We Wear the Mask: 15 Stories about Passing in America

Posted in Anthologies, Asian Diaspora, Autobiography, Books, Gay & Lesbian, History, Judaism, Latino Studies, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Passing, Religion on 2017-10-17 01:52Z by Steven

We Wear the Mask: 15 Stories about Passing in America

Beacon Press
224 Pages
Paperback ISBN: 978-080707898-3
Ebook ISBN 978-080707899-0
Size: 5.5 x 8.5 Inches

Edited by:

Brando Skyhorse, Associate Professor of English
Indiana University, Bloomington

Lisa Page, Acting Director of Creative Writing
George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

Fifteen writers reveal their diverse experiences with passing, including racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, gender, and economic.

American history is filled with innumerable examples of “passing.” Why do people pass? The reasons are manifold: opportunity, access, safety, adventure, agency, fear, trauma, shame. Some pass to advance themselves or their loved ones to what they perceive is a better quality of life.

Edited by authors Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page, We Wear the Mask is a groundbreaking anthology featuring fifteen essays—fourteen of them original—that examine passing in multifaceted ways. Skyhorse, a Mexican American, writes about how his mother passed him as an American Indian before he gradually learned and accepted who—and what—he really is. Page writes about her mother passing as a white woman without a black ex-husband or biracial children. The anthology also includes essays by Marc Fitten, whose grandfather, a Chinese Jamaican, wanted to hide his name and ethnicity and for his children to pass as “colored” in the Caribbean; Achy Obejas, a queer Jewish Cuban woman who discovers that in Hawaii she is considered white. There’s M. G. Lord, who passes for heterosexual after her lesbian lover is killed; Patrick Rosal, who, without meaning to, “passes” as a waiter at the National Book Awards ceremony; and Sergio Troncoso, a Latino man, who passes for white at an internship on Capitol Hill. These and other compelling essays reveal the complex reality of passing in America.

Other contributors include:

  • Teresa Wiltz, who portrays how she navigated racial ambiguity while growing up in Staten Island, NY
  • Trey Ellis, the author of “The New Black Aesthetic,” who recollects his diverse experiences with passing in school settings
  • Margo Jefferson, whose parents invite her uncle, a light-complexioned black man, to dinner after he stops passing as white
  • Dolen Perkins-Valdez, who explores how the glorification of the Confederacy in the United States is an act of “historical passing”
  • Gabrielle Bellot, who feels the disquieting truths of passing as a woman in the world after coming out as trans
  • Clarence Page, who interrogates the phenomenon of “economic passing” in the context of race
  • Susan Golomb, a Jewish woman who reflects on the dilemma of having an identity that is often invisible
  • Rafia Zakaria, a woman who hides her Muslim American identity as a strategy to avoid surveillance at the airport
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Margo Jefferson with Jackie Kay

Posted in Interviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United Kingdom, United States, Women on 2017-08-05 21:29Z by Steven

Margo Jefferson with Jackie Kay

Edinburgh International Book Festival
Studio Theatre
13-29 Nicolson St
Edinburgh EH8 9FT, United Kingdom
Sunday, 2017-08-20, 20:45-21:45 BST (Local Time)

Feminism and Civil Rights

Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning cultural critic Margo Jefferson is the author of a bold, defiant and astonishingly accomplished memoir, Negroland. Powerfully demonstrating that a ‘post-racial’ America is far from being a reality, Jefferson explores the challenge of reconciling feminism (often regarded as a white woman’s terrain) with black power (sometimes seen as a black male issue). Jefferson discusses her compelling life story with Scotland’s Makar, the poet and novelist Jackie Kay.

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‘In Negroland we thought of ourselves as the Third Race’

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, United States on 2016-05-24 00:04Z by Steven

‘In Negroland we thought of ourselves as the Third Race’

The Guardian

Margo Jefferson

An extract from Negroland, Margo Jefferson’s memoir of growing up in postwar America’s emerging black elite

  • Margo Jefferson: ‘I was anxious about using the word Negro in a book title’

I was taught to avoid showing off.

I was taught to distinguish myself through presentation, not declaration, to excel through deeds and manners, not showing off.

But isn’t all memoir a form of showing off?

In my Negroland childhood, this was a perilous business.

Negroland is my name for a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty. Children in Negroland were warned that few Negroes enjoyed privilege or plenty and that most whites would be glad to see them returned to indigence, deference, and subservience. Children there were taught that most other Negroes ought to be emulating us when too many of them (out of envy or ignorance) went on behaving in ways that encouraged racial prejudice…

Read the extract here.

