September 11, 2012

Passing, past and present

From my new column in Taki's Magazine:
Obama’s sudden rise from part-time legislator/part-time lecturer to Presidential Timberhood was conventionally interpreted as the triumph of his supreme personal merit over discrimination’s crushing weight. A less-popular suggestion was that in 21st-century America, identifying as black is good for your career. 
One way to test this question is by looking at the phenomenon of people changing their racial identification, AKA “passing.” Traditionally, mixed-race people tried to socially separate themselves from the black masses, and some tried to pass as white. Is that still true? Or has the flow reversed in recent decades, with racially ambiguous people now asserting their blackness? 
Passing is back in the news because of the curious onslaught that famed novelist Philip Roth (Portnoy’s Complaint) mounted last week against Wikipedia over its allegation that one of his better novels might have been inspired by the glamorous man of letters Anatole Broyard (1920-1990), one of the last Americans known to have passed as white for career reasons.

Read the whole thing there.

Are there any celebrities since Broyard who are now known to have passed for career purposes?

I'm thinking of "passed" in the active rather than the passive sense, of cutting ties with tell-tale kin to change one's racial identity. I'm sure there are people today whose, say, 1/4th black grandparent switched and now they are 1/16th black and don't make a big deal about it. That's what I would call the passive sense of passing.

Also, I'm sure there are people who insist they are all white for personal rather than career reasons -- such as mom cheated on her husband with the saxophonist, but eventually they reconciled and decided never to mention that one child doesn't the really look like the others.

Broyard told, I believe, his daughter that he switched to white because he didn't want to get stuck being the Negro literary intellectual, that he really wasn't that interested in race stuff and wanted to follow where his tastes led him. That sounds a slight bit high-minded. Or maybe he did it just for the girls.

60 comments:

Anonymous said...

In the 1980's NZ Maori started to be given all sorts of "treaty reparations (referring to the Treaty of Waitangi of 1840). They now claim ownership of all water and of the DNA of all native species. Before this time, Kiwis with a tiny amount of Maori blood called themselves white. I have met blond-haired, blue-eyed Nordics on full Maori scholarships. It has created a kind of one-drop rule for NZ. The sad thing is that it is the barely Maori who are scooping up the benefits at the expense of the genuine Maori. In Oz, Andrew Bolt pointed out that those benefitting from Aboriginal set-asides were actually white. Believe it or not, he has actually been banned by a judge from commenting on this topic ever again.

josh said...

Quincey Jones' daughter Rashida, I think, is playing white characters on sit-coms.

Anonymous said...

Vin Diesel is rumored to be part black who is passively passing. Bob Barr is also rumored to be an octaroon who would be actively passing if the rumors are true.

dearieme said...

Don't forget Red Rodney, a white trumpeter who was described as a red-haired (!) albino negro when touring The South with Charlie Parker's bebop band.

Anonymous said...

The greatest indictment of white supremacy is all the nonwhite people who could pass for white but decide not to do it.

Think about it?

If you could easily walk through the gates of the "concentration camp" to freedom, why would you NOT do it?

Carol said...

"But this ploy misses the point"

"Ploy" is right. Conservatives think turnabout is fair play, and clever, but throwing around the R word is just going to increase the political correctness problem tenfold.

Harry Baldwin said...

Speaking of passing, I had to check and see if Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis self-identifies as black. According to the Chicago Tribune, yes: "Street-smart and witty, Lewis attended Dartmouth College in the Ivy League, where she has said she was the only African-American female in her 1974 graduating class.

She doesn't look black, but she has gotten the effect across by putting her hair in tight braids and becoming hugely obese.

Anonymous said...

Mulattoism is surpassing.

Anonymous said...

"Are there any celebrities since Broyard who are now known to have passed for career purposes?"

Iron Eyes Cody?

Perspective said...

"In the 1980's NZ Maori started to be given all sorts of "treaty reparations (referring to the Treaty of Waitangi of 1840). They now claim ownership of all water and of the DNA of all native species. Before this time, Kiwis with a tiny amount of Maori blood called themselves white."

