Tuesday, January 31, 2012


"If you're white, you're alright. If you're brown, you can hang around. If you're black, you gotta get back." - from Lost Boundaries

Quick Update: Thurs., Feb. 1 - Anderson Christian School, Anderson, IN; Fri., Feb. 2 - Woodland Middle School, Gurnee, IL; Sat., Feb. 3 - Salamonie and Mississinewa Reservoirs, Andrews, IN; Tues., Feb. 6 - McReynolds Middle School, Houston, TX
Other Feb. Locations: WV, TN, CA, VA (Fairfax Co., Roanoke, Lynchburg, Charlottesville, Hampton Roads area, Chesterfield, Ashburn)

I watched a movie while in Iowa called "Lost Boundaries." It was originally released in 1949 in France. Later it was released in America - early 1950's and I am sure it must have stunned audiences. The movie is about a black couple that pass as white in a New Hampshire town for over 20 years. Through events [of which I never was able to see because I Had to do a program], the couple revealed their true colors (literally) to the town and even their two children. [Watch a scene - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Miq1AXIj5M0]

The quote at the top was used in the movie. I had heard quite a bit while growing up, but was shocked to see it in the movie. I was fascinated by the movie and googled later to find out it was representing a true story of Dr. Albert Johnston.

I have been late writing my blog, but I couldn't get this movie, nor all the things it made me think out of my head. How many times have I read and heard about passin'. I have extended family members who could have, and still could, have chosen that route for themselves, and in some cases it would have made their lives physically more easy, but I wonder what would happen psychologically.

There have been other movies about passin' - "Imitation of Life" (beautifully done) and even "Soul Man" (if want to see the other direction). Passin' has been a part of politics and writers. It helped Ellen Craft pose as a while slave owner with her husband posing as the manservant and they went from Georgia to Philadelphia escaping slavery in the 1800's.

My friend, Darci, who is white, and I, wrote a portion of our performance, "Cotton, Slavery and Freedom" about an escaped slave (daughter of the master) who lives in the North and the woman (another slave who has escaped) recognizes her. The fear that Darci portrays while we do that scene seems reminiscent of what I saw in the movie - it's a powerful part of what we do. Another friend, Abigail Schumann, who is white, portrays a slave in her one woman show, "Our Common Passages" (you can purchase at www.colonialwilliamsburg.org) and she is so believable, I had to sit back in awe.

But does passin' still happen today? I'm certain it does. I have seen people on television that my family and I have had heated discussions about "what are they?", i.e., Herman Cain's "affair" woman....hmmmmm....

Is this a topic to talk about and relevant? I say yes. People still try to "pass" today, even if it's not just color. A suburban white teenager wearing his pants down, his shirts big and gold blinging to pass as gangsta. A Middle Eastern man giving himself the last name of a Hispanic, so he can work. A person living paycheck to paycheck, buying on credit the biggest house, car and lifestyle and appearing on reality television knowing that everything is falling apart.

I'd like us to think about what Passin' means today. Does it happen? What stories show passin', like the new movie, is it "Alfred Nobbs" with Glenn close. Are their fairy tales that show this? Are we capable to let people "pass" as themselves and still afford them the opportunities they would receive if they were passin'.

Just some....dare I say it....passin' thoughts. (Okay, you can groan!)


  1. Jews passing as Christians. My uncle and aunts did that. Even gave my cousins new names... Seymour, Lawrence...tried to get my dad to change Isaac/Isidore to Timothy... Stopped talking Yiddish, started straightening their hair..etc. etc. etc.

    interesting topic.

    how about passing as a different class? (in the Marxian sense of class, or even the American version) Ever pretend you had money and walk into a fancy store? Or try to pass yourself off as something you are not?

  2. My nephew's wife could easily pass - I always thought she was Latino until she told me her heritage - and their son is blond and blue-eyed. I wonder how he will handle being "three quarters" white in a world that still draws color lines