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We Wear the Mask: 15 Stories of Passing in America

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  166 ratings  ·  41 reviews
Why do people pass? Fifteen writers reveal their experiences with passing.

For some, “passing” means opportunity, access, or safety. Others don’t willingly pass but are “passed” in specific situations by someone else. We Wear the Mask, edited by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page, is an illuminating and timely anthology that examines the complex reality of passing in America.

Paperback, 204 pages
Published October 10th 2017 by Beacon Press
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Jan Rice
The author Marc Fitten had an essay in my local paper's "Personal Journeys" Sunday feature about discovering he has a half-Chinese great-grandfather. At the time I read his essay, I didn't recall that he was a novelist or in fact that I'd heard him give a book talk around nine years ago. The article in the paper mentioned the essay was included in a book of similar essays about passing. Maybe the book, We Wear the Mask, would be insightful--and it was already in the library!

My favorites
The one a
Ron Charles
Nov 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating collection of essays that explores the issue of "passing" in a variety of ways. The pieces are personal and moving -- often surprising -- and will make you see American culture in a new way. Subjects include racial and ethnic passing, of course, but also sexual orientation, faith and class. Along with one piece about how we allow historical figures to pass.

To watch an interview with Lisa Page, one of the co-editors and contributors, click here:
Sep 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
For those who don't experience it, the concept of "passing" might sound like a foreign concept. Brando Skyhorse, editor and contributor of WE WEAR THE MASK: 15 STORIES OF PASSING IN AMERICA, defines passing is "when someone tries to get something tangible to improve their daily quality of life by occupying a space meant for someone else". But how does this work?

Perhaps you remember Rachel Dolezal, civil rights activist, graduate of a historically black university, instructor of Africana studies,
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2017
I know I recommend books all the time, but this is a game changer, so pay attention. 15 personal essays about the varied experiences of passing - racial, ethnic, gender identification, economic - amongst others. Although the writing is uneven in quality, the message is not. Each essay offered something to contemplate and chew on and the diversity of voices insured that the many reasons for passing - opportunity, access, safety, fear, agency, circumstance- are explored. Such complexities!
Stories of different ways of passing, ranging from race, gender, sexuality, class, etc. Most of these are (un)comfortably familiar, the sorts of stories we've all heard, and (mostly) forgive. The first essay is the one that's extremely uncomfortable in being that of a racial minority passing for a more exotic, marginalized racial minority, out only to a select few. Brings to mind of how many brown people in Hollywood have taken on roles as Indigenous characters. I feel it would have been better ...more
Alia S
May 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2018

“I am a mixture of many different peoples and I have always enjoyed this fact. I am the mongrel the white supremacists warned about. I am the Western world's bastard child.”

Sometime after the rallies in Charleston I was watching skinhead YouTube—an act somewhere between a responsible reality check and popcorn-popping with a horror movie—when I arrived at an EDM-backed listicle with a title along the lines of, “12 ways you know you’re a true Aryan prince.” One of these helpful self-checks was

Jan 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-harder-2018
Read Harder: Anthology of Essays

This powerful and fascinating book is not just about passing as one race or another, but about the human tendency to shape ourselves to mesh with those around us. The examples and reasons for passing were fascinating - it’s not merely about race, but gender, sexuality and social class. This book made me think about the ways I pass just to get along and get through situations.

These are good essays, but as with any anthology, some were better than others. I particu
Laura Hoffman Brauman
3.5 stars. In this essay collection, authors write about their experiences "passing" - sometimes as someone as a different race, gender, socio-economic class, religion, or sexual orientation. Each of the essays was interesting and challenged me to consider a different perspective on the topic - although I found the writing a little uneven. Clarence Page's essay, "Class Acts" stood out to me in the collection, as did "Slipping into Darkness" by Lisa Page and "Terror and Passing" by Rafia Zakaria. ...more
May 04, 2018 rated it liked it
2.5 stars. Eh. I need to gather my thoughts about this book and will post it later. I am so troubled by this work's definition of passing that I need a few moments to write a fair review. ...more
Sep 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
---- Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads. ----

As you might expect, this is a grab bag of personal tales re: varied experiences of different forms of "passing," in society. The book mentions racial passing as the most commonly known, but I personally first think of gender and hetero-normative forms of passing when the term is used. Interestingly, economic class passing was discussed and was until now something I've personally done, but had never previously considered to fal

"Passing" is traditionally a term about blacks passing as whites, but this book has stories about other types of "passing". In my opinion, it was an uneven collection, and, ironically, the only stories I found truly captivating were the ones about being black in a predominately white world. Trey Ellis' insightful essay was particularly notable because it also was particularly hilarious at times. For example, when he attended Phillips Academy Andover, he begged his father to buy him some Sperry T ...more
Anara Guard
Oct 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I meant to read one essay only. So I did, and then I turned the page. And another, another.
I read until my eyes burned and the hour was late, captivated by the wry, painful, humorous, thoughtful voices in this collection. When at last I turned off the light, I dreamt of being in Bronzeville in Chicago, with a childhood friend whose work is contained in this book.

“What are you?” So many of the essayists were confronted by that intrusive question throughout their lives—especially in childhood and
Tonstant Weader
Nov 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America offers readers different lenses on the phenomenon of passing which editor Brando Skyhorse defines in his essay as “when someone tries to get something tangible to improve their daily quality of life by occupying a space meant for someone else.”

