Category Archives: Passing (Novel)

What even is race?

Is it only passing when you’re “black” but you look “white?” Since the trope of passing has been more associated with blacks passing as whites due to the increased social privileges that they redeem, it’s been hard to understand that whites can pass for blacks. Or can they? The reality is that people who have the ability to pass are mixed blood, white and black, and usually have characteristics from both races which makes it difficult to label them (because they are a walking contradiction of what constitutes white or black). The problem with race, at least in America – has been used to group people together if they meet a certain criteria and so there are specific characteristics that define an individual within that group. After years and years of interracial mingling, there have been many “whites” with Afro-characteristics and many blacks with Caucasian characteristics. The idea of race does not consider that people of different “races” would mingle (also I believe that was prohibited at the time) and so it was believed that African Americans cannot possibly have straight hair or blonde hair or blue eyes, or fair, white skin and vice versa, a white person could not have darker skin tone, coarse hair, black hair, i.e. Even the racial construct itself in America has changed to accept more “options” as white. White immigrants weren’t white such as Jewish, Poles, Greeks, Italians, Hungarians, so in America, at least at first, what constituted whiteness also dealt with where you were born (I guess it still is but it is MUCH more broad now), along with wealth, and obviously, the color of your skin. Adding in the context of the one drop rule, if there was any African/black lineage, no matter how distant, you are considered black.  So not only does whiteness means what I had already listed, but it also meant your bloodline was “pure,” free of any “inferior-race” ancestry. Nowadays, these groups are considered to be white so there has always been an evolving definition of whiteness and race in America. According to the US Census, a person who is white is a person “who has origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.”

Clare Kendry in Passing plays with the idea of race by being both black and white at the same time. Her black friends know she is black (and is technically black under the One Drop rule) but her white friends and associates think she is white. Clare mentions on pg. 37, “You know, Rene, I’ve often wondered why more colored girls, girls like you and Margaret Hammer… never ‘passed’ over. It’s such a frightfully easy thing to do.” The reason why it’s probably unheard of to hear whites passing for ‘blacks’ besides social standing reasons is probably explained by the exchange between Clare and Irene… with Irene saying “What about background? …Surely you can’t drop down on people from nowhere and expect them to receive you with open arms, can you?” And Clare responding with: “Almost, You’d be surprised… ‘Rene, how much easier that is with white people than with us…” (also p. 37) Clare Kendry was able to get away with being white when she’s black (mixed) because whites assumed she was white. They assumed that she had extensive ancestry from Europe, and based on Irene’s response, I would assume that black people insist on background checks if one would claim to be black.  “You didn’t have to explain where you came from? It seems impossible.”Rachel Dolezal, in Center of Storm, Is Defiant: 'I Identify as Black' - The New York Times

Picture of Rachel Dolezal, ex Spokane NAACP President

According to this article, “white people have been passing for black for centuries.” Rachel Dolezal, former Spokane NAACP President,  has been identifying herself as “black, white, and American Indian/Alaskan Native,” but her parents say she is white and has been trying to fool everyone. But d0 people grill Rachel because she looks white trying to identify as black or because her parents say she is white? America’s one-drop policy wanted to make identifying people simple — if you were even 1/1000th black, you were black, no matter how white you appeared. Sole appearance defined your race, at least to the general public. And it shows  with the public’s reaction to Ms. Dolezal’s ‘revelation.’ Part of the equation of you identifying yourself as a certain race has to do with society’s reception to how you identify.


The Root Cause of America's Problem: The Creation of a Racial Caste System | by Kenadie Cobbin-Richardson | An Injustice!

picture from

Race in America was more of a caste system than it was biological, and it ignores the heterogeneity nature of being human. At some point, not all Europeans were considered white. There was no difference in genes and ethnic background, but there was a change to their race, which allowed them to be ‘American’.  The article from Scientific American explained the use of race best “…race is to be understood as a useful tool to elucidate human genetic diversity, but on the other hand, race is also understood to be a poorly defined marker of that diversity and an imprecise proxy for the relationship between ancestry and genetics.” It is important to note that identification is two ways — you may see yourself or present yourself one way but the way it is received can be another. You may be black but the person looking at you thinks you’re white. You do not have full control over how you are identified.


