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Old 06-09-2018, 10:25 AM
Skald the Rhymer Skald the Rhymer is offline
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Does the notion of "passing" still have any currency in your community, Americans?

Consider an imaginary woman named Emily. She is the daughter of a man from Sweden and a woman from Kenya. Her paternal grandparents were Swedes, and her maternal grandparents were Kenyans; she knows no more of her ancestery than that. Emily has her father's fair skin and eyes, But hair more like her mother's (that is, dark and curly). Living in a largish city in the American south (She teaches physics at a university but has retained her Swedish citizenship ), she is generally taken to be "white", something she neither claims nor denies. Having grown up in Stockholm and Nairobi, she feels no particular affiliation to any side in American racial politics. When new acquaintances first see a photograph of her mother, Emily is commonly informed that, despite her fair skin, she is black, and to claim otherwise is dishonest. When she says that she doesn't feel black in the sense that Martin Luther King would have meant the term, she has been accused of "passing".

Americans: would you say that Emily's tractors have any point? Would you say she is "white" or "black"? "Passing"? Regardless of your personal opinion, how do you think she would be judged in your community (that is, of which "race"")?
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Old 06-09-2018, 10:44 AM
Procrustus Procrustus is offline
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In the Seattle area, at least, on one would give it a moments thought The concept of “passings” seems like a relic of an earlier time. My daughter are “mixed race” but I doubt anyone tries to figure out what the mixture is.
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Old 06-09-2018, 10:55 AM
QuickSilver QuickSilver is offline
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No judgement. People I call friends and whom I respect don't give a damn about that. If Emily isn't a jerk, she'd be warmly accepted as Emily, the person with an interesting family story.

Last edited by QuickSilver; 06-09-2018 at 10:57 AM.
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Old 06-09-2018, 10:55 AM
SpoilerVirgin SpoilerVirgin is offline
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Does Emily retain contact with her mother? She shares her mother's photograph; does she share her history? When asked, does she say that she herself is Swedish or Swedish/Kenyan?

Passing is about deliberately covering up your ethnicity (in the past, often with good reason). As long as she is honest when asked, and isn't trying to hide or obfuscate her background, I would not say that she is passing. I would say that for purposes of the way Americans view racial/ethnic identity, she is biracial.

Passing comes from a time when America adhered to the one-drop rule - any black ancestry at all made you black. In most parts of America today, and certainly where I live, this is no longer the case.
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Old 06-09-2018, 11:06 AM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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In the circles I socialize in, it wouldn't make any difference, and would continue to not make any difference if she actively described herself as white. There might be some societies where she'd be expected to do the equivalent of ringing a bell and proclaiming "unclean, unclean" to let people know that she's "not really white", but if so, I'm glad I'm not part of one.
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Old 06-09-2018, 11:58 AM
Sunny Daze Sunny Daze is offline
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I would guess it depends on which part of the country, in terms of whether "passing" is considered a thing. Here on the West Coast, my kids are never questioned about their race. In Missouri, my son got called "nigger" and my daughter never heard a word. Regardless, if the topic comes up, we are upfront about who we are. We don't pick a single race. It would be very complicated, as there are quite a few in the pot.
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Old 06-09-2018, 12:11 PM
John Mace John Mace is online now
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It's funny, but I was just thinking about this recently. I read something about someone "passing as white" and my first thought was: Is that even a thing anymore? Or, what would even happen to you if you were outed? You'd have to explain that your ancestry is X% white and Y% black or whatever, and then everyone would say Oh, OK. Of course I live in the SF Bay Area, so maybe it depends on where you live.
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Old 06-09-2018, 01:07 PM
Darren Garrison Darren Garrison is offline
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If you can stretch the meaning if "community" to "websites I read", I've seen the issue of skin tone brought up fairly often on The Mary Sue. I remember articles there debating if light-skin black feminists should self-exclude from conversations amongst dark-skin black feminists. Not finding any at the moment, but here is an article from another site showing that it is a thing.
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Old 06-09-2018, 01:18 PM
Corry El Corry El is offline
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Originally Posted by Skald the Rhymer View Post
When she says that she doesn't feel black in the sense that Martin Luther King would have meant the term, she has been accused of "passing".
Same as often, in a statement like this it actually matters than the person is *imaginary*.

It's not to generally thread shit, I know you do this all the time and are a longstanding member of this forum, and I *am* responding. Still.

Perhaps the most real issue with regard to this question is whether people do, or who really does, any longer insist that people with any recent sub-Saharan African ancestry call themselves 'black' rather than mixed race or make any point of telling people anything about it. But the hypothetical invites 'well here in CA (say) nobody would care but in AL, oh well, gee'. How do you actually know who cares in Alabama? Maybe more white people do. Maybe in both CA and AL it's more or less equally likely black people care and white people really don't. Which isn't to say white people in CA or AL are/aren't more 'racist' than black people, but specifically whether they think a person of recent partly African ancestry is 'passing' if they don't make a big deal of being 'black', and that there's something wrong with that. I think that varies by 'race' of observer at least as much as part of the country. But maybe not. I'd look at those things before imaginary examples.

