," she said.
But when the subject came up in her
dance class, the 8-year-old Douglass
approached her mother, who explained
to her abou't"race" and 'racism.'
"We are `a child of God' first.
We are `human beings' first,"
Douglass remembered her mother saying.
In fifth grade, she learned that the United States
is a melting pot, and she declared to her
mother that she would be a melting pot.
Her mother decided it was the perfect definition,
seeing as how her ancestors were Cherokee,
`Black', Dutch, German and Irish.
Maybe all "blacks"^^ would have defined
themselves that way given the chance.
Since [the first, actual] `Black' people first came
to the New World in 1619, they've Mingled and
Mixed with every Race and Ethnic group here.
It is not just the fair-skinned "blacks"^^ who
can lay claim to that melting pot definition.
Those "blacks"^^ who have the mark of
Africa in their features and skin tone
also have multicultural ancestry.
They just can't pass.
Most "blacks"^^ were never afforded
the luxury of defining themselves.
After the Civil War, Southern whites, not wanting this
swirling of races to get out of hand and seeking to
keep the [false notion of the] `White'* "race"
as [being] pure, instituted a rule that
anyone with "one drop" of `Black
/ Negro' blood was `Black' [race].
That spurred even more fair-skinned "blacks"^^
to cross over and escape Jim Crow laws that kept
"blacks"^^ in the shackles of second-class citizenship.
Interestingly, many ``White'*, if they traced
their blood line or had their DNA tested,
would find they have "black"^^ ancestors.
In a 1999 piece for Slate, writer Brent Staples cites
a 1940s study by Robert Stuckert, a sociologist
and anthropologist from Ohio State University.
The study, titled "African Ancestry of the White American
Population", indicates that during the 1940s, approximately
15,550 fair-skinned "black"^^ per year "crossed the color line".
The study estimated that by 1950, about 21 percent or 28
million of the 135 million categorized as `White'* had
"black"^^ ancestry within the past four generations.
Stuckert predicted that the numbers
would grow in subsequent decades.
Marshall never thought to "pass" permanently,
although she had family members who did.
Some fair-skinned "black"^^ with "good hair"
and "keen features" did not "pass" but
[simply married] others with fair skin ...
"For generations, my mother's side and my
father's side married fair -- so they could get jobs,"
"My great-grandfather had a barbershop,
and he "passed" for `White'*, and he had
only ``White'* customers in his shop." ...
State decides for you
Sometimes "blacks"^^ used their fair
complexion -- not for personal gain but
-- to circumvent discriminatory practices.
For example, in the 1940s, "blacks"^^ who looked `White'*
helped integrate Lewis Place, a neighborhood in St. Louis, Mo.
Like many cities during this time, Lewis Place
had covenants that prevented "blacks"^^ from
buying homes in certain neighborhoods.
But in the '40s, fair-skinned "blacks"^^ would purchase
homes on Lewis Street and then transfer deeds to [the]
darker-skinned "black"^^ people who had actually bought them.
Famed NAACP chief executive Walter White's light skin
allowed him to investigate lynchings and race riots in the 1920s.
White, who was raised in Atlanta, under Jim Crow,
remained an NAACP officer until he died in 1955.
For nearly a century, just who was [defined or
categorized as being either] `White'* or "black"^^
depended upon what state that person was in.
Between the 1890s and 1950s, the peak
period for "black"^^ "passing" as `White'*,
every state had its own racial designation,
said Wendy Ann Gaudin, a history
instructor at Xavier University in Louisiana.
Gaudin has interviewed Mixed-Race people
in Louisiana who "passed" for `White'* as
part of study she conducted on that subject.
A person could be born white in one state
and be designated "black"^^ in another
depending upon the `racial laws' in that state,
said Gaudin, who also is a Ph.D.
candidate at New York University.
----- During the antebellum period, enslaved `Black'
[race] people were referred to as [being] Negroes.
----- Then there were `Free People of Color' [and others],
who generally had [a] Mixed "racial" heritage ...
----- [The free] people-of-color could be 'brown
with European features', 'light with African
features' and everything in between.
"They were not looked upon as so-called Negroes and
of course they weren't equated with `White'*, either,"
"Society had `a place' for them."
Some were slave owners,
others staunch abolitionists...
However, after the "one drop"
rule was instituted and Jim Crow
[`Segregation] became the law of
the land in the South, things changed.
Often, they would move and cut ties
with family members, especially
the ones who could not "pass".
The law aimed at these "White-Negroes",
as they were sometimes called, actually forced
more of the very racial mingling it sought to counter.
"Once these laws were [enacted], "passing" made
more sense, and it became more necessary,"
Some who passed
In her 2002 memoir, "Just Lucky, I Guess," Broadway legend
Carol Channing revealed that her father, George Channing, was
a light-skinned "black"^^ man who "passed" [as being `White'*] ...
When she was 16 and about to go off to
college, her mother told her about her father.
"My mother announced to me I was part-Negro," Channing writes.
"I'm only telling you this because `the Darwinian law'
shows that you could easily have a "black"^^ baby."
A noted case of passing in recent history is that of Anatole
Broyard, longtime literary critic for The New York Times.
Born "black"^^ and raised in "black"^^ neighborhoods in
New Orleans and Brooklyn, he "passed" for `White'*
for decades because he did not want to be labeled
as a 'Negro' writer, he had said, but simply a Writer.
