The Long-Passed Days of "Passing" & 'Posing' (Pt 1/2)
Passing: how 'posing'
became a choice for
many Americans (Pt. 1/2)
(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"
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