Also it assumes there are black people and white people whereas now in the US non-black non-whites (in the normal social meaning of the term, 'white Hispanics' not being considered) outnumber blacks, and people without a firm racial identity are no longer a negligible %. Also we might first examine if people of 'mixed race' no recent part of which is 'black' or part 'black' but the other things aren't 'white' are to be considered at the same time or separately?

Last edited by Corry El; 06-09-2018 at 01:19 PM.
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Old 06-09-2018, 01:21 PM
Baker Baker is online now
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I'd say she's whatever she damned well chooses to call herself. If someone objects that she doesn't identify as "black" tough.
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Old 06-09-2018, 02:22 PM
Skald the Rhymer Skald the Rhymer is offline
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Same as often, in a statement like this it actually matters than the person is *imaginary*.
I am not sure why you are bringing this up. The very first line of the OP says that Emily is imaginary, though the thread does have a couple of real-life mixed-race persons I know as its inspiration.

But neither of these have a Kenyan mother & Swedish father. I just picked two countries out of thin air because I knew their capital cities off the top of my head. The imaginary Emily's situation is just to give shape to the discussion.
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Old 06-09-2018, 02:27 PM
Skald the Rhymer Skald the Rhymer is offline
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Originally Posted by Darren Garrison View Post
If you can stretch the meaning if "community" to "websites I read", I've seen the issue of skin tone brought up fairly often on The Mary Sue. I remember articles there debating if light-skin black feminists should self-exclude from conversations amongst dark-skin black feminists. Not finding any at the moment, but here is an article from another site showing that it is a thing.
I specifically meant each poster's physical community, as in their city, county, neighborhood, or state, but I don't object to discussing virtual communities either.
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Old 06-09-2018, 02:48 PM
Nava Nava is offline
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Does Emily retain contact with her mother? She shares her mother's photograph; does she share her history?
Not necessarily shares it actively, she could just have family pictures where they can be seen. I don't show people pics of my family but if they come to my house or look at my computer's screensaver, they will see them.


Quote:
When asked, does she say that she herself is Swedish or Swedish/Kenyan?
That's got different meanings in Sweden and in the US. In the US it refers to ancestry, in Sweden to nationality. By the OP she has Swedish nationality but nothing is said of Kenyan: if she doesn't have it, calling herself Swedish/Kenyan would be something she'd be unlikely to think of doing. Not because she's trying to hide her ancestry, but because ancestry does not equal nationality.



Quote:
Passing is about deliberately covering up your ethnicity (in the past, often with good reason).
Or biological sex. And the ethnical issues don't only affect people with Subsaharian ancestry.



I've had Americans tell me both that I couldn't be Hispanic and that I couldn't be white*. I've also been berated for "not waving my flag" (showed ID), for not putting my hand over my heart (showed ID), told to skip a legally-required step at immigration because according to the customs officer I was American (the maroon passport said officer kept refusing to look at disagrees). My Dominican friends were told they could not be Hispanic, they were African-American (uh, not an American citizen); same for immigrants from Africa who felt that if they identified themselves as African-American in official forms they were lying, because for them the term implies nationality while y'all actually use it about ancestry/looks. My Afroamerican friend's Moroccan wife was white when she was with him, brown when by herself. And so forth. Has this changed since I last lived in the US? Yes; for starters, the last time I lived there, y'all were still having convulsions because a dark-skinned golf player refused to call himself African-American saying that denied 3/4 of his grandparents; now people can say biracial or multiracial without fainting. The question is, how much has it changed in different locations? How much has it changed in a college town in the South? Does the answer vary depending on whether the college in question happens to be Georgia Tech or Bob Jones? I expect the answer to the last question to be "oh God yes".





* Then again, I've also had people in multiple countries tell me girls couldn't be engineers; like any other country, the US has a specific set of prejudices, but it's definitely not the only country where prejudices are found in the wild.
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Last edited by Nava; 06-09-2018 at 02:49 PM.
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Old 06-09-2018, 03:01 PM
DrDeth DrDeth is offline
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I'd say she's whatever she damned well chooses to call herself. If someone objects that she doesn't identify as "black" tough.
Yes.

Other than Native American, you are what you self-identify as.

