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About This Book
Between the eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, countless African Americans passed as white, leaving behind families and friends, roots and community. It was, as Allyson Hobbs writes, a chosen exile, a separation from one racial identity and the leap into another. This revelatory history of passing explores the possibilities and challenges that racial indeterminacy presented to men and women living in a country obsessed with racial distinctions. It also tells a tale of loss.As racial relations in America have evolved so has the significance of passing. To pass as white in the antebellum South was to escape the shackles of slavery. After emancipation, many African Americans came to regard passing as a form of betrayal, a selling of one's birthright. When the initially hopeful period of Reconstruction proved short-lived, passing became an opportunity to defy Jim Crow and strike out on one's own.Although black Americans who adopted white identities reaped benefits of expanded opportunity and mobility, Hobbs helps us to recognize and understand the grief, loneliness, and isolation that accompanied—and often outweighed—these rewards. By the dawning of the civil rights era, more and more racially mixed Americans felt the loss of kin and community was too much to bear, that it was time to "pass out" and embrace a black identity. Although recent decades have witnessed an increasingly multiracial society and a growing acceptance of hybridity, the problem of race and identity remains at the center of public debate and emotionally fraught personal decisions.
Frequently asked questions
RUN AWAY, on Tuesday the 9th from Turtle-Bay, a Mulatto Wench named Lens, 17 Years old, can speak good Dutch and English, and sings a good Song; is a handsome Wench, and may pass for a free person, as she is very well featured all but her nose, and lips, which are thick and flat, has long black curld hair and a mould on her face: Had on when she went away a homespun Josey and Pettycoat, but no shoes nor stockings. Whoever takes up and secures said wench on the Island of New-York, so that she may be had again, shall have Forty Shillings Reward. All Persons are forbid to harbour or entertain said Wench at their peril. Likewise, all Masters of Vessels are forbid to carry her off.15