This book goes far beyond the idea of passing between racial identities. Passing happens across gender, ethnic, religious, educational, and class lines, too. Sometimes people don’t even know they are
Apr 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
[W]hether you’ve been conscious of it or not, passing is a privilege all of us have indulged in at some point. People make assumptions about us based on stereotypes, context, environment. When we don’t correct these ideas, either because we genuinely like the assumptions someone’s made about us, or because explaining the truth could humiliate, or infuriate, whoever’s making these assumptions, we pass. We misrepresent ourselves in classrooms or at airports, on Facebook and at dinner part
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A collection of stories by different authors on the subject of passing in the US. Passing in this case means passing as someone else, either intentionally or being perceived as a member of a different ethnic or other group. We are all passing some of the time, at least in small ways. This is a subject many of us don't think about. Others must consider it daily.

The writing is great in this collection; I liked some stories better than others, naturally, but this is nonfiction and from the heart.
Sep 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page have assembled, as well as themselves contributed to, this engaging collection of personal narratives on “passing,” whether concerning ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender, wealth, or any number of other potential human identifiers. Unlike a number of other reviewers, I found nearly all of the accounts interesting and compelling, particularly those involving family history mysteries as I have a personal fascination with genealogy. It was eye-opening to consider th ...more
Oct 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
As with any collection of essays from different writers on one topic some stood out like shining beacons, and others fell completely flat. The essays that talked about passing, or wanting to pass as Native people raised my hackles of course, but I appreciated the honesty. I loved Patrick Rosal's essay about being mistaken for the help at a hotel (the exact same thing happened to my husband recently!!!) and I loved Clarence Page's essay about passing on a class and racial level. Four stars to the ...more
Andrea Patrick
Good collection of stories about "passing" as other ethnicities, other economic groups, other genders. I am very interested in identity stories (isn't everyone?) so I liked this. As our society becomes increasingly multicultural, stories like these will multiply; many times, the problem is that an audience tries to determine which slot someone fits in, and they're having a tough time because no general slots apply (White? Black? Hispanic? Could be all three and more). In time, maybe more people ...more
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Whooo ! could I relate to this one. It's interesting to me to read about other people's experiences. Americans are so mixed, you risk offending, or insulting, people, if you don't know them well, so learn to watch your words! I've been chewed out and hated on by people making assumptions about me and my family. I can humiliate the daylights out of them very easily afterwards. I have nothing to hide, but see it as an opportunity to enlighten people about the people who surround them. Very good re ...more
Karen (Living Unabridged)
Jan 23, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
15 different essays, by different authors, all of whom tried or try to "pass" at some point in their lives. This is not limited (as the term usually applies) to a Black person passing as white. This collection stretches to include gender identity, class, sexuality, and more.

The essays vary in quality: some are brilliant, some are meh. Which are which probably depends on your own perspective and experience.

These essays inspired me to think a lot about the concept of "Third Culture" kids, code-swi
Jan 07, 2018 rated it liked it
This collection of essays will really make you think about what "passing" in our current society. It affects more people and comes in many more forms than what is initially apparent. The essays are well written and informative. This is not something i have spent much time thinking about and these essays opened my eyes in many ways.

I received this book as part of a good reads giveaway but the opinions expressed are solely my own.
Oct 02, 2020 rated it it was ok
Was expecting something ENTIRELY different from what I read lol
I thought it'd only focus on biracials (black and white) who passed in the 1940s, 1950s etc. Was not expecting it to be about modern times lol
That being said....while I've always enjoyed books about passing....some of these authors just sounded like they had a huge identity crisis and just a big jumbled mess. Some essays were cool, most of them were just confusing and confused.
Sep 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An amazing collection of stories. Each entry is an eye-opener to life experiences in America. The stories are diverse expressions of what life is like when we wear a mask. After reading the stories a reader will likely realize that at some point in our life we wear a mask -- some to a greater degree than others.
Carol Buchter
Feb 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2018
The essays on race and, to a lesser degree, on sexual orientation did not cover much new ground (with the exception of wanting to pass as a trans rather than a cis woman). In the other hand, the last two essays in the book, on passing as it relates to class and to terrorism, were exceedingly thought provoking.

Thus, overall uneven but with a few excellent discussions.
Sadie Forsythe
If you had me if I understood what passing is, I'd have said yes. But now, having read these 15 essays, I realize what I had was a very shallow understanding of the concept of passing. The essays skew toward older, well-educated, well-traveled authors but they still cover a pretty broad array of peoples and types of passing. It certainly broadened my understanding of the phenomenon. ...more
Kat Hartman
Jan 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
As a white, straight, cis woman, I thought I had a decent understanding of what "Passing" meant, even if I hadn't experienced it personally. I didn't know anything. This is a wonderful, interesting compilation of stories and more people need to read it. ...more
Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc
Each story in this collection was filled with grief, confusion, and a desire to belong. Passing takes a toll on a life. It is work, often day in and day out. Beautifully written, inclusive, and timely. Well worth a read.
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Chloe!
Wonderful range of perspectives and topics covered in this incredible collection of essays!
I thought it would just resonate with me as a mixed-race American, but it covers what's it's like to pass as so many identities: sexual orientation, religion, class, etc etc.
Jan 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
beautiful compilation that illustrates the complexities of passing and identity perception from multiple identity angles...highly recommend for anyone who finds themselves at the intersections and ambiguities of racial, gender, religious, or sexual identities and consequent social perceptions.
Heidi Thomas
Jan 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Amazing. Each essay was well-written and thought provoking. Well worth the read.
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Brando Skyhorse is the author of the memoir "Take This Man" to be published by Simon and Schuster on June 3rd, 2014.

Brando Skyhorse’s debut novel, The Madonnas of Echo Park, received the 2011 Pen/Hemingway Award and the Sue Kaufman Award for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The book was also a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick. He has been awarded fellowshi

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