New Zealand's history is interesting in that modern human settlement only took place by Polynesians in circa 1250-1300. Eurpeans came a mere 300 or so years after the first settlment took place. I wonder what would have happened had Europeans made the journey there sooner and the Maori a few hundred years later. Who would the Indigenous people be then? Still the Maori, since their people were already in the region, or the Europeans by the virtue of their discovery and settlement of the place?

Sword said...

I googled the Andrew Bolt issue brought up by the first anon poster. Here is one of many articles on the web about it:
http://www.crikey.com.au/2011/09/28/bolt-decision-guilty-of-discrimination-judge-declares/

The name of the judge?
Mordecai Bromberg.

Seth said...

Carol Channing?

More recently, I notice that Carly Simon has started claiming that she is part black, based on her mother's Cuban background.

Anonymous said...

What about Hoover? I thought I remembered reading that his family has been passing for a couple generations and that they had black roots.

Ed said...

This arguably happened with AA in the US. A lot of benefits seem to have gone to upper class women and upper class mixed race types who were dishonest enough and intelligent enough to game the system. It certainly did nothing for poor and working class African American men.

Anonymous said...

One percent rule was once used to keep blacks down. Now, it's used to pull blacks up.
Christianity was once used to justify white power. Now, it's used to undermine white power.
Everything is a double-edged sword and which side is used depends on who wields it.

Anonymous said...

In a strange way, Democratic Party wins over a lot of whites by using their own version of Sailer Strategy, which goes to show that even pro-white politics is a double-edged sword. When Sailer talks of white politics/interests, he means lower-middle-class and working class whites. But many whites are well-educated and consider themselves to be intelligent(and these are the ones with the real power). Though they don't think in terms of racial whiteness, they do have an implicit sense of white identity and superiority premised on the idea that whites are more liberal, progressive, tribal, and etc than others. Most of the non-white world is conservative and tribal. Though white liberals are allied with 'people of color', there's also a sense that they are superior to people of color since while people of color only care about their narrow tribal interests, white liberals care about BIGGER concerns. So, in a way, the SWPL-ness of the Democratic Party appeals to white vanity and sense of cultural/intellectual superiority.

The white right, in its tribalism, is unappealing to a lot of intelligent and educated whites because white conservatives seem too much like non-whites: too tribal, too traditionalist, and too reactionary.

So, what does it mean to 'appeal to whiteness'?

The Dude said...

If anyone knows a good Internet resources for the legal strategies and the law of passing as NAM (state or fed), please email "passing@mailinator.com", (a public mailbox).

In particular, I am interested in corporate HR policies, types of evidence to prove NAMhood, minimum blood quantum requirements, the processes at racial vetting agencies, census policies for deciding race, any penalties for fraudulently passing as NAM in schools, etc.

If we all magically become legal NAMs, racism ceases to exist by definition and we are all equally entitled to AA.

Anonymous said...

New Zealanders are exceedingly racist. The white majority cannot stand that they have to import Asians - Indians and Chinese - to fill professional positions in the country.

One doctor recently told a good friend that there are "too many Asians" in medicine. Brazenly, too his face.

The general disposition of the shrinking white majority is that Asians - let alone Maoris - do not "adapt" to the culture properly. But like with all Anglo countries, when you go in search of culture, what is actually there? Yes - beer, rugby, more beer...

Jimbo said...

Regarding the "one drop" rule: each staesther established its own blood quantum for race, which was necessary legal fact for many purposes up until about 1950. A typical requirement to be considered "Negro" was 1/8 to 1/32 Negro ancestry.

Usually folks eyeballed it.

My wife's mixed blood great-uncle enlisted in WWI and was shuttled back and forth between two basic training platoons for a couple days as the sergeant in the white platoon rejected him for being Negro and the sergeant in the Negro platoon rejected him for being white.

Anthony said...

He may have done it for the girls, but more likely for the money. How much money was there in the black book market in the 1920s?

