The Prisms of Passing: Reading beyond the Racial Binary in Twentieth-Century U.S. Passing Narratives Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 22, 2019
Creator
  • Page, Amanda M.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
Abstract
  • In The Prisms of Passing: Reading beyond the Racial Binary in Twentieth-Century U.S. Passing Narratives, I examine a subset of racial passing narratives written between 1890 and 1930 by African American activist-authors, some directly affiliated with the NAACP, who use the form to challenge racial hierarchies through the figure of the mulatta/o and his or her interactions with other racial and ethnic groups. I position texts by Frances E.W. Harper, James Weldon Johnson, and Walter White in dialogue with racial classification laws of the period--including Supreme Court decisions, such as Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), and immigration law, such as the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924--to show how these rulings and laws were designed to consolidate white identity while preventing coalition-building among African Americans and other subordinate groups. In contrast to white-authored passing narratives of the time, I argue that these early African American passing narratives frequently gesture toward interracial solidarity with Native American, European immigrant, Latina/o, or Asian American characters as a means of challenging white supremacy. Yet, these authors often sacrifice the potential for antiracist coalitions because of the limitations inherent in working within the dominant racial and nativist discourses. For example, in Iola Leroy (1892), Harper, despite her racially progressive intentions, strategically deploys white nativist discourse against Native Americans to demonstrate the Americanness of her mulatta heroine and demand recognition of African American assimilation. Though later African American passing narratives, such as Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) and White's Flight (1926), began to reflect a collaborative global approach to civil rights as the century progressed, these strategies of domestic antagonism and/or international solidarity with groups outside of the black-white binary ultimately worked in service to a specifically African American civil rights agenda. This study concludes with an examination of a contemporary passing narrative by an Asian American author. Brian Ascalon Roley's American Son (2001) revises the form to challenge the continued marginalization of Latina/os and Asian Americans and thus suggests the need for a reconsideration of how we approach civil rights activism to accommodate new racial dynamics in the post-civil rights era.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
Advisor
  • Wagner-Martin, Linda
Degree
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2011
Language
Publisher
Parents:

This work has no parents.

Items