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Passing in Whiteness as Property

Within Harris’ article she describes her grandmother’s experience with passing. She describes how “anonymity was possible for a black person with white features” (276). Her grandmother’s ability to deceive the public’s evaluation of her immediate appearance allowed her to transcend some of the social constructs put in place at the time. Visual appearance created a societal separation between people of one race and another. This separation created opposition and animosity. To move past this social boundary some African Americans utilized their inherited “white” features to pass for white themselves. This allowed them to operate beyond the restrictions placed upon the social, cultural and racial group to which they had belonged.

In one of my prior courses, which was focused on Modernsim, we read Passing by Nella Larsen. This story describes the fictional experiences of black Americans in the early twentieth century who attempted to “pass” for white as well as the opposition to the practice. It detailed the internal struggles and fears associated with being caught within the lie. It really made the reader consider the turmoil that could happen within a person denying who they are and where they came from. This piece by Harris reminded me of this novel and made my experience reading those few lines on her grandmother’s life much more potent. I believe it also assisted me in trying to understand her perspective when writing this piece.

One thought on “Passing in Whiteness as Property”

  1. *Very* cool and appropos connection between Harris and Larsen. I’m wondering whether the rest of Harris’s argument elucidates anything else for you about Larsen’s work. Does Passing invite us to think about Whiteness as Property too?


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