Paul Mendez said...

In the 1980's NZ Maori started to be given all sorts of "treaty reparations...Before this time, Kiwis with a tiny amount of Maori blood called themselves white.

Family in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan tell me the same thing happened when Indians were given essentially unlimited fishing & hunting rights. Before, nobody admitted to being Indian. Suddenly, EVERYBODY was trying to say they were an Indian.

josh said...

First,no surprise re the Phillip Roth stuff.I read several of his books when younger and they were OK to read but really nothing deserving the fulsome praise he gets. (It pays to be,uhm,Swedish,too!) As for passing,what about that dullard Alicia Keys,who is passably pretty,and ID's as BUH-LACK.Unlike Mariah Carey,who maintains that she is "black",but made it on her talent,such as it is,Keys would have no career if she was judged just on her own,w/o the racial boost.

The Legendary Linda said...

A good modern example of someone who "passed" in a very extreme way is Michael Jackson.

Even though he blamed his progressively whiter skin on the skin disease vitiligo, a prominent cosmetic doctor Pamela Lipkin said it was the most unusual case of "vitiligo" she had ever seen, and asked "what came first? Vitiligo or lighter skin"

She said the white skin fit in with other cosmetic changes he was making and that probably he was trying to look Caucasian: his lips were getting thinner, nose was getting smaller, cheeks were changing, eyes were getting wider etc.

If that weren't proof enough that he was trying to change his race, he then claimed to be the biological father of the three kids he left his half-billion dollar estate to, but strangely none of these kids appear to have a drop of black blood, even though Michael (before his cosmetic changes) was a very dark skinned Negroid
looking man.

His former maid claimed he told her that he bleached because blacks are not liked as much as people of other races and his black former publicist claimed he did not like to hire blacks and refered to them as "splaboos"

I feel bad for his black siblings that all his enormous and rapidly growing wealth was left to 3 Caucasoid kids (most of them white or even Jewish). The black community could have really used his money since (with the exception of Oprah) there are NO blacks, mulattos or even quadroons on The Forbes 400.

Anonymous said...

The sad thing about Broyard is that he will now be remembered as "the black writer (who passed as white)" even though that was precisely what he was trying to avoid.

Mr X said...

RE: Roth -- it doesn't seem like a big deal. Was he inspired by Broyard or Tumin? Or neither? Does it matter? In any case, "The Human Stain" is not one of Roth's best novels, I didn't like it, felt sketchy. Even from the same period, American Pastoral and Sabbath's Theatre are much better, and Zuckerman Unbond was the best I remember. But I can't read him anymore. I tried Exit Ghost, bleah.

Severn said...

Anybody who can "pass" for white is white.

In their avid devotion to the one-drop rule of blackness, blacks resemble nobody so much as racist white segregationists.

The same is true for Jews - their peculiar obsession with trying to claim Jewish ancestry for all sorts of people of little to no Jewishness can often be downright Nazi-like.

Anonymous said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/11/opinion/brooks-why-men-fail.html?src=me&ref=general

Guess who's reading Heinlein

"If she’s right, then men will have to be less like Achilles, imposing their will on the world, and more like Odysseus, the crafty, many-sided sojourner. They’ll have to acknowledge that they are strangers in a strange land."

Severn said...

New Zealanders are exceedingly racist. The white majority cannot stand that they have to import Asians - Indians and Chinese - to fill professional positions in the country.



That does not strike me as being in the least bit racist, let alone "exceedingly" so.

There seems to have been a recent influx of hard-left commenters to this site. Maybe it's because of election season?

Anonymous said...

I have met blond-haired, blue-eyed Nordics on full Maori scholarships. It has created a kind of one-drop rule for NZ. The sad thing is that it is the barely Maori who are scooping up the benefits at the expense of the genuine Maori. In Oz, Andrew Bolt pointed out that those benefitting from Aboriginal set-asides were actually white. Believe it or not, he has actually been banned by a judge from commenting on this topic ever again.

