In this minor field, I explore the boundaries of race in American culture by considering narratives of passing that begin in the mid-nineteenth century and continue to the present day. The first group of novels on my list includes the more traditional narratives of black-to-white passing, many of which were written during the Harlem Renaissance; I also include a film, Imitation of Life, that brought the issue to the big screen in both 1934 and 1959. My second group of novels and films deal with a subject less often considered in the context of passing: white-to-black passing and blackface. The subjects of these works are passing in the sense that they relinquish their white identity, if only for a brief time, in one form or another--whether for an experiment, as in Black Like Me and Soul Sister, a musical number, as in The Jazz Singer, or a college application, as in Soul Man. Although the boundary between passing and posing is sometimes difficult to draw, I also consider the white negro tradition, from Mezz Mezzrow to Norman Mailer to the boys of the 1999 film Whiteboys. The third sub-group on my list includes novels and memoirs that deal more broadly with the difficulties of determining racial categories. Though passing occurs in a number of these works (Pudd'nhead Wilson, for example) it is difficult to call them passing narratives since they so profoundly question the very notion of race, whereas "passing," in many respects, relies on the idea that race indeed exists, if only as an entity to be "passed" in or out of. The texts in this category describe scenarios of racial masquerade, as in Benito Cereno, or confusion, as when James McBride subtitles his memoir "a black man's tribute to his white mother." They highlight something that is often implied by the works in my other categories: Race is a social construct, but one that has very real consequences.
In keeping with this theme, my secondary readings in this minor field include not only literary and film studies on passing and blackface, as well as aspects of racial theory, but also critical writing on the idea of race--from Richard Dyer's White, a theoretical work, to F. James Davis' Who is Black? One Nation's Definition, a historical analysis. I include studies of how certain ethnic groups, like Jews, became redefined as white; these studies highlight the role of society in creating and maintaining racial categories. The fiction, memoirs, and critical texts on my list all examine the ways in which racial categories are established, and the ways in which this bears on the individual's life.
William and Ellen Craft
— Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom (1860)
William Dean Howells
— An Imperative Duty (1892)
— The House Behind the Cedars (1900)
James Weldon Johnson
— Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man (1912)
— Flight (1926)
— Passing (1929)
— Plum Bun (1929)
— Black No More (1931)
— Light in August (1932)
— "Dirty Deceivers"
— "The Ghost of Rufus Jones"
— "Who's Passing for Who?"
— "Spanish Blood"
— "Dear Ma"
— Imitation of Life (1934 & 1959)
— Illusions (1996)
WHITE-TO-BLACK PASSING AND BLACKFACE
— Really the Blues (1946)
John Howard Griffen
— Black Like Me (1960)
— Soul Sister (1969)
— "The White Negro" (1957)
— The Color of Water (1996)
— The Jazz Singer (1927)
— Watermelon Man (1970)
— Soul Man (1986)
— Bulworth (1998)
— WhiteBoys (1999)
RACIAL MASQUERADE AND CONFUSION
William Wells Brown
— Clotel (1852)
— Benito Cereno (1855)
— Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894)
— "Desiree's Baby"
— "Arrangement in Black and White"
— Home to Harlem (1928)
— "My Negro Problem--and Ours" (1963)
Gregory Howard Williams
— Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black (1995)
CRITICAL SOURCES ON PASSING AND CONSTRUCTIONS OF RACIAL IDENTITY
— "Negro Characters as Seen by White Authors"
Elaine K. Ginsberg
— Introduction to Passing and the Fictions of Identity
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
— "The Passing of Anatole Broyard" (from Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man)
— Neither Black nor White Yet Both
— Dislocating the Color Line: Identity, Hybridity, and Singularity in African-American Literature
— Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class
— "White Like Me: Racial Cross-Dressing and the Construction of American Whiteness"
— RaceChanges: White Skin, Black Face in American Culture
— "Guineas, Wiggers, and the Dramas of Racialized Culture"
— White (selections)
F. James Davis
— Who is Black? One Nation's Definition
— Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot
— How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America
— "The Jewish Nose: Are Jews White? Or, the History of the Nose Job"