On Passing

The inauthentic Negro is not only estranged from whites– he is also estranged from his own group and from himself. Since his companions are a mirror in which he sees himself as ugly, he must reject them; and since his own self is mainly a tension between an accusation and a denial, he can hardly find it, much less live in it… He is adrift without a role in a world predicated on roles.

— Anatole Broyard

Broyard himself was black, and passed for white in New York City after WWII. He wanted to be a writer, not a “Negro writer” and at least in those days, he felt that meant leaving behind his “Negro self”. It meant marrying a white woman, raising white children, and cutting off their contact with his family. He’s not writing about himself here, but maybe he is.

But have things changed since then? Is race more complicated now, or less?


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