Paul R. Lehman, Passing was a way of fooling a flawed racial systemSeptember 28, 2014 at 5:29 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American history, American Racism, blacks, democracy, DNA, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, Human Genome, identity, justice, liberty, minority, Oklahoma, passing, Prejudice, skin color, skin complexion, Slavery, U. S. Census, whites | Leave a comment
Tags: African American, African Americans, African ancestry, biracial, black, current-events, discrimination, DNA, ethnic identity, ethnicity, European Americans, identity, mixed race, Passing, Prejudice, race, skin color, skin complexion, slavery, white
One of the negative and lasting components of slavery and the creation of a black and white race is the value placed on being identified as white or part white. During slavery, a slave identified as being part white sold for a higher price than slaves who were considered Negro or black. Because race was based on skin complexion, fooling the system was easily accomplished by slaves who could present themselves as white. After slavery, that practice became know as “passing.”If a person moved away from his or her environment where his or her ancestry was common knowledge, then one could live his or her entire life using the white identity. However, the fear of being discovered by someone who knew the person passing was always present. Many stories, true and fictional, have been written recounting the experiences of individuals passing.
When we examine the stories of people involved in passing, we realize that the risk of being caught often resulted in death, but the rewards were opportunities for liberties and freedoms enjoyed by the majority society. The key to the entire system, however, was based on race by color, which was ineffective and faulty because it is an illusion, and lacking any empirical proof. After the Civil War the nation not only continued the system of race by color, but also introduced more illogical, unreasonable and irrational aspects to its existence. For example, Oklahoma, along with other states, created laws that stated in effect that any person of African ancestry was to be considered Negro or Colored. If we were to give some thought to that law, we would discover that the law evidently viewed Africa as a country, not a continent. Also, how would one discover the ancestry of another as African since eighty percent of the world’s population has dark skin? Today, because of DNA, we would have to include all human beings as having African ancestry. So, we know the system was flawed from the beginning.
The problem we face today is one that creates a variety of discussions because many people never challenged the system of race by color, but accepted it along with the supposed values that being white represented. Fortunately, our society is changing in ways that will soon make the concept of race by color irrelevant. The so-called “One Drop Rule” or African ancestry rule was based on illusion, not fact, so to continue to embrace it would be just as fool-hearty. None-the-less, many Americans identify themselves as being mixed-race, or bi-racial, or some other term used to discern the inclusion of white blood in their ancestry because they believe it adds to their social value. How ridiculous is that? If the creation of a white race was false at the beginning, regardless of how one mixes it, it will always be false.
A person’s race has nothing to do with his or her skin color; all people belong to the human race. The primary reason for African Americans being called blacks, Negro, and colored was to keep them from knowing and using their cultural and/or geographical identity by their slave masters. On the other hand, European Americans used their white identity as a symbol of power and privilege associated with the Anglo-Saxons. Rather than use their cultural or geographical identities, many Irish, Jews, Italians, Poles, Slavs and many others as well, changed their names and moved to locations where they “passed” as European American (Anglo-Saxons) to avoid discrimination. Ironically, once these so-called lesser Americans became accepted as whites, they adopted the same attitude of bigotry and biases as the majority society especially relative to African Americans. That way they could conceal their real ethnic identity.
Race is the primary point on which this discussion rest. If one accepts the term and how it has been employed historically, then one is doomed to confusion and frustration, because any argument involving race becomes curricular. That is, if one starts with a false premise, the result must also be false, and so it is with race. Many people of mixed cultural and geographic ancestry face difficulty in deciding how to identify themselves, and so they use terms like biracial or mixed race. These terms simply underscore the acceptance of the illusion of multiple biological races from which they choose to belong. Had they used the terms ethnic group or ethnically mixed, then their identity would reflect cultures and or geographical certainties once they disclosed them. What happens when someone of mixed ethnicity identifies him or herself by one ethnic identity, that selection should be made on the basis of the individual’s choice or preference; to make that choice because of what society or some irrational rule or law based on race by color suggest is illogical.
If someone makes the choice of ethnic identity based on what society suggests, like the one drop rule, then that person is doing a disservice to one or more aspects of his or her ancestry and of the parent representing the part left out. That choice is no longer necessary in our society. People do not have to identify themselves as black or white; they can, however, identify themselves as African American or European American, but even that is not mandatory. Just ask the Census Bureau.
Many African American people of note have been accused of avoiding their ethnic identity by passing for European American. The term passing has relevance only when one has accepted the false concept of multiple biological races. The desire to identify with a particular group is a normal tribal reaction because group identity provides a sense of comfort, protection, and unity, something most people want. But, since we are all human beings, no part of our ancestry makes us more or less than any other human being. Since we are all members of the same human family, we should begin to celebrate our likenesses rather than any superficial differences we might have.
America is changing and involved in a struggle relative to our social identity. However, the more we learn about ourselves, the better able we are to live in the present and prepare for a future that respects the value of each individual.