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A historically and culturally significant part of the history of the Black experience in the US, passing was the tactical measure used by some Blacks to evade US segregation.  Mixed race African Americans with little to no visible African ancestry were able to pass as White in the US to gain economic and social status and to escape oppression and degradation that were inherent during the construction of race, Jim Crow discrimination and segregation in the US. 


The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half book cover

A work of fiction published in 2020, Bennett uses twins to explore and critique passing/non-passing. Passing in combination with determination, regionalism and sacrifice are explored through this novel that is the most contemporaneous of all of the selections.

Puddn’head Wilson by Mark Twain

Pudd'nhead Wilson book cover

A work of fiction that seems like a social experiment orchestrated by Twain to illustrate the sensibility, you can take the man out of the place but you can’t take the place out of the man.

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson

The Diary of an Ex-colored Man cover

The author is telling a secret in very constructed and exacting detail, as though the lie that he is living is necessitated by the circumstances he witnesses. As though he deserves greater influence and access, the Ex-Colored Man intimates that his prowess, intellect and color are worthy of passing.

The Color of Water by James McBride

The Color of Water book cover

This is a memoir where McBride’s mother decides to pass for economic and social survival but her circumstances are unusual in the Black canon of passing. Survival is at the core of her passing but the story is compelling and nuanced.

The House Behind the Cedars by Charles Chesnutt


The House Behind the Cedars book cover

A novel where the construction of ripe conditions, ripe manipulation and ripe beauty enable a family to move outside the prescribed conditions of racism, the color line and the one drop rule.

Passing by Nella Larsen

Passing book cover

The story is centered on the friendship of two biracial women, one who passes and the other who doesn’t and their sharing of information about navigating US racial distinctions and Black performance.