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We Wear the Mask: 15 Stories of Passing in America

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204 pages, Paperback

Published October 10, 2017

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About the author

Brando Skyhorse

7 books143 followers

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 fellowships at Ucross and Can Serrat, Spain. Skyhorse is a graduate of Stanford University and the MFA Writers’ Workshop program at UC Irvine. He is the 2014 Jenny McKean Moore Writer-In-Washington at George Washington University.

Find out more at brandoskyhorse.com

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 47 reviews
Profile Image for Jan Rice.
516 reviews434 followers
January 20, 2018
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 about the white-looking black guy who retired back into "Negroland." He had a family some members of which could pass, and the others supported those decisions. It was not without cost but unlike those stories in which the passer disappears forever. Another sort of cost was that his family looked down on his career choice, traveling salesman, as being too low to have made it all worthwhile.

The ones that explored ambiguity
The woman whose mother was white in Cuba but in the US was black, yet, dreaming of fitting in, always insisted she was white. On her father's side there were secret Jews from fifteenth-century Spain. Later, living in Hawaii, the essayist found nothing was the same. Hispanics were of two types there, conquered or conqueror. Puerto Rican means hardworking, conscientious. Puerto Ricans had been brought in to labor in the cane with the Japanese, Chinese, and Polynesians. The Spanish and Portuguese, on the other hand, had had a minor imperial role in Hawaii, which makes them white by default. She found "Cuban," which she was, meaningless in Hawaiian eyes. She could insist on her otherness all day long, but there she was destined to be white.

The writer's mother who was always unambiguously black but who was lighter than some of the white neighbors. It was not all about skin color. This was from an author whose family hadn't settled in Atlanta or New Orleans, where the one-drop rule would have decided things once and for all, but had moved around and settled in places where there were many hues and ethnicities, Staten Island, for one. Very young, the essayist began passing as Puerto Rican. That's what people assumed, and she intuited Puerto Rican was a step up from Negro.

The one that talked about how in the past one might position oneself as a member of an exotic brown culture rather than an ordinary reviled American Negro.

The chapter on economic passing--"Class Acts"--ran the gamut from Gatsby to poverty snobs.

The saddest
The green-eyed blonde who was okay with her Jim Crow-era interracial marriage to a charismatic pharmacist/musician, that is, until the first baby came and she was moved to the black side of the hospital. That she couldn't handle, but they had two more before divorcing. For her, passing as someone without a black ex-husband and interracial children meant negating those children.

There is gay passing and trans passing and the blond, freckled Jewish woman who would announce she was a Jew to stave off the antisemitic comments she'd otherwise hear.

There are felicitous phrases like "inner chameleon," provocative ones such as "cultural mulatto." There are more sad facts, such as black actors being told by white directors that they're not being black enough, or the lesbian actress passed over for a lesbian role because the director didn't want a real one in the part.

In the book, sometimes the concept of passing is interpreted narrowly and sometimes broadly, but the general assumption is that there is a "white" group or other dominant group among whom issues such as these do not occur. That I'm not sure of. It strikes me that in today's world, no one is quite sure where he or she belongs (while assuming the other guy is sure), which makes us more susceptible to pressures toward conformity. Everything is in flux; you make a move and find the options have changed. They say no amount of riches or success will bring happiness or, maybe, inner peace. (Look at Trump--is he secure in himself?)

Back in 1985 an old psychology professor of mine wrote a book called The Impostor Phenomenon: Overcoming the Fear That Haunts Your Success. Around 2006 I read the novel Ordinary Wolves, about a blond child whose father has decamped to Alaska, where eventually his mother can't take the experiment and abandons the family. The boy, then, grows up among the native Iñupiaq, dealing with bad hair, a wrong-shaped nose, and, soon enough, feelings of being a second-class citizen.