Whites gaming the system as usual. In the US many Cherokees look white and they are getting rid of "black" cherokees, they don't want to share the spoils with them.


http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/25/cherokee-nations-expels-d_n_936930.html

Anonymous said...

"strangers in a strange land" comes from the Bible, not from Heinlein.

Exodus 2:22, King James Bible: "And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land."

Anonymous said...

Steve - a little off-topic - but the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs just called Terry Jones and told him to withdraw his support for that Muhammed film.

In one fell swoop, he violated his oath to preserve & defend both the Free Exercise of Religion and Freedom of the Press.

Events are spinning out of control MUCH MORE RAPIDLY than even I had imagined.

It may not be long now...

stari_momak said...

"New Zealanders are exceedingly racist. The white majority cannot stand that they have to import Asians - Indians and Chinese - to fill professional positions in the country."

Really? There are no New Zealand whites capable of filling the professions? Just how did they manage to create a first world society in the antipodes without those beneficent Asians?

Anonymous said...

We are all Neanderthals passing for modern men/women.

Anonymous said...

"More recently, I notice that Carly Simon has started claiming that she is part black, based on her mother's Cuban background."

She's so vain.

Anonymous said...

Anybody who can "pass" for white is white.

Including the handful of Indians and Pakistanis with these qualifications?

Anonymous said...

New Zealanders are exceedingly racist. The white majority cannot stand that they have to import Asians - Indians and Chinese - to fill professional positions in the country.

1). You are a racist. NZ is NOT a racist society. A large minority of pakeha have refined ethno-masochism into an art-form.

2). Most of those coming into the country are actually Tongans and Samoans.

2). White Kiwis do well on PISA scores and are more than capable of producing professionals in more than sufficient quantities.

3). Rutherford the physicist was one of a number of eminent pakeha scientists.

4). NZ liberals, like liberals elsewhere in the West, get a homoerotic thrill out of *****ing on less privileged whites.

Seamus said...

New Zealand's history is interesting in that modern human settlement only took place by Polynesians in circa 1250-1300. Eurpeans came a mere 300 or so years after the first settlment took place. I wonder what would have happened had Europeans made the journey there sooner and the Maori a few hundred years later. Who would the Indigenous people be then? Still the Maori, since their people were already in the region, or the Europeans by the virtue of their discovery and settlement of the place?

Probably the same thing will happen as happened with white people in the former Cape Colony in South Africa: They may have gotten there before the Bantu, but they still have to give preference to the "disadvantaged" late arrivals.

Seth said...

Malcolm Gladwell has some Afro genes and is celebrated for them.

There is a woman at Yale named Hazel Carby who is totally white but has a whole career as a tenured black woman...makes absolutely no sense.

http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/carby/

Anonymous said...

"Anybody who can "pass" for white is white."

Including the handful of Indians and Pakistanis with these qualifications?


Yes. Anybody who can "pass" for white can do so because they have a majority of European genes.

Anonymous said...

Gurjars form one of the major communities in Rajashtan, and are seen as a vote bank by political parties....In Rajasthan, some members of the Gurjar community resorted to violent protests over the issue of reservation in 2006 and 2007.

The more powerful and more influential Jat community had been included under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category, which prompted the Gurjars to demand Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. During the 2003 election to the Rajasthan assembly, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promised them ST status.[80] However, the party failed to keep its promise after coming to the power, resulting in protests by the Gurjars in September 2006.[81]

.... Presently, the Gurjars in Rajasthan are classified as Other Backward Classes (OBCs).[87]

On June 5, 2007 the Gurjar rioted over their desire to be added to the governments of India list of tribes who are given preference in India government job selection as well as placement in the schools sponsored by the states of India.

This preference is given under a system designed to help India's poor and disadvantaged citizens. However, other tribes on the list oppose this request as it would make it harder to obtain the few positions already set aside.[88]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gurjar#Rajasthan

India's Gujjar caste fight for a downgrade

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2023390/posts

explanation by a native(in the comment)

http://www.pretenseofknowledge.com/2008/06/01/indias-gujjar-caste-fight-for-a-downgrade/

Severn said...