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Privilege And Pressure: A Memoir Of Growing Up Black And Elite In ‘Negroland’

Posted in Articles, Audio, Autobiography, Interviews, Media Archive, United States on 2015-09-09 19:11Z by Steven

Privilege And Pressure: A Memoir Of Growing Up Black And Elite In ‘Negroland’

Code Switch: Fronties of Race, Culture and Ethnicity
National Public Radio

Terry Gross, Host
Fresh Air

Growing up in the 1950s, Margo Jefferson was part of Chicago’s black upper class. The daughter of a prominent doctor and his socialite wife, Jefferson inhabited a world of ambition, education and sophistication — a place she calls “Negroland.”

That afforded her many opportunities, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural critic says. But life was also undercut by the fear that her errors and failures would reflect poorly on her family and, subsequently, her race.

“It was very important that you show yourself a bright, lively, well-spoken person,” Jefferson tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “If you go back and read editorials in black magazines — even in white magazines — watch television, this attitude is everywhere: ‘Jackie Robinson, he’s advancing the race!’ ‘Marion Anderson, she’s advancing the race!’ This was the way America … [viewed] blacks: The individual was a collective symbol.”

In her memoir, Negroland, Jefferson describes the social pressures of her upbringing, as well as the sense of separation that it engendered. She writes that she and other members of the black elite thought of themselves as a “Third Race, poised between the masses of Negroes and all classes of Caucasians.”

Ultimately, it was the Black Power movement that led Jefferson to question some of the tenets that she had grown up with: “Black Power was really a major challenge to the social privileges and structures of the kind of privilege that I had grown up with,” she says. “That whole belief … that you will only be able to advance if you are perfectly behaved, if you present yourself as what white people would consider an ideal of whiteness … all of that just began to burst open.”…

Listen to the story (00:34:47) here. Download the story here. Read the transcript here.

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‘Negroland’ by Margo Jefferson

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2015-09-09 18:53Z by Steven

‘Negroland’ by Margo Jefferson

The Boston Globe

Donna Bailey Nurse

While a student at University High in Chicago in the early 1960s, Margo Jefferson was introduced to the essays of James Baldwin. The future New York Times drama critic and Pulitzer Prize winner was struck by passages in “Notes of a Native Son’’:

“‘One must say that the Negro in America does not really exist except in the darkness of our minds.’

‘One’: a pronoun even more adroitly insidious than ‘we.’ An ‘I’ made ubiquitous. ‘Our’: say it slowly, voluptuously. Baldwin has coupled and merged us in syntactical miscegenation.’’

Jefferson devotes the first chapters of her memoir to explaining the secret of that group’s success, which has a lot to do with the privileges their light skin bestowed. Like Betsey Keating, for example, who was freed by her master before giving birth to his five children. He died leaving money to educate his black sons, setting them up for the future.

She also tells of a biracial slave named Frances Jackson Coppin whose aunt purchased her freedom. Eventually Frances was able to work, save money, and attend Oberlin College. These mostly mixed-race blacks became teachers, writers, artisans, and abolitionists. They were careful to intermarry, establishing a color line between themselves and darker members of the race.

Jefferson herself is a descendant of slaves and slave masters from Kentucky, Virginia, and Mississippi, individuals who clawed their way into the elite milieu she calls Negroland

Read the entire book review here.

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Negroland: A Memoir

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2015-09-09 15:29Z by Steven

Negroland: A Memoir

256 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0307378453
eBook ISBN:

Margo Jefferson

At once incendiary and icy, mischievous and provocative, celebratory and elegiac—here is a deeply felt meditation on race, sex, and American culture through the prism of the author’s rarefied upbringing and education among a black elite concerned with distancing itself from whites and the black generality while tirelessly measuring itself against both.

Born in upper-crust black Chicago—her father was for years head of pediatrics at Provident, at the time the nation’s oldest black hospital; her mother was a socialite—Margo Jefferson has spent most of her life among (call them what you will) the colored aristocracy, the colored elite, the blue-vein society. Since the nineteenth century they have stood apart, these inhabitants of Negroland, “a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty.”

Reckoning with the strictures and demands of Negroland at crucial historical moments—the civil rights movement, the dawn of feminism, the fallacy of postracial America—Jefferson brilliantly charts the twists and turns of a life informed by psychological and moral contradictions. Aware as it is of heart-wrenching despair and depression, this book is a triumphant paean to the grace of perseverance.

(With 8 pages of black-and-white photographs.)

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