Works cited:

Cobbin-Richardson, K. (2021, January 11). The root cause of America’s problem: The creation of a racial caste system. Medium., from

Gannon, M. (2016, February 5). Race is a social construct, scientists argue. Scientific American.

Lind, D. (2015, June 15). White people have been passing for black for centuries. A historian explains. Vox.

Bureau, U. S. C. (2022, March 1). About the topic of race. from

Larsen, Nella. (1929) Passing. pp. 37-38

Gazing on Colorism and Passing

Looking through these texts such as “Passing” in 1929 written by Nella Larson, gazing or looking at  “the other” is central. Although when it comes to gazing it is shown in a different variety of ways. Two of the ways I would like to speak on and emphasize on are colorism and passing and how it’s demonstrated and represented in the reading “Passing”.  Colorism is defined as “A preference for lighter skin tone and denigration of darker skin tone.” Passing is defined as “Passing (in contest of Harlem Renaissance) Typically involves a person of Black/African American descent appears to be white claiming to be white” I felt this represented in Passing how Clare knew the advantages of being white, in order to live a better life, she decided to pass as white by dressing, marrying and how she acts as well. Clare when it came to speaking to different types of people, I felt that she had a switch on how she carried herself. In the article “Colorism vs. Racism: What’s the Difference?” it explains the history dating back to slavery. According to the monks, Many of the lighter-skinned enslaved individuals were also the children of their slave masters, and because of their lighter skin they had. They began to internalize the belief that they were more privileged or advantageous than their darker counterparts. 

Throughout the beginning of the novel in Part 1 “Encounter” in Passing, it starts with the gaze with demonstrating Irene on her point of view on the letter that she receives from Clare and she tries to see how it differentiates compared to the rest. This can demonstrate the figurative language and symbolism that has been portrayed and also when it comes to describing the letter. According to Passing, it states “After her other ordinary and clearly directed letters the long envelope of thin Italian paper with its almost illegible scrawl seemed out of place and alien. And there was, too, something mysterious and slightly furtive about it.” (Passing, 3). This quote represents how Irene is describing the letter and how it’s fancy and that it’s thin Italian paper. Also how the letter is unusual and out of place and alien compared to the rest of her mail. 


Another way that focuses on and emphasizes on colorism and passing and how it’s demonstrating this gaze in “Passing”  is when Jack greets his wife Clare as “Hello Nig  (Passing, 66). When this occurred Irene was in shocked and stunned that Clare would let her husband call her that and that’s when she gazed at Clare and her husband Jack. According to Passing, it shows “…Irene, who had caught her lip between her teeth and sat gazing at husband and wife. It was hard to believe  that even Clare Kendry would permit this ridiculing of her race by an outsider, though he chanced to be her husband.” (Passing, 66). This quote represents and demonstrates how Clare lets Jack make fun of her and a fool of her race and lets him mock her as well and not defend her race at all, especially in front of Irene. This can determine how passing and colorism are being shown in the novel because since Clare passes as white but her husband Jack still notices Clare’s skin getting darker. According to Passing, it states “He explained: “Well, you see, it’s like this. When we were first married, she was as white as–as–well as white as a lily. But I declare she’s gettin’ darker and darker.” (Passing, 67). This quote shows that Jack was comparing Clare’s skin color before and after her skin got darker over time. 


Also seen according to Color Struck by Zora Neale Hurston, “Ah, mah God! He’s in there with her-Oh, them half whites, they gets everything. They gets everything everybody else wants! The men, the jobs everything!” (page 11). Emma has envy and fear  towards Elfie because she thought that she was going to lose her husband John because Elfie was light skinned. This can relate to Passing because when it came to Clare involving herself into Irene’s life, Irene felt the same way because Clare was very liked by Irene’s kids, her husband and also everyone loved Clare. So in that way Emma and Irene were in fear of losing their family.



Colorism vs. Racism: What’s the Difference?

