Once they left the plantation, escaped slaves who could pass as white found safety in their perceived whiteness. To pass as white was to pass as free. If an escaped slave was able to pass as white, they were less likely to be caught and returned to their plantation. If they were caught, white-passing slaves such as Jane Morrison  could sue for their freedom, using their white appearance as justification for emancipation.
Post-emancipation, passing as white was no longer a means to obtain freedom. As passing shifted from a necessity to an option, it fell out of favor in the black community. Author Charles W. Chestnutt, who was born free in Ohio as a mixed-race African American, explored circumstances for persons of color in the South after emancipation, for instance, for a formerly enslaved woman who marries a white-passing man shortly after the conclusion of Civil War.
Some fictional exploration coalesced around the figure of the "tragic mulatta", a woman whose future is compromised by her being mixed race and able to pass for white.
Mixed-race, post-race: gender, new ethnicities, and cultural practices
During the Reconstruction era , black people slowly gained some of the constitutional rights of which they were deprived during slavery. Although they would not secure "full" constitutional equality for another century until after passage of the Civil Rights Act of and Voting Rights Act of , reconstruction promised African Americans legal equality for the first time. Abolishing slavery did not abolish racism. During Reconstruction whites tried to enforce white supremacy, in part through the rise of Ku Klux Klan chapters, rifle clubs and later paramilitary insurgent groups such as the Red Shirts.
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Passing was used by some African Americans to evade segregation. Those who were able to pass as white often engaged in tactical passing or passing as white in order to get a job, go to school, or to travel. This idea of crossing the color line at different points in one's life is explored in James Weldon Johnson 's Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. The idea that passing as white was a rejection of blackness was common at the time and remains so to the present time.
People also chose to pass for good during Jim Crow and beyond.
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The US civil rights leader Walter Francis White who was blond-haired, blue-eyed, and very fair was of mixed-race , mostly European ancestry: 27 of his 32 great-great-great-grandparents were white; the other five were classified as black and had been slaves. He grew up with his parents and family in Atlanta in the black community and identified with it. In the earlier stages of his career, he conducted investigations in the South, during which he sometimes passed as white in order to gather information more freely on lynchings and hate crimes , and to protect himself in socially hostile environments.
In the 20th century, Krazy Kat comics creator George Herriman was a Louisiana Creole cartoonist born to mulatto parents, who claimed Greek heritage throughout his adult life. The 20th-century writer and critic Anatole Broyard was a Louisiana Creole who chose to pass for white in his adult life in New York City and Connecticut.
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He wanted to create an independent writing life and rejected being classified as a black writer. In addition, he did not identify with northern urban black people, whose experiences had been much different from his as a child in New Orleans' Creole community. He married an American woman of European descent. His wife and many of his friends knew he was partly black in ancestry. His daughter Bliss Broyard did not find out until after her father's death. The rise of the civil rights movement and the enforcement of voting rights for African Americans, particularly in the South, meant that political leaders called on all African Americans to unify in order to maximize their power.
Passing as white in the 21st-century is more controversial: it is often seen as a rejection of blackness, family and culture. A paradoxical example of "racial passing" in the modern day, is Rachel Dolezal , a white woman who worked for African-American rights and tried to pass as African American. She worked as a civil rights activist. Her attempt at passing was in order to gain the support of the black community. Other persons have passed as Native American or First Nations people.
In the New Age and Hippie movements, non-Native people sometimes have attempted to pass as Native American or other Indigenous medicine people. The pejorative term for such people is " plastic shaman ". The author and environmentalist Grey Owl was born in United Kingdom as a white man named Archibald Belaney; he made a life in Canada and claimed to be a First Nations person. When asked to explain his European appearance, he lied and claimed he was half Scottish and half Apache.
There are numerous Native American-identified persons of multi-racial ancestry. Initially playing Indians only in movies and television, eventually he wore his film costumes full-time and insisted he was of Cherokee and Cree descent.
Meghan Markle and why 'mixed race' matters
In the visual arts and literature, other European-Americans have also attempted to pass as being indigenous. Jay Marks , a man of Eastern-European Jewish ancestry, adopted the pen name of Jamake Highwater about , claiming to be Cherokee - Blackfeet , and published numerous books under that name. He won awards and NEA grants. American-born sculptor Jimmie Durham was exposed as a man posing as a Cherokee.
It requires any visual artist claiming to be a Native American artist to be either an enrolled member of a state or federally recognized tribe , or for a recognized tribe to designate the artist as a tribal artisan. In academia, due to non-tribal colleges' and universities' reliance on self-identification of tribal identity , non-Native people have sometimes passed as Native Americans.
The Seattle Post Intelligencer discovered that he was neither, and reported his deception. If we believe in Indigenous self-determination as a value and goal, then questions of identity and integrity in its expression cannot be treated as merely a distraction from supposedly more important issues.
Civil rights activist Rachel Dolezal , then president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP , claimed in a February profile to have been born in a "Montana tepee" and have hunted for food with her family as a child "with bows and arrows". With a marked rise in the number of children from mixed parentage, there is an urgent need to challenge simplistic understandings of 'race', nation and culture, and interrogate what it means to grow up in Britain and claim a 'mixed' identity.
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