Henry Louis Gates Jr., chairman of the Afro-American
history department at Harvard, chronicled Broyard's
brilliant career and secret in a New Yorker
essay that was included in his 1997 book,
"Thirteen Ways of Looking at a "Black Man."
For years, Broyard side-stepped 'rumors' of his
ancestry and would credit his skin-tone to a
very distant relative who "may" have been "black"^^.
Even in the waning days of his life, his body
withered by cancer, he denied his wife's
request to tell his children of their 'true' heritage.
They met Broyard's darker-skinned sister, Shirley,
for the first time at his memorial service in 1990.
No identity crisis
Unlike Broyard, Shadyside's Dr. Edward J. Hale
never sought the advantages of `White'*
his complexion could have provided him.
He's a retired staff member of Western
Pennsylvania Hospital, served as
chief of medical services and acting
director of professional services at
the Veterans Affairs Department Medical
Center on Highland Drive, and he has
taught at the University of Illinois, Howard
University, the University of Pittsburgh
and Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Hale, 80, said he followed the example of his
father, William J. Hale, founding president of
Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State
College, now known as Tennessee State University.
Hale had come from a family
that had accomplished much
by living as "black"^^ people.
His goal was to do the same.
"I've always been fond of my dad, loved and
adored and respected my father," Hale said.
"He chose to remain "black"^^.
He got to be a college president."
His mother, a graduate of Fisk
University, headed up the business
department at Tennessee State.
She, too, was fair enough to
"pass", as were Hale's siblings.
Dr. Edward J. Hale chose to follow
the example of his parents,
Harriet and William J. Hale .
The proud son says, "He chose
to remain "black"^^ [identified].
His sister, who earned a master's in
French from Columbia University, married
a man who could not "pass", Hale said.
"But they had a very positive marriage as
"black"^^ and they lived happily," he added.
His brother "used to float back and forth
between being 'White'** and being "black"^^,
"He did that for work."
Why didn't Hale?
"I chose "black"^^ because
I have a "black"^^ identity...
"We had a heritage, and it
was something important."
His parents emphasized being proud of
who he was, excelling at something,
making a contribution to society.
After getting his bachelor's degree at Tennessee
State, he entered Meharry Medical College in
Nashville, graduating third in his class in 1945.
Two years later, he earned a master's in
physiology from the University of Illinois.
"As a fair-skinned "black"^^, I could "pass" for `White'*,
but if you got to be too outstanding, people would
look into your background," Hale said.
When he came to Pittsburgh in 1955 to serve
as chief of medicine for the VA Hospital, he
knew people would assume he was `White'*.
They soon learned differently through his stand
on issues and his friendships with other "black"^^.
Hale and several other "black"^^ doctors
formed the Gateway Medical Group,
now called Gateway Medical Society.
He was active in the National Medical Association
and helped bring their convention to Pittsburgh.
"I had to make an "identity" for myself, to
let people know who I was," Hale said.
Gaudin said it was easy for well-educated
light-skinned people to take what is considered
the high road by maintaining their "black"^^ identity.
Poor, uneducated folks with the same
complexion faced a different reality.
"These were people who used their
physical appearances because, in
many cases, that's all they had,"
"They weren't wealthy.
In many cases, they felt this was
their greatest, most valuable resource."
Unbreakable family ties
Attorney Wendell Freeland remembers a decade or so ago \
when he and his wife were reading in the newspaper
about the fast rise of a young man who was `White'*.
In the ensuing conversation, Freeland's wife noted that her
husband was smarter and much more on the ball than the
young man and should have reached the same career peak.
Freeland recalls his daughter saying to him,
"You've got nothing to complain about;
you could have [lived as] `White'*".
Freeland says he can fool even those "black"^^ people who
swear they can detect another "black"^^, no matter how fair.
Consciously, Freeland said he could no more
"pass" than his brown-skinned brethren.
"I never thought about it," said the 78-year-old attorney.
"My family ties were so great."
Freeland, who came to Pittsburgh in 1950, grew
up in a segregated community in Baltimore
Wendell Freeland, a Squirrel Hill
lawyer and civil rights activist,
never considered "passing" as
`White'^, although he witnessed
others passing to get into
barred theaters or stores.
"That was just casual passing,"
"I knew people who crossed over."
As a college student, he encountered "black"^^ from the British
West Indies and other places who "passed" to go to the movies
or to shop in places where "black"^^ were not welcome.
"That was just casual-"passing","
"I knew people who crossed-over."
Freeland, who lives in Squirrel Hill, has spent a
lifetime utilizing his considerable talents for
numerous social and civil rights causes.
He served as senior vice president of the National Urban
League and was a member of the search committee that
selected Vernon Jordan to lead that organization in the 1970s.
He's been on any number of boards, including those of
Westminster College, University of Pittsburgh and University
of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and he had been chairman
of the board of governors for the Joint Center for
Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C.
As obvious as the European portion of his ancestry is, Freeland
said it was never a source of great pride or interest to him.
"I'm more proud of my great-great-grandmother's
manumission [emancipation] papers than
any drop of `White'* blood," he said.
"I have to tell you my complexion has certain advantages.
I learn a lot about `White'* people ,"
"It doesn't bother me if somebody "passed" and
had a life that was more successful and happy.
I'm successful and happy, too."
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