A Chosen Exile

A Chosen Exile

A History of Racial Passing in American Life

Book - 2014
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Harvard University Press
Countless African Americans have passed as white, leaving behind families and friends, roots and communities. It was, as Allyson Hobbs writes, a chosen exile. This history of passing explores the possibilities, challenges, and losses that racial indeterminacy presented to men and women living in a country obsessed with racial distinctions.

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.

Publisher: Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, 2014
ISBN: 9780674368101
Branch Call Number: 305.80097 H6522c 2014
Characteristics: 382 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm


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Oct 21, 2015

Bliss Broyard's book One Drop: My Father's Hidden Life: A Story of Race and Family Secrets, does an excellent job of exploring why this country ensures racial oppression and why some choose to escape it. When I first her about her father Anatole Broyard's racial passing, I considered it an affront to his racial identity. By the end of the book, I didn't have any harsh feelings about him, my anger was directed at the society that made it necessary for him to have to pass to achieve equality and freedom. Yes, freedom to use all of his talents and creativity without his "one drop" of black blood restricting his opportunities through discrimination and segregation. It's a part of daily life still hidden by extending opportunities to those we feel comfortable with and denying opportunities to those we do not.

alexica Mar 12, 2015

The author is not really a writer and so there is much repetition and awkward phraseology making for a somewhat plodding read. I was looking forward to learning new things about this intriguing subject but much of the information was well known even 50 years ago. There should be new insight since then particularly since this has become a much more diverse and biracial country. Very disappointing.


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