The enduring presence of ‘passing’

by kathleenljackson

I recently watched the entire PBS documentary Jazz (Ken Burns, 2000; highly recommend). It’s no secret that I’m mad for the blues and love jazz. Charlie Parker is an undisputed genius and I think the world would have less problems if more people listened to Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday – or would, at least, think a bit more deeply about their actions… But that’s not the point.

The point is my thesis topic keeps appearing! It seems as though now that I am aware of it, every time I watch or read anything African-American related my thesis topic (racial passing) appears, especially if it is considering the 1920s.

Jazz has a dynamite (and perhaps unintentional) reference to passing for white – or rather, passing for colored. The first black-run black music label, Black Swan Records embraced the anti-passing rhetoric to promote their label within the black community.


I think this advertisement speaks more to the growing black nationalism and empowerment of black people than the nature of passing itself, but then, those are the reasons passing has been neglected for so long… Regardless, it had me scrambling for the pen & paper.