Of course if you are blond hair and blue eyes, some people will roll their eyes if you loudly proclaim you are 'black". But that's their problem.
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Old 06-09-2018, 08:24 PM
Corry El Corry El is offline
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I am not sure why you are bringing this up. The very first line of the OP says that Emily is imaginary, though the thread does have a couple of real-life mixed-race persons I know as its inspiration.
The whole topic of race (while important, no doubt) has become IMO too focused on what people imagine other people think, or even what they think they 'should' imagine other people think in order to be 'right thinking' themselves. It's just become a particularly bad topic to base discussions on imaginary things IMO. In the relevant part about people accusing this person of 'passing' is based on reality, just give that reality as the example, I would say. Whether the various pieces of the person's heritage are Swedish, Dutch, Kenyan or multi generation African American, or you don't know is comparatively irrelevant.

Last edited by Corry El; 06-09-2018 at 08:25 PM.
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Old 06-09-2018, 09:15 PM
Skald the Rhymer Skald the Rhymer is offline
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The whole topic of race (while important, no doubt) has become IMO too focused on what people imagine other people think, or even what they think they 'should' imagine other people think in order to be 'right thinking' themselves. It's just become a particularly bad topic to base discussions on imaginary things IMO. In the relevant part about people accusing this person of 'passing' is based on reality, just give that reality as the example, I would say. Whether the various pieces of the person's heritage are Swedish, Dutch, Kenyan or multi generation African American, or you don't know is comparatively irrelevant.
We will just have to agree to disagree on this.
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Old 06-09-2018, 09:25 PM
TriPolar TriPolar is offline
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I don't really understand the concept of 'passing' in this context. Being 'black' is not an innate characteristic, if it has any meaning it would be that a person has lived their life being considered 'black' in their environment, or would be considered so by others now. I thought 'passing' meant such a person with light enough skin to 'pass' as a 'white' person to avoid being treated as a 'black' person. I can understand how others considered 'black' may look askance at that because it's not maintaining solidarity with their peers. Since Emily has never been considered to be 'black' by herself or others, and you don't say she considers herself to be 'white', then what does 'passing' mean here?
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Old 06-10-2018, 01:57 AM
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To be honest, I live in a place where race just doesn't get discussed at all. I'm not presenting that as a good thing, BTW: I think it's largely because of a lack of diversity in the area.

Online I admit I've not heard anything about passing except in a historical sense. And I would argue that what Darren Garrison is bringing up is a different phenomenon. It's not that the lighter skinned women "pass" as whit. It's that there is an idea that darker skinned people face more racism than lighter skinned people, even if they are the same race.

So, my online experience is that the phenomenon of "passing" is no longer a thing.
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Old 06-10-2018, 03:24 AM
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
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Based on a recent US president who had a Caucasian mother and a Kenyan father... Emily would be considered either "mixed race" or "black" in the US. A certain number of bigots would need to use the fainting couch over the matter. Certain white bigots, the sort who use the term "mud races", would have issues with her black ancestry. Certain black bigots would have issues with her relatively light skin and perceived privileges, or so I gather - in general, they're not the sort of people who speak to me directly. Most of us, though, probably wouldn't get riled up about it and would be happy to refer to Emily either as "Emily Johansson" (or whatever her last name is) or, if ethnicity is pertinent to the conversation, however she chooses to be referred to.

But yes, race and ethnicity is still a complicated issue in the US. I've been told I'm not white because I'm half Jewish, and people have expressed puzzlement at pictures of my grandmother who had some Asiatic facial features (because the Mongol hordes rampaging across Asia and Europe left a few bastards in their wake, who then went on to have children of their own), but for all practical purposes I'm white because that's what I look like, that's what I was raised as, and that's how people perceive me to be. Until some of them find out my background ethnicity, then all of a sudden it's "I KNEW IT!" Uh... no you didn't, because now you're suddenly treating me differently. But most people just shrug and say "oh, that's interesting" and go on to other topics.
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Old 06-10-2018, 03:32 AM
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
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There was that woman, Rachel Dolezal, who got people really upset because she was passing as black for awhile, but that's different than Emily Johansson because Rachel deliberately hid and lied about her past. Emily isn't hiding or lying about anything.
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Old 06-10-2018, 04:48 AM
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Any particular reason you only want to hear from Americans? Passing isn't exclusively an American phenomenon.
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Old 06-10-2018, 05:57 AM
tnetennba tnetennba is offline
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I don't think anyone can really glibly pass through life in America without thinking about their own racial makeup or feeling like they are keeping a secret if they never tell anyone they have African ancestry. I mean, these days we talk about race constantly. BLM and Trump and terrorism and all that. I don't quite find it believable that anyone would accuse someone of passing using that word but it would come up. For example, she might be exposed to the racist rants of white people who think she's a sympathetic listener. Conversely she might be accused of racial appropriation if people see any hint of her African heritage -- a decoration in her office or a garment. Or she would mention her childhood years in Nairobi and people would ask why she was there and she would have to tell them, well, I AM AFRICAN SEE. It just takes intent to hide your past and then it does seem curious. But the word passing feels wrong.
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Old 06-10-2018, 06:08 AM
Sage Rat Sage Rat is offline
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The last time I saw the word "passing" used was in relation to a transgender person who had begun hormone therapy young.

