Unfortunately, I jumped the gun on a previous post about being mixed race before we started reading Quicksand, so I wanted to talk about the idea of “passing” even though that was not the Larsen novel we read. We talked in class today how, even though Helga is mixed, she passes for black most of the time and her white heritage is often overlooked. Because it is a book, I cannot say for sure what she looked like and if Larsen intended for her to be darker skinned or that in that time any hint of being a colored person meant that you were identified as that minority race. In the past, and even now, I think people wanted to pass for being white being you would not be outright stereotyped just by how you looked. I’d like to say things have gotten better, but unfortunately these stereotypes based on color of skin are just as prominent today. Especially for black males, the darker you are, the more dangerous people think you are, which is a sad reality.
I, on the other hand, definitely pass for white. I’m not saying that that’s a good thing, but having people throughout my life be surprised when they find out that I’m half black is kind of a giveaway. People have said I look Hispanic or Israeli, but I think most people just think I’m tan with brown hair. Another part of it is that, growing up, the majority of my friends were white. Another unfortunate thing is that growing up I was in higher level classes and at my school those classes were majority white. The achievement gap is another beast all together that I will have to tackle in some other post, but on the subject of passing, because I could pass for white, people just thought I was white.
I haven’t really thought about this till now, seeing it from Helga’s point of view, but for me, I sometimes wish I didn’t pass for white. I feel like unless I tell people, they won’t know that I mixed and it’s like I’m trying to hide that part of myself. And I don’t want to do that. One of my sister’s looks more mixed and I wonder if that makes it easier or harder. I feel like the idea of “passing” is like trying to be someone else or at least only one part of your identity. Maybe it was safer to pass as white or people would give you more opportunities, at least historically, but what are you giving up in the process. Even Helga passing as black, she hid a part of herself trying to fit in, but in the end she never really felt that sense of belonging. Maybe she did not feel that belonging in her own skin and then it was impossible for her to feel belonging anywhere else. Unless I truly embrace all sides of my identity, I may just end up forever wandering like Helga.