Blacks who Pass for White (Phil Donahue Show)

by kathleenljackson

(Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4) (Part 5) (Part 6) (Part 7) (Part 8)

This episode have provided some useful insight into the human experience of ‘passing’ or how it feels to be ‘perceived as white’. I loved the little soundbites like “hair going back home” and “black and black make black”. I did take issue with a couple of things in this episode though… And I took the time to think about what they were and why they invoked those feelings.

I think that the man on the panel was remarkable unhelpful. He was wrong to shut down the audiences comment about poverty in urban populations; in 1990 this was a series issue on the rise, not just something white folks were conceptualizing based off television shows (although I won’t dispute the media has done a lot of perpetuate negative stereotypes).

Another thing I really disliked was the panels constant referral to themselves as victims of racism. I don’t mean to say that they haven’t experienced racism or that they haven’t been disadvantaged by prejudices, I just really don’t like victim-hood. It’s such an introverted and unhelpful state. Most of the panel members seemed so angry and closed off to other perspective. As soon as one accepts the role of victim they just seem to become stagnant.

Finally, while I see they are a good historical source to gain different perspectives on the phenomenon for my thesis, I think if I had watched this in the 1990s I would have walked away angry. It was a particularly ineffective segment for addressing mixed race issues. I get that this was a “I’m black and I’m proud” moment but… there needed to be a space for the ambiguity to properly be acknowledged; that caller deserved to have her desire to just be herself rather than black or white. They had the platform to talk about something that affects millions of people and they turned it into an “either/or” situation.