Powerpoint on Fire!!.pptx




blog 5 title: TBD

Across these texts, gazing or looking at “the other” is central. The gaze is represented in passing in different ways but I want to focus on passing/colorism and how it is shown in the readings. Passing (in contest of Harlem Renaissance) Typically involves a person of Black/African American descent appears to be white claiming to be white, and Colorism is Preference for lighter skin typically within a group. In Colorism vs. Racism: What’s the Difference? “According to Monks, colorism has its roots in plantation life. The lighter-skinned “house negroes” were granted benefits that their darker-skinned colleagues, who were frequently consigned to working in the fields, were not. Many lighter-skinned slaves were also the children of their slave masters, and because of their lighter complexions, they began to absorb the belief that they were more privileged or valuable than their darker counterparts. This split deepened over time and had real-world ramifications. Working in the house, according to Monk, “dramatically boosted the likelihood of lighter-skinned Black individuals (or mulattos) becoming literate and trained in a trade.” In addition, lighter-skinned Black and mulatto people made up the large bulk of the free Black population. Despite the fact that additional chances opened up for Black people of various colors following Emancipation, the significant social, educational, and economic advantages of lighter-skinned Black people unquestionably provided these Black people an enormous head start over all other Black people.” This set in motion a cycle that continues to this day. In Passing by Nella Larsen, and Zora Neale Hurston’s play Color Struck we can see just that we see how Clare and Emma acted towards this.

 Starting Passing in the first passage where it starts by talking about the letter, the gaze here refers to how Irene is looking at it because of how much it stood out compared to the rest, this also captures a close reading aspect because of the symbolism used and how Clare’s letter to Irene and goes into to much detail describing it, how it’s elegant in its long envelope of Italian paper and how it seem out of place compared to the rest in the stack. (this can even foreshadow Clare’s life of how she is out of place in her race)this shows Clare’s new life compared to what irene knew how now it is fancy or glamorous. Another point in the reading that captures this gaze is with the “Hello, Nig, was his greeting to Clare”(pg 66). Referring to Jack and how he greets his own wife. Then where it talks about how She(Irene) sat there and caught her lip between her teeth and sat gazing at husband and wife as if she was holding back saying is this really happening? is Clare letting her husband, an outsider mock her race. This is where we can put how passing is shown in the reading because even though Clare passes for white, jack recalls how her complexion has changed over time “When we were first married, she was as white as-as-well as white as a lily. But I declare she’s gettin’ darker and darker. I tell her if she doesn’t look out, she’ll wake up one of these days and find she’s turned into a nigger.”(67) there’s another quote further down in the passage that really captures the gaze “Irene’s lips trembled almost uncontrol- ably, but she made a desperate effort to fight back her disastrous desire to laugh again, she turned an oblique look on Clare and encountered her peculiar eyes fixed on her with an expression so dark and deep and unfathomable that she had for a short moment the sensation of gazing into the eyes of some creature utterly strange and apart. (69) This is referring to what jack had just mentioned before “No niggers in my family. Never have been and never will be”(68) and how the gaze they gave each other is like they’re saying if only he knew.

Similarly, how in Zora Neale Hurston’s play Color Struck we have Emma, who has a darker complexion, is envious of Effie, who has pale skin,. Emma believes her boyfriend John is captivated by Effie because of her lighter skin. In scene two during the cakewalk, Effie offers Emma and John a piece of her blueberry pie, but Emma declines. Emma throws Effie a cold gaze as she walks away, This gaze right here can be seen as back away or as to say John is mine back off. To this Emma accuses John of “carryin’ on wit dat punkin-colored ole gal.”(pg 10) and john states how he only did this because Emma did not act polite.







This is showing how this gaze is also carried out in other readings we even see how the gaze shows a message about how Emma’s eyes are filled with envy and desire. She is terrified of losing John,  she is constantly aware of their presence whenever he is in their sight. Emma’s notion that half-whites “get it all” this can show that its more of a watchful rather than a desirable gaze. she believes, that Light-skinned women,  are not only to be admired but also to be feared. We can even compare this to passing and how Clare passing in a way  makes sense because to survive you have to be hiding in plain sight passing can lead to getting access to that wealth.



works cited

Colorism vs. Racism: What’s the Difference?

Powerpoint on Fire!!.pptx