Minus any further context, that's what I would assume someone was talking about if they said the word in a sentence about someone I didn't know.
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Old 06-10-2018, 09:10 AM
TriPolar TriPolar is offline
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I don't think anyone can really glibly pass through life in America without thinking about their own racial makeup or feeling like they are keeping a secret if they never tell anyone they have African ancestry. I mean, these days we talk about race constantly. BLM and Trump and terrorism and all that. I don't quite find it believable that anyone would accuse someone of passing using that word but it would come up. For example, she might be exposed to the racist rants of white people who think she's a sympathetic listener. Conversely she might be accused of racial appropriation if people see any hint of her African heritage -- a decoration in her office or a garment. Or she would mention her childhood years in Nairobi and people would ask why she was there and she would have to tell them, well, I AM AFRICAN SEE. It just takes intent to hide your past and then it does seem curious. But the word passing feels wrong.
I don't see any intent on Emily's part. And I don't like the idea that we have to submit to racism and pick a 'side' here. I'm not 'white', nobody is, it's just a perception of others, and one we should be fighting against. Broomstick said Emily would be considered 'mixed race' as was Barack Obama, except almost everyone considered Obama to be 'black', that's what racism does to our culture, the definitions of 'black' and 'white' aren't just two sides of the same coin. I can certainly see why people considered to be 'black' don't like the way this works, they want people who also get the short end of this deal to be in solidarity with them, but everyone needs to be able to reject these concepts and live their lives according to the ideal of seeing people as individuals and not a member of some artificially declared group.
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Old 06-10-2018, 09:22 AM
Omega Glory Omega Glory is offline
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I would consider her biracial, and I think most of my community would as well, if they knew about her mother. I wouldn't consider her to be passing, because from what we've been told, she's simply living her life and not doing anything to conceal her background. I would think it was strange if she said she didn't feel black, although my feelings might change if she elaborated, depending on what her explanation was.
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Old 06-10-2018, 09:26 AM
tnetennba tnetennba is offline
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We don't live in an ideal world, we live in this one, with history and cultural baggage. It's like if you go to a restaurant and order a salad and everyone else orders lobster and they want the tab divided equally. Nope, it doesn't work that way.
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Old 06-10-2018, 09:40 AM
TriPolar TriPolar is offline
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We don't live in an ideal world, we live in this one, with history and cultural baggage. It's like if you go to a restaurant and order a salad and everyone else orders lobster and they want the tab divided equally. Nope, it doesn't work that way.
Racism makes some people only eat salad but pay the price of lobster in order to lower the price of lobster for the others.
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Old 06-10-2018, 10:48 AM
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I don't think anyone can really glibly pass through life in America without thinking about their own racial makeup or feeling like they are keeping a secret if they never tell anyone they have African ancestry. I mean, these days we talk about race constantly.
Eh. I only bring up having a black great-great-grandfather in addition to my mom's family being 1/2 Latino to shock/refute people who irritate me by insisting my ancestry must be 100% Irish because I have red hair, fair skin, and blue-green eyes - that sort of insistency deserves to be taken down a peg. Other than that I rarely think about it, and don't worry about how a lack of relevancy to other conversations is akin to keeping it a secret.
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Old 06-10-2018, 11:32 AM
Jacquernagy Jacquernagy is online now
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But yes, race and ethnicity is still a complicated issue in the US. I've been told I'm not white because I'm half Jewish, and people have expressed puzzlement at pictures of my grandmother who had some Asiatic facial features (because the Mongol hordes rampaging across Asia and Europe left a few bastards in their wake, who then went on to have children of their own), but for all practical purposes I'm white because that's what I look like, that's what I was raised as, and that's how people perceive me to be.
The idea of "whiteness" is a completely fabricated concept, but it carries social validity nonetheless. Even though it shouldn't. There are no such thing as races. What there are, are phenotypes. Phenotypes are the combinations of facial features and skin tone that are passed down through genetics. From each part of the world, different phenotypes might predominate in some geographical regions, but they inevitably wind up mixing a lot because, surprise surprise, humans like to mix their genes.

There are a bunch of different phenotypes and you can go down the rabbit hole of studying them, although you have to remember that a lot of the taxonomy comes from earlier times when various anthropologists truly believed that these phenotypes represented different "races." They thought there was such a thing as, for instance, an "Alpine race." Well, if you averaged out all my genetic ancestry, by cross checking the genome with a database of other people, you'd find me right around the region of the Alps. And surely enough, if you look up Alpine phenotype, my facial appearance isn't far off from that example.