While reading this one, I kept thinking of other related books. Philip Roth's The Human Stain, in which a light-skinned black man passes as white because he doesn't think he can have a full-fledged career as professor of literature while black. Incognegro by Mat Johnson about a black journalist who can pass for white during Jim Crow. The author himself fits that picture; in my review I linked his excellent NPR interview. Another novel is Tim Gautreaux's The Clearing. I also remembered An Orphan in History: Retrieving a Jewish Legacy, Paul Cowan's memoir about retrieving a lost identity. Virtually all the essayists in Mask say loss of one's history and part of oneself is a cost of passing. If we want to shade over to fraud and deception, there's Walter Kirn's Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade.

Taking the concept broadly instead of narrowly (which not infrequently happens in Mask itself) I find that this hard-working concept of passing to be seminal. I am not even sure that the phenomena under consideration are limited to the psychological or cultural. The drive toward social adaptation (and the pressure toward it coming from the social group as a whole) may be programmed in as part of our self-domestication, with our conscious reflections somewhat of an epiphenomenon. As individuals, we do what we can. As occasional observers of these processes, we sometimes become angry and judgmental at how people have turned out, which may make about as much sense as raising hell with a bird for the colors of its plumage. Save the energy for the out-and-out cases of fraud and deception that are endangering others.

I almost didn't read this book because the introduction and first essay are just too confused and judgmental, claiming as it does that passing is trying to get some advantage or improve one's life by "occupying a space meant for someone else." And yet, "passing is a privilege all of us have indulged in at some point." Further,

People make assumptions about us based on stereotypes, context, environment. When we don't correct these ideas, either because we genuinely like the assumptions ... or because explaining the truth could humiliate, or infuriate, whoever's making those assumptions, we "pass."

Well, who's to say we know? What about when our stereotypes coincide with those of the one(s) making the assumption(s)? Or with societal ideals or myths?
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,024 reviews48.4k followers
November 21, 2017
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:
Profile Image for Ally.
436 reviews13 followers
September 21, 2017
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, and past president of the Spokane, WA chapter of the NAACP. She was believed to be African-American because of her appearance: A lightly tanned skin color, voice, and dark textured hair. In 2015, she applied to be appointed as the Chair of the Police Ombudsman Commission in Spokane, listing her ethnicity as multi, including "black". During an investigation into her application, it was discovered that she was not African-American at all. In fact, her ancestry was almost exclusively European for the past four centuries, as corroborated by her parents who admitted that she was a white woman passing as black. Rachel Dolezal, who legally changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo in 2016, chose to pass as black, for reasons that have not been fully explained. In WE WEAR THE MASK, the reader learns of many other situations of passing, and the reasons why it was necessary for the writer to present her/himself as someone else.

Out of the 15 essays, there are three that I found particularly illustrative. In the editor's essay, "College Application Essay #2", he ruminates on the college application process, and what ethnicity he should select on the application form and what he should write about for the essay portion. Brando was born to Mexican parents, but after his father abandoned the family, when the author was a toddler, his mother reinvented herself as Native American - calling herself Running Deer Skyhorse, and Brando Ulloa became Brando Skyhorse. He was raised as if he was from a Native American ancestry, and both he and his mother passed as Native American to those they encountered. It wasn't until the author was 13 that he learned the truth of his background, and from then on he struggled with what racial group he identified and who he believed he was.

Patrick Rosal's essay is written in epistolary form, addressed to "Lady at Table 24". He is a published poet and writer, and winner of the Asian American Studies Book Award, Global Filipino Literacy Award, the Asian American Writers Workshop Members' Choice Award, and a Fulbright scholarship. Patrick was attending that year's National Book Awards ceremony to support some fellow writers, who were nominated. Dressed in the required black tie, enjoying the fine food and drink, he's having a grand time. That is, until he is intercepted by an unknown woman, when he is on his way across the ballroom to speak to a friend. This unknown woman, the "Lady at Table 24", blocks his path and for a second Patrick thinks he knows her from somewhere, because otherwise why would someone interrupt him? That is, until she asks him for more napkins and silverware. From this, the author reflects on how clothing can be used to identify people, to change people's identities, and how sometimes those things get mixed and muddled. How you can wear an expensive suