Those of us who are familiar with Black History or have a solid knowledge of the Black experience are well aware of the fact that there have always been people of color who have engaged in the art of “passing” — choosing to live and identify as White. The reason why certain Black people chose to deny their Black heritage and pass for White was due to the oppression and degradation inflicted and imposed on their siblings, relatives and fellow brethren by a frequently cruel and inhumane society that refused to acknowledge Black people as human beings. Based on the harsh realities of America’s racist history of the time period, it was not all that surprising that there were non-White men and women who chose to live as White if they could indeed do so. For some, it was a simple case of survival.
Indeed, American literature is filled with the topic of passing. Both fictionalized and non-fictionalized accounts of the topic from James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man; Philip Roth’s The Human Stain; Nella Larsen’s Passing; Allyson Hobbs, A Chosen Exile; Daniel Scharfstein’s The Invisible Line; John Howard’s Black Like Me; and others approach and explore the subject in deep, varied, intriguing and compelling ways. The price one often paid for making such a dramatic and drastic decision was that one often had to sever all communication with their family and community. This was one hell of sacrifice to make.