But once it gets into the territory of saying that one phenotype looks better than another....or worse, has inherently superior mental characteristics....you're into the bullshit part of it.

All there are, are phenotypes, and they mix and blend because people like to do the activity that leads to that happening. So new phenotypes are constantly being created. And the individual described in the OP is just that....a new, unique phenotype of her own. Not part of a "race".
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Old 06-10-2018, 12:06 PM
Skald the Rhymer Skald the Rhymer is offline
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Any particular reason you only want to hear from Americans? Passing isn't exclusively an American phenomenon.
I addressed the question specifically to Americans because we are so het up about race, racism, and the black/white dichotomy. I don't I'll oppose persons from other countries chiming in.
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Old 06-10-2018, 12:06 PM
JRDelirious JRDelirious is online now
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One of my non-fave things to hear: "Really, Puerto Rican? You look White." Honey, your eyesight is just fine. Yes, I am phenotypically Caucasian. Means jacksquat WRT ethnocultural identity.


As to the example: Emily's not "passing" since the identity she assumes and presents is not "White American", it's "Swedish". It's third-party observers who slot that into the "White" checkbox, unsolicited and unconsulted.


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Originally Posted by TriPolar View Post
I thought 'passing' meant such a person with light enough skin to 'pass' as a 'white' person to avoid being treated as a 'black' person. I can understand how others considered 'black' may look askance at that because it's not maintaining solidarity with their peers. Since Emily has never been considered to be 'black' by herself or others, and you don't say she considers herself to be 'white', then what does 'passing' mean here?(emphasis added-JRD)
I believe that is the point of the case example: that although Emily has always identified as simply Swedish, there will be third parties who will insist on looking upon this as an act of choosing the easy way out in American race culture, as opposed of it simply being a matter of that this is the person's own national identity. Notice the setting of the example: she is in a university in a city in the US South. So probably in the university and in that big city community it is not an everyday thing, but there will be still enough people for whom racial identity per the American construct is still enough of an issue and who, though Emily is not trying to "pass", are themselves already preconditioned to the concept of "passing" as being a thing that describes the situation.
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Old 06-10-2018, 12:18 PM
Jacquernagy Jacquernagy is online now
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One of my non-fave things to hear: "Really, Puerto Rican? You look White." Honey, your eyesight is just fine. Yes, I am phenotypically Caucasian. Means jacksquat WRT ethnocultural identity.
Truth. There are Mexicans, and people from points south, who look like they could pass in anywhere from Germany or Italy to Ireland. It gets even more ridiculous when people start talking about "looking Jewish." My mom's maternal side of the family are blonde and all look like they could have been from northern Germany or natives of the Baltic region (which is where their actual genetic ancestry comes from, as per the DNA test.) Yet they are Jewish. Someone once told my mom, "you're Jewish?! No, it can't be! You must have had a nose job." This was not a joke, it was said in earnest. For fuck's sake!
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Old 06-10-2018, 02:01 PM
MrDibble MrDibble is offline
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Originally Posted by Skald the Rhymer View Post
I addressed the question specifically to Americans because we are so het up about race, racism, and the black/white dichotomy.
You think you're het up?
Quote:
I don't I'll oppose persons from other countries chiming in.
In that case - her detractors have no point, she's neither "black" nor "white", but biracial. No, she's not "passing", and in my community, while she wouldn't be considered one of us (South African Coloured is a set of loosely related cultures, not just biracialism) she'd certainly be accepted (see: Noah, Trevor)
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Old 06-10-2018, 02:15 PM
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Originally Posted by Skald
When she says that she doesn't feel black in the sense that Martin Luther King would have meant the term...
I wouldn’t try to argue anyone of out of their racial identity, but the above is rather eye rolley. It implies that American racial constructs came from black activists, rather than evolved from centuries of history. It sounds like something Hillary Banks would say, which is to say, pretty shallow and ignorant.

If you don’t identify as black because your African ancestry is phenotypically unapparent AND neither you or your close loved ones have been affected by racial prejudice or the legacy of racial oppression, then it would not be surprising if that affected how you self identified. But I would find it surprising that someone with a black Kenyan mother would be in this camp, and not just because the odds are slim she’d be phenotypically indistinguishable from your average white Swedish. Has she never been the recipient of stares and weird comments when out in public with her mother and father together, or treated like an oddity when friends and love interests discover the truth? Has she never heard white racists talking shit about black people and understood that they are talking about her as much as any other impure mudperson? Experiences like this have a way of impressing upon you what race people associate you with and that race is not white, it’s black.

