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Passing

Nicole Rousseau


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Passing is a process by which an individual crosses over from one culture or community into another undetected. The historical connotation of the term, however, is intimately connected with black America, and “passing,” “crossing over,” or “going over to the other side” typically refers to a black person whose appearance is such that they can pass for white. The vivid language of the term itself evokes many images: passing one's self off as white; choosing to pass over into white society; the passing away of a person's black identity, reborn as white. As drastic a choice as this “social death” may seem, for some blacks in segregated America, there was little choice (Gaudin n.d.). Homer Plessy, an American man, seven-eighths white (and one-eighth black), sued the state of Louisiana in 1892 for being jailed for sitting in a “whites only” railroad car. Plessy's argument was that he should be legally identified as white and thus allowed all the usual civil liberties and privileges of his white peers as stated under the 13th and 14th amendments of the US Constitution (Cozzens 1995). The judge, John Howard Ferguson, ruled against Plessy. Plessy then took his case to the Supreme Court, where the historic 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson decision upheld Ferguson's ruling, ushering in over 60 years of legally sanctioned segregation, commonly referred to as the Jim Crow Era. This “separate but ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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