Saturday, July 28, 2007

Thoughts on the New Passing's Affect on the Future of African American Literature

After reading Umm Adam and Tariq Nelson's pieces on the "new passing," I was reminded about this theme discussed in when I took African American Literature in college. I recommend you guys check out both of their pieces - they are quite long and worth it - especially the some of the comments.

From Tariq:

If most of the grandchildren of the Tiger Woods’, Harold Fords, Derek Jeters, Soledad O’briens and other talented individuals (that are not necessarily famous) opt into the non-black category, the perception of what is ‘black’ (i.e., the poorer darker skinned masses) will likely be defined down to be significantly worse than it is today.

After hearing all of this, the brother said something that he probably already felt anyway. “That (opting out of blackness) may not be such a bad idea”

I suppose it could be called a new passing. This passing is not into whiteness, but into “non-blackness”.

According to this article between 35,000 and 50,000 young adults every year, who previously were identified by their parents as Black, switch to identifying themselves publicly as White or Hispanic. That sounds like a large number, but I can believe that many young adults - many for the good reason that they are racially mixed - have moved away from identifying themselves as solely black to being “other”. The “new passing” is not that drastic.

From Umm Adam:

I was once befriended by an Afro-Saudi family. They wanted me to find them white husbands. Their mixed cousins (Syrian mom/Afro-Saudi dad) came right out and told me that they wanted to lighten the family up. They were making progress and not going back. With their black father dead and out of the picture they blended in just fine. The oldest son took dad’s job at the oil company, the house was paid for upon his death, the government supported them, and the father’s/son’s boss married his white daughter to the son and since I couldn’t/wouldn’t find white husbands for the daughters they have all settled for white Saudis. There will be no trace of black in their family, and they want it that way.

How does all of this relate to future African American literature? Well to being with, I like to share a little bit of my experiance of reading 'passing' in the classical African American literature. I have always been avid reader of African American literature. I really can't put a finger on why I was attracted to it. Ever since I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X in Junior High School and again in High School, I was draw to his intimate portrayal of being raised black and facing racism and how he found Islam. Initially I was drawn to the book because it gave me role model and someone to admire that was respected by the larger community as well - this was the time Spike Lee made the book into the Movie starring Denzel Washington (btw, as "good looking" as Denzel is, he is no comparison to Malcolm). Perhaps it was the closest I felt to anyone in a Muslim male figure. My father rarely spoke to me other than encouraging me to "study hard and top the class" and the book's first person narration helped feel connected to strong male role model figure. I don't want to digress to much because I want to talk about the 'new passing' phenomenon.

Anyhow, one of the things that stands out in my mind from that book for some reason is Malcolm speaking about his mother's relationship with his children. Her being a very fair ("high yellow") woman who married a darker African American Minister because of she knew her light skin was the result of a rape of one of her ancestors (if I recall correctly). With regards to Malcolm, who was one of the lightest skin of all her children, Malcolm spoke about her emotionally distancing herself from him because of what his lighter skin color meant to her psychologically. On the other hand, she favored his brother was a much darker like his father and showed her love to him.

While this incident in Malcolm X's book is not heavily analyzed as part of the 'passing' literature as say James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man,it is interesting for me to mention. Ex-Colored Man is brilliant display of the psychological crisis facing an African American man who could easily pass as white and does so after witnessing a lynching - only to end up regretting it in the last moments of his life with the last line of the book: "I have sold my birthright for a mess of pottage."

Johnson's Ex-Colored Man dealt with a real sociological and psychological dilemma facing African Americans who could pass off their African American heritage because of their light skin in the early to mid 20th century, and it makes me wonder if what will the result of this new phenomenon on African American or black literature. I ask this because literature, at least to me, embodies the narrative of a people's struggles, hopes, dreams, dilemmas, and perhaps most importantly, the need to seek or search an identity of themselves in society (btw, check out Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man - one of my favs).

All this begs the question, how will the future African American literature be affected by this social change. In the past, many like Johnson's narrator did it to show how racism and the fear of violence drove a black man from his identity but it seems from brother Tariq's post, those factors seem to be mitigated but others like socio-economic standing seem to weigh much more as well.

As a black person rises in educational attainment and/or Socioeconomic Status (SES), they become more likely to marry outside of their race. With each level of rising SES, the number of black/non-black couples increase.

To illustrate this, at the highest income level ($100,000 and above) there are nearly as many black/non-black couples as there are black/black couples. (86,443 both-black couples vs 75,410 mixed race couples). On educational attainment, couples with graduate or professional degrees were again almost even, with 160,367 black/black couples vs 146,763 black/non-black couples (More information on this can be found at here) One also has to wonder how many of those high SES black/black couples include high-yellow (’Yella’)or redbone wives.

I'm curious if there are any African American writers dealing with issue? If so, give me a heads up because if those stats continue to be steady - we can expect that as a new sub-genre in the African American literature.


At 8:08 PM, Blogger UmmBadier said...

When I was studying to be a filmmaker, Spike was a huge inspiration to me. Though I enjoined Malcom X and When the Levees Broke...well not really enjoined that second one so much as appreciated it...anyway. Let it be dully noted that Spike and Denzel have NOT converted. My Allah guide us all, Ameen.
So. What about Islamic Fiction?
Love and Salam


Post a Comment

<< Home