Saturday, November 21, 2020



A long time ago I was in the information business in Washington D.C. on a more or less freelance basis.    I had a lot of casual friendships with people in who were sometimes good for information and as often just good to have a beer with.  There was this guy Smitty who worked for a very important big law firm and sometimes had a information to share  sometimes was interested in what I knew. 

We met at the usual K-Street watering hole after work and after about the second beer Smitty always made the same  little obligatory speech... "I don't  know  if  I ever told  you this," he would say, "but  I'm black."   After he told  me the first time  I noted certain facial  features that might be construed as black,  but in fact I grew up with Italian kids who had darker complexions and more arguably "black" features.  Still Smitty's family, which had a close association with the civil rights movement,  was one that could have "passed" and chose not to.  Respect.

Three books  on the subject of passing:

Sinclair Lewis, Kingsblood Royal:   Published in 1947, this scathing satire caused something of a stir.   Not unusual  for Lewis.  In this novel,  Neal Kingsblood is  a successful Minnesota businessman who discovers he is  descended from a famous American explorer.  He is not bothered by the fact that his ancestor is  black, and the can't stop talking about it.  The USA has a hard and fast rule on blackness.  One drop of blood is enough, and it pertains in Minnesota as much in Crackertopia.  It doesn't take long before our hero begins to  suffer  the consequences.

Philip Roth, The Human Stain:  A college professor has been passing all his life.  Then he makes a politically incorrect statement in a classroom and the students conclude he is a rascist. 

Karin Tanabe, The Gilded Years,  A novel based on the true story of  Anita Hemmings, the first black woman to graduate from Vassar. 

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