I thinking passing in a racial sense is an outdated concept unless someone is deliberately hiding their heritage. But that doesn’t mean all rationales for claiming or not claiming a certain identity are immune from judgement.
  #35  
Old 06-10-2018, 02:15 PM
msmith537 msmith537 is offline
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That depends. Will Emily try to invoke her White Privilege?
  #36  
Old 06-10-2018, 02:58 PM
Jacquernagy Jacquernagy is online now
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Okay, this is a completely serious question.

There have been, in history, people who had sub-Saharan African ancestry and were born into African-American culture, but had phenotype looking predominantly European. The most striking example is probably Walter Francis White (no relation to "Heisenberg") who identified and was accepted as a black man.

If there was someone who had that physical appearance AND the same ancestry, BUT grew up adopted by a "white" family, would that individual be accepted if he were to identify as African-American?

If the answer to THAT question is "yes," then the next one is: would it be acceptable for me, who is almost entirely of Alpine, Hellenic, and Baltic, European descent, and look it, to identify as African-American if I were adopted by a black family?

These are all interesting questions and as American culture changes demographically, they are going to become more and more relevant.

Last edited by Jacquernagy; 06-10-2018 at 03:00 PM.
  #37  
Old 06-10-2018, 03:09 PM
DrDeth DrDeth is offline
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To be honest, I live in a place where race just doesn't get discussed at all. I'm not presenting that as a good thing, BTW: I think it's largely because of a lack of diversity in the area.

"Hicksville", Ark. has no racial issues??
  #38  
Old 06-10-2018, 03:19 PM
you with the face you with the face is offline
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If there was someone who had that physical appearance AND the same ancestry, BUT grew up adopted by a "white" family, would that individual be accepted if he were to identify as African-American?
This question is very broad. Accepted by whom? And under which circumstances would his racial identity even need to come up?

If you’re an ambiguously black person, you never have to go around announcing what race you identify as. People will assume you’re black because that’s what your phenotype marks you as.

Likewise, if you’re a fair skinned, blonde haired person, people are going to assume you’re white. They will make that assumption unless your volunteer that you aren’t. But generally there are not that many occasions when volunteering such info comes naturally. Aside from public figures who are regularly doing interviews and having their background pried into, most people don’t even need to make their racial identities an issue.

Last edited by you with the face; 06-10-2018 at 03:21 PM.
  #39  
Old 06-10-2018, 05:23 PM
monstro monstro is online now
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When new acquaintances first see a photograph of her mother, Emily is commonly informed that, despite her fair skin, she is black, and to claim otherwise is dishonest.
I'm curious who these acquaintances are and what has triggered this weird accusation. I know it doesn't matter to the questions posed in the OP, but it just seems like an unrealistic detail. I sincerely doubt all new acquaintances tell her this. But I can totally believe that over the course of her life in the States, a few acquaintances have asked her pointed questions about her identity and a very small minority of these acquaintances have intimated she's a liar.

Quote:
Americans: would you say that Emily's tractors have any point?
I say that it is always rude to question someone about how they feel. Emily is perfectly entitled to feel however she wants to feel about her identity. And a person listening to her express herself is perfectly entitled to feel however they want to feel about it. But it is wrong for a person to tell Emily she shouldn't feel the way she feels. As long as Emily isn't standing on a soapbox patting herself on the back for being above the racial politics fray, then other people should just let her be.

Quote:
Would you say she is "white" or "black"?
I would "say" she's what she identifies as, if we must say anything. But I can see where I might be tripped if I'm ever called to describe her appearance in the most efficient way possible. When I'm describing a person by their physical appearance, I usually mention their apparent race (black, white, Asian, Indian, etc.) along with more precise descriptors (light-skinned, brown-skinned, blond-haired, short, tall, fat). If she looks white but tells me she doesn't see herself that way, I would probably leave out the racial descriptor to respect her wishes. But if I don't know anything about her other than she looks white to my eye (like this woman), I'd probably describe her as "White girl with the kinky dark hair". Would I be wrong? If we accept the premise that race is a social construct then, no, I would not be wrong.

Would I see her the same way she sees herself? I don't know for sure, but probably not. Assuming she has kinky hair texture but a face that doesn't have telltale signs of recent African ancestry (like the face of the biracial woman whose picture I just linked to), I'd probably initially lump her in the category "white person with flava"--the category that I tend to reserve for pale-skinned folks of the Mediterranean/Levant/Semitic persuasion. If her facial features do suggest some "Mother Africa" at first glance, then I'll likely peg her as "biracial" or "light-skinned black person". And this assessment would be unlikely to ever change.

I give everyone permission to define themselves the way they want to be defined because we are ultimately talking about social/cultural labels--and anyone is free to find kinship in the social and cultural groups that resonate with them. But this "permission" doesn't obligate me to do anything other than to show proper respect towards them. It doesn't mean I have to scrub my mind of my own definitions.

Quote:
"Passing"? Regardless of your personal opinion, how do you think she would be judged in your community (that is, of which "race"")?
I don't think she'd be accused of passing as long as she is honest about her ancestry. If people ask her about her background ("Where did you grow up?" "Where are parents from?") and she responds with a factual non-answer ("I'm from the planet Earth, just like my parents", then I could understand someone thinking she has issues with regard to her identity (though I think it would be more charitable to assume she is tired of this kind of questioning, given how frequently racially ambiguous people are subjected to these questions). If she tells outright lies about her ancestry, then the charge of "passing" is appropriate.

In my family, I don't think she would be judged negatively or positively just for saying she doesn't feel white or black...as long as that person is sufficiently "white passing". If Emily just looks like your run-of-the-mill light-skinned black person (there are a lot of us in my family), then there might be some internal eye-rolls and some mildly critical under-the-breath utterances like "come on now" from a few folks. But I think the fact that she wasn't born and raised in the US would make her indifference understandable and thus not all that interesting of a discussion topic. However, if the same sentiment was expressed by someone in our family, there would probably be a lot of disappointment, not gonna lie.
  #40  
Old 06-10-2018, 05:41 PM
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
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Originally Posted by Jacquernagy View Post
Truth. There are Mexicans, and people from points south, who look like they could pass in anywhere from Germany or Italy to Ireland. It gets even more ridiculous when people start talking about "looking Jewish." My mom's maternal side of the family are blonde and all look like they could have been from northern Germany or natives of the Baltic region (which is where their actual genetic ancestry comes from, as per the DNA test.) Yet they are Jewish. Someone once told my mom, "you're Jewish?! No, it can't be! You must have had a nose job." This was not a joke, it was said in earnest. For fuck's sake!
Yep.

In the local Jewish Community here in my county the Conservative rabbi is from Argentina so... surprise... looks a bit Hispanic and speaks English with a Spanish accent. And the executive director of the Jewish Federation is from Ethiopia and people look at her and say... "Jewish...? But she's black!" Yes, yes she is. She is both.

There's two competing notions here. First, the notion that there is a "Jewish look" - while some European Jews have features associated with the two main groups of European Jews a lot of them don't - which leads to the second notion, that absolutely terrifies some people... Jews can look like anyone!

Thanks to companies like 23 and me and the others we are also now seeing that a LOT of people have recent African ancestry, even if they're pale skinned and paled haired; and a LOT of people have Asian ancestry who don't "look Asian", and OMG! - a lot of of us have Neanderthal and Denisovan genes!!! Those last two aren't even H. sapiens!

I keep hoping everyone will finally grasp the notion that there are no purebred humans, we really are all mutts, but I won't hold my breath over it.
  #41  
Old 06-10-2018, 06:42 PM
Jacquernagy Jacquernagy is online now
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Thanks to companies like 23 and me and the others we are also now seeing that a LOT of people have recent African ancestry, even if they're pale skinned and paled haired
Yeah I assumed I would have a little bit at least, because I thought everyone has a tiny bit. But there was 0%. What's with that? I thought everyone had a least a very tiny bit that would show up on a test.
  #42  
Old 06-10-2018, 06:55 PM
John Mace John Mace is online now
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Originally Posted by Broomstick View Post
Thanks to companies like 23 and me and the others we are also now seeing that a LOT of people have recent African ancestry, even if they're pale skinned and paled haired...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jacquernagy View Post
Yeah I assumed I would have a little bit at least, because I thought everyone has a tiny bit. But there was 0%. What's with that? I thought everyone had a least a very tiny bit that would show up on a test.
I don't know what Broomstick means by "a LOT", but most Americans who identify as white don't have recent African ancestry, so odds are don't, if you're white (or Asian). Odds increase if you're Latino. I'm not sure why you think most everyone has recent African ancestry. What are you thinking "recent" means, btw? There is also the issue of how precise these tests can be. I don't know what the cut-off is for the noise level of these tests, but I'd expect it to be close to 1% at best, so even a result that said you were 1% African would probably be suspect. For $100, that's actually pretty darn good!
  #43  
Old 06-10-2018, 07:16 PM
Jacquernagy Jacquernagy is online now
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I guess it makes sense if you think in terms of percentages over a long timescale. If I'm descended from people who lived in Europe for literally thousands of years, and assuming that no Africans mixed with the families, which is probably unlikely, it would not be mathematically possible for the percentage of African to be any greater than two zeroes past the decimal point, and the DNA test only measures it down to the .01s. Right?

Some Europeans with Spanish or Southern Italian might have small amounts of African descent, but my Italian genes are from Northern Italy, and I don't have any Spanish.

You probably remember the notorious "Sicilian scene" from True Romance. I never really put much stake in that; first of all, there's no reason to think that all or even most Sicilians have Moorish blood, and secondly, whether the Moors actually were the thing that Dennis Hopper's character called them, is debatable.
  #44  
Old 06-10-2018, 08:49 PM
John Mace John Mace is online now
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I wouldn't assume we knew what our ancestors were doing thousands of years ago or that your Norther Italian ancestors didn't have ancestors from lots of different places in that time period. And those consumer DNA tests are looking at the last few hundred years, not thousands.

Last edited by John Mace; 06-10-2018 at 08:49 PM.
  #45  
Old 06-11-2018, 01:56 AM
CarnalK CarnalK is offline
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Well I read that about 4% of us are Neanderthals so at least those people aren't African. I think they're from France. Anyways, who knows? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  #46  
Old 06-11-2018, 03:27 AM
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
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I don't know what Broomstick means by "a LOT", but most Americans who identify as white don't have recent African ancestry, so odds are don't, if you're white (or Asian). Odds increase if you're Latino. I'm not sure why you think most everyone has recent African ancestry. What are you thinking "recent" means, btw? There is also the issue of how precise these tests can be. I don't know what the cut-off is for the noise level of these tests, but I'd expect it to be close to 1% at best, so even a result that said you were 1% African would probably be suspect. For $100, that's actually pretty darn good!
I was thinking of all the white people I've heard of who grew up hearing about the "Indian princess" in the family tree who find out that she was probably an African-American slave or freedwoman. Or black man passing as white/Indian/whatever

I live in an area with a significant number of folks from south of the US border, so quite a few of them have recent (within the past 500 years, let's say) African ancestry. Also quite a few of the folks we have from the Middle East and a smaller slice from southern Europe.

"A LOT" meaning in part that most of these folks weren't expecting those results at all, so if you're going by the "one drop" rule (which I'm happy to say seems to be going away) you suddenly have a lot more "black" people in the neighborhood. Except it's pretty apparent to everyone that these folks aren't black culturally or in how society treats them
  #47  
Old 06-11-2018, 05:04 AM
DPRK DPRK is offline
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Based on this thread I get the impression that black Swedes visiting the US hear a lot of things that get old pretty fast... or is that type of thing (that someone would dare to open their mouth and say something like, "You're a Jew and a Swede? But... you're black!" out loud) confined to certain regions?
  #48  
Old 06-11-2018, 08:29 AM
John Mace John Mace is online now
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Originally Posted by Broomstick View Post
I was thinking of all the white people I've heard of who grew up hearing about the "Indian princess" in the family tree who find out that she was probably an African-American slave or freedwoman. Or black man passing as white/Indian/whatever

I live in an area with a significant number of folks from south of the US border, so quite a few of them have recent (within the past 500 years, let's say) African ancestry. Also quite a few of the folks we have from the Middle East and a smaller slice from southern Europe.

"A LOT" meaning in part that most of these folks weren't expecting those results at all, so if you're going by the "one drop" rule (which I'm happy to say seems to be going away) you suddenly have a lot more "black" people in the neighborhood. Except it's pretty apparent to everyone that these folks aren't black culturally or in how society treats them
OK. And just to be clear, I wasn't criticizing your post. It just seemed like that other poster was interpreting "a lot" to mean "most", and I didn't think you were suggesting that. The phenomenon you are talking about is not at all uncommon. The so-called Indian [princess or otherwise] often turns out to have not existed or to have been something other than Indian. For other reasons, most blacks in the US who think they have Indian ancestry are mistaken about that. Not all, but most who have been tested.

On a related note, the famous "one drop rule" was often more of a cultural norm than a legal one. As it applied to Indian ancestry as well as African, the states tended to limit the legal ruling to some specific fraction (1/4 or 1/8 or 1/16) because of what was sometimes referred to as the Pocahontas rule or exception. Too many of the "best families" had been in the Americas a long time, and did have some Native American ancestry, if in the distant past.

Last edited by John Mace; 06-11-2018 at 08:32 AM.
  #49  
Old 06-11-2018, 08:38 AM
Nava Nava is offline
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Some of those not-Amerindian genes may in fact have come through an Amerindian person, who themselves had partial or total (adoption) non-Amerindian ancestry. My Seminole coworker looked more like the phenotype associated with kilts than war bonnets, the Seminole nation having adopted boatloads of Scotts and Scots-Irish about the time of the American Revolution; his lastname is Scots-Irish. All four grandparents were Seminole Nation members though.
  #50  
Old 06-11-2018, 08:44 AM
Jasmine Jasmine is offline
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"Passing" implies deceit. Though modern technology has graphically shown that being Black can still suck big time, it used to be a lot worse, and light skinned Blacks would try to "pass" as White if at all possible because it gave them access to a totally different, and better world. It is a term that belongs to the past. Now, I hear terms like "multi-ethnic" and "bi-racial" to describe people of mixed races.
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