Are there any celebrities since Broyard who are now known to have passed for career purposes?


There's a lot, as along as you're willing to include people who are mostly white but who are passing for black and not just people who a little bit black and passing for white.

Of course, that's not the commonly accepted usage of "passing", but it ought to be.

Benjamin Jealous? He's "passing" for a black man.

Hazel Carby? She's "passing" for a black woman.

Lolo Jones? She's "passing" for a black woman.

And they are all doing it for career purposes, because in the year 2012 claiming to to black is a bigger and better career booster than claiming to be white was in 1912.

Anonymous said...

Severn,
People like Lolo Jones are "passing" because black people (especially men) adore self-identified black people with European facial features and coloring.

As for someone who "passed" in earlier years there was George Harriman, the Krazy Kat cartoonist who always wore a hat to hide his kinky hair.

Gloria

Man Mountain Molehill said...

Another counter example:
Milton "Mezz" Mezzrow, jazz musician, drug dealer, opium addict and "voluntary negro". An orthodox Jew from Chicago who was so enamored of black jazz that he wanted to be, and later claimed to be, black.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mezz_Mezzrow

His autobiography "Really the Blues"
http://www.amazon.com/Really-The-Blues-Mezz-Mezzrow/dp/0806512059

Anonymous said...

Another counter example


I would not say that Mezzrow is a counter example.

A counter example to mostly-white people claiming to be "white" would be mostly-black people claiming to be "black". So Barack Obama might be a counter-example.

Anonymous said...

"New Zealanders have to import Asians to fill professional positions"...

Now I've heard everything! Mind explaining to me exactly how, then, the Kiwis succeeded in building such a successful, peaceful, prosperous and democratic country without ANY help from Asians at all. And if Asians are all that, why do they feel such a need to leave their countries and move to the west?

Anonymous said...

"New Zealanders have to import Asians to fill professional positions"...

I read today that Burger King restaurants in NZ will now be managed by new immigrqants from the Philippines because they cannot find qualified Kiwis.

So Manila has more managerial talent than clean, prosperous and efficient little NZ? As you Americans say, "What a crock!"

Kia kaha, bro!

Anonymous said...

"Anyone who can "pass" for white is white."

Including the handful of Pakistanis and Indians with these qualiifcations?

Yes. Anybody who can "pass" for white can do so because they have a majority of European genes.

I agree. If you look 'white' then obviously you are white. But clearly you would have to have a large majority of white genes. Take George Lopez. He is 55% white according to DNA testing. But he certainly doesn't LOOK white to me. And he certainly doesn't consider himself white or identify with whites.

Anonymous said...

"New Zealanders are exceedingly racist. The white majority cannot stand that they have to import Asians - Indians and Chinese - to fill professional positions in the country.



That does not strike me as being in the least bit racist, let alone "exceedingly" so.

There seems to have been a recent influx of hard-left commenters to this site. Maybe it's because of election season?"

More likely an Asian supremacist in a snit. Plenty of those on HBD blogs.

Anonymous said...

C'mon George Lopez looks more like Oliver Platt than Ben Jealous looks like Mark Ruffalo, or Vince Vaughn, or whoever it is that Steve says Ben Jealous looks like this week. And Platt is Princess Diana's cousin.

Ray Sawhill said...

FWIW, a book critic I knew told me many, many years ago that Broyard was black/Creole; another friend, who'd hung around the NYC lit-intellectual world in the '50s and '60s, confirmed it to me; and the black intellectual Albert Murray told me about it too. (With amusement: he thought it was pretty funny. Murray's great, btw: very realistic about race and racial differences, yet in a very appreciative way. I'd be eager to read/hear Steve's reactions to him.) So, despite the big fuss at the time the info about Broyard "passing" went generally public, I assume that it had been an open secret in some NYC circles for decades. I mean, even I knew about it. (Never met Broyard myself.)

All of my sources told me that there were two reasons Broyard didn't identify as black: 1) he didn't want the racial thing to be a big issue in his life (it wasn't a topic that interested him much), and 2) as a Creole, he genuinely didn't think of himself as black.

They all told me he was a wildly successful ladies' man too.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it is possible any more with all the new racial identity infrastructure. If born about 5 years earlier Mariah Carey could have passed (assuming a lot of work on the hair). But despite having little unmediated connection to African-Americans from an early age, once the 90s got underway she was instantly claimed as an NAACP Image Award role model and harbinger of multi-culti shining future, etc. You can say that's just the entertainment sphere but if anything they lagged behind academia and the highbrow literati considerably, in terms of phasing out the career value of self-identifying white.

This Week in Telemundo said...

He is 55% white according to DNA testing. But he certainly doesn't LOOK white to me

You shoulda seen his sitcom w/ 100% "white Hispanics" in the supporting cast. The East Coast MSM is fairly well asleep on the Celia Cruzes losing social/cultural ground to the Selena Gomezes.

Anonymous said...

Babe Ruth?

Baloo said...

Good 'un, Steve. Linked and commented here:
http://ex-army.blogspot.com/2012/09/passing-for-white-and-then-passing-back.html

Anonymous said...

a book critic I knew told me many, many years ago that Broyard was black/Creole


Doesn't "Creole", at least in the context of Louisiana, mean "a French/black mix"? So what does it mean for somebody to be "black/Creole"? They'd have to be pretty black, I would think, which Broyard was not.

Severn said...

I agree. If you look 'white' then obviously you are white. But clearly you would have to have a large majority of white genes. Take George Lopez. He is 55% white according to DNA testing. But he certainly doesn't LOOK white to me. And he certainly doesn't consider himself white or identify with whites.


Who individuals chose to identify with has a big fat nothing to do with where most of their genes come from.

For examples of this just look at Benjamin Jealous, Hazel Carby, and Lolo Jones, to name three people already mentioned in this thread.

If it's advantageous to be considered white, then a lot of part white, part black people will claim to be white. If it's advantageous to be considered black then a lot of part white, part black people will claim to be black.

If it's disadvantageous to be white than a lot of people of all races of partial white ancestry are going to be running around stridently bashing white people, which is exactly what we see around us. "I'm not one of those whites, honest! I hate-hate-HATE whites!"

Obama said something about wanting to expunge all his white blood. That really does not tell us anything of interest about Obama, except that he's a rather dim-witted herd follower with his finger in the wind. It does say something about the pervasive anti-white animus in todays America though. Obama's finger-in-the-wind did not lie to him.

Anonymous said...

"But like with all Anglo countries, when you go in search of culture, what is actually there? Yes - beer, rugby, more beer..."

"Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head. "


http://www.gkc.org.uk/gkc/books/rolling.html

Anonymous said...

Doesn't "Creole", at least in the context of Louisiana, mean "a French/black mix"? So what does it mean for somebody to be "black/Creole"? They'd have to be pretty black, I would think, which Broyard was not.

Not at all. I've been around my share, and many of them would be what used be called a "high" color. I remember several of them in the traditionally white frats at my college.

Ray Sawhill said...

"Doesn't "Creole", at least in the context of Louisiana, mean "a French/black mix"? So what does it mean for somebody to be "black/Creole"? They'd have to be pretty black, I would think, which Broyard was not. "

Sorry, I didn't want to get into the whole what's-a-Creole question and wound up being unclear. As I understand the term (but what do I know?) a Louisiana Creole has some mixed ancestry, ie., some black blood. But Creoles often consider themselves a special people of their own, and don't necessarily self-identify as black, despite the black blood. Happy to learn better from anyone who knows better. What I was told was that Broyard self-identified as a Creole, didn't think of himself as black or white but as Creole, but was happy to pass as white because he didn't really want to be bugged by racial questions. His mind was on other things.

Anonymous said...

So if someone is half white and Asian or half white and Amerindian, and they "look" white are they white? Should they just reject their non white ancestry?