Monday, August 22, 2011

When Black People Pass As White, and Vice-Versa

A few weeks ago, a good friend sent me a NYTimes Magazine article by Toure (here), Preconceptions, which was really about race and identity, although the sub-text debated the pros and cons of corporal punishment. In that article, the black culturalist Toure confronted a white-looking woman on Martha’s Vineyard, who turned out, to his amazement, to be black. The woman’s sister, blonde with blue eyes, became indignant as well that Mr. Toure thought she was also white. White people who are black? Black people who look 100% white? Huh?

When I was a kid growing up in Denver, there was a family, call them the George’s, who began my education on how white people could be black. The parents had twin daughters my age who looked every bit as white as mom and dad, while also being black. Now my own father was very light, but I still had difficulty accepting what my brown-skinned mother said, that the ever-so-white-looking George’s were in fact black. There is a big difference between light-skinned blacks and white-skinned blacks. In the end, my child’s-mind concluded that the George’s were black as it suited them, and/or others. On one hand, black people seemed a lot more social (read fun to a kid) than whites, but this did not change the preference.

Later on, when I was in college, one of the George daughters was in a spectacular downhill skiing accident and nearly died. The news coverage of the day never mentioned that she was black, although stories back then invariably spoke of race if the incident was extraordinary involving a black. In those days, before political correctness, race always mattered and media coverage reflected this. (What was a black person doing trying to ski in the first place!) The bottom line is that people often let others believe what they want, as long as it is to their advantage to do so.

The white-looking black woman Toure wrote about on Martha’s Vineyard certainly benefited from her fair features, whether she would admit it or not. Blacks that ‘pass for white’, by letting others believe their eyes, benefit the most. Studies (one here) show whites, and blacks, continue to favor light-skinned blacks. Toure’s MV subject certainly benefited socially from black acceptance, merited or not. What she or her sister did not count on was Toure’s negative implication that they might be having it both ways.

UP NEXT: My Black Cousin Passing As White

James C. Collier

READ MOST RECENT POSTS AT ACTING WHITE...

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11 comments:

Janis Lane said...

I have a little cousin who has pale skin, red hair, and freckles. In fact, the majority of my mother's side looks like this and my mother is light-skinned while my father is very dark. He has always complained about his skin while my mother has always said being light-skinned gets you "nothin but called a yellah nigga".

That said, I look Indian, my cousins look white, and my brothers are light-skinned. People always forget black people's skin variations can be very dramatic sometimes. I just wish someone didn't write such an article to show that -_-
Blacks always feel a need to know if they can pass off as something "more" than Black. I have no idea why, I just don't get it.

Anonymous said...

The bottom line is that people often let others believe what they want, as long as it is to their advantage to do so.

So should a phenotypically white person wear a sign on their head that they are "black?" or before starting a conversation with someone, let them first know this? Many mixed-race Causcasians just consider themselves white. It is not a crime to be white, and some white people are actually alot more fun to be around than blacks.

Toure’s MV subject certainly benefited socially from black acceptance, merited or not.

It's sad that someone has to let you know that your DNA is the same as theirs before they let you into their "club" ... maybe this is why many first generation phenotypically white "blacks" eventually wean themselves from family and become "white" ... because they ARE white now, really, and they can't handle the emotional and cultural crap that goes along with it. I guess to be "white" doesn't take "one drop" ... it takes a few more, but ... it happens. And so what. Being "white" isn't the end of the world. It's a person's insides that count. And I'm NOT talking about their DNA.

Anonymous said...

My Uncle George went to Pittsburgh in the 1940's from West Virgina and made a million passing for white..Lol...........nothing new

Anonymous said...

I find your terminology a bit unclear. If a person looks unequivocally white, by what definition can they actually be black? Are we talking about people with a single black ancestor? Or people who are born to black parents but are unusually light due to a rare manifestation of recessive Caucasian genes? (I know this is known to happen.) Do you advocate the "one-drop rule?" Or, after some number of generations, is it legitimate for people who appear white to simply consider themselves white?

The Martha's Vineyard story did strike a familar note with me. Last year I was randomly selected for an in-person interview for the U.S. Census. I am white, pretty clearly: blue eyes, fair skin, light brown hair. When the census taker noted my race, he started to mark down "white" but then got a worried look on his face and double-checked. ("You are white, aren't you?") He then mentioned he'd had people get testy with him on this point before.

James C. Collier said...

Anon 3:48, the census taker you speak of makes the point well. People are who they believe, as no one is pure. Mixed race has not been a category here, accept Creole etc. so people feel they must/can choose.

James C. Collier said...

Jim-Jim wrote: Prof. Henry Louis Gates had a genetic test and found that he is 56% Caucasian. Should he be called a dark-skinned white person rather than a light-skinned black person?

My Thought: Gates is whatever he feels he is, and wants to be called.
(sorry about the technical difficulties)

Prince Toddy English said...

This is such a wonderful series of postings. I am always fascinated by the politics of skin color.
My own mother is one of these none black looking black people. While she does not look white (my mother is often mistaken for a fair skinned Japanese woman or non black Hispanic)she is never mistaken for black. So growing up as a light brown skinned boy (before anyone ever told me I was "light skinnded" I thought I was dark chocolate compared to my mother)me and my mother ALWAYS received the curious stares of discombobulated white people (and Asians) as to why this "Chinese" woman was walking around with a curly haired copper skinned little boy. Yet, most black people knew automatically that we were son and mother.
Now with the preponderance of mixed marriages and biracial children things are becoming less shocking.
Yet, everyone still knows that to be white in this supposedly "post racial" society is to be privileged...even if you are trailer trash.

Anonymous said...

I understood clearly what you are speaking of. WHITE skinned people are people who actually look like a WHITE person, very fair skinned, as he mentioned the woman with blond hair and blue eyes. LIGHT skinned are people that look like Queen Latifah, more yellow toned. When it comes down to race, it is how the world mat perceive you.

Race is very important to blacks, We had to go through so much to get to where we are. That being said, we are also divided, blame it on the years of slavery when light and dark skinned slaves were separated. This cause a division between us. To this day, we are divided.I being of a dark brown complexion, think light skinned people have it easier . Which is true, this is why so many long ago wanted to "pass" as white or any other race that was not black.

APGifts said...

.
More people in the western world need to know that the
racist-'One-Drop Rule' was BANNED in the United States
waaaaayyyyyy back in 1967 – and THERE IS NO SUCH
THING AS A so-called LIGHT-SKINNED BLACK person.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4160
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4162
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4153
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4154
.
http://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/309460495741441
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4238
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4239
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4240
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4236
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/1923
.
-- AllPeople (AP) G.i.f.t.s.
.
soaptalk AT hotmail DOT com
.
Founder and Moderator of the following
online Lineage-Discussion Communities
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MGM-Mixed
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FGM-Mixed
.
https://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts
.
http://www.youtube.com/user/APGifts
.

APGifts said...

.
Modern society really needs to begin to
understand the simple fact that -- THERE
IS NO SUCH THING AS A so-called
'LIGHT-SKINNED BLACK' person.
.
The truth of the matter is that such individuals
are actually (and quite simply) people who are
of a 'Multi-Generational Multiracially-Mixed'
(MGM-Mixed) Lineage -- lineage that some of
them may have been pressured and / or otherwise
“encouraged" to ignore, downplay or even deny.

.
http://dir.groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4160
.

THESE (falsely) “black-categorized”
INDIVIDUALS ARE, in actuality, the
people who are actually of a continually
MIXED-RACE lineage -- and the very
term, itself, of “Light-Skin(ned) Black”
is merely a racist-oxymoron that – (much
like the racist-‘One-Drop Rule’ upon
which this racist-term is actually based) –
was created by racial-supremacists in an
attempt to degrade Black blood lines.

.

THE ONLY WAY that a MIXED-RACE
person COULD BE viewed upon as being
racially-"BLACK" IS VIA an adherence
to THE RACIST-‘ONE-DROP RULE’.

THE RACIST-‘ONE-DROP RULE’ was a 100%
non-scientific, socially-constructed "rule" that
WAS CREATED by racial-supremacists in an
insulting attempt TO DEGRADE all BLACK
BLOOD LINEAGE – AND – which WAS also
LEGALLY-BANNED in the U.S. back IN 1967.

.
http://dir.groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4162
.

The FACT that the racist-’One-Drop Rule’ was
created to DEGRADE Black blood lineage means
that any BLACK person who supports the (clearly
‘Black-Lineage Degrading') racist-'One-Drop Rule'
either has no self-esteem, is insane and / or is an idiot.
.

(((The LINKS in the SIDEBAR of my YouTube
CHANNEL explain this in greater detail.
.
https://www.youtube.com/user/apgifts )))

.

People of Mixed-Race lineage should NOT
feel pressured to 'identify' according to
any standards other than one's own.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4157

.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4162
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4160

.

Listed below are related Links of 'the facts' of the histories
of various Mixed-Race populations found within the U.S.:

.

There is no proof that a 'color-based slave hierarchy'
(or that 'color-based social-networks') ever existed
as common entities -- within the continental U.S.

.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4154
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4153
.

It was the 'Rule of Matriliny (ROM) --
[a.k.a. 'The Rule of Partus' (ROP)] -- and
NOT the racist-'One-Drop Rule' (ODR) --
that was used to 'create more enslaved
people' on the continental U.S.
.
This is because the chattel-slavery system that was
once found on the antebellum-era, continental U.S.
was NOT "color-based" (i.e. "racial") -- but rather
-- it was actually "mother-based" (i.e. 'matrilineal').
.
http://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/309460495741441
.
There were many ways (and not solely the sexual assault
and sexual exploitation of the women-of-color) in which
'white' lineage entered the familial bloodlines of
enslaved-people found on the continental U.S.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4238
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4239
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4240

.

An 'Ethnic' category is NOT the
same thing as a "Race" category:
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4236
.
http://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/300777016632181

.

APGifts said...

.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A
LIGHT-SKINNED BLACK person.
.
https://plus.google.com/102311719580461249997/posts/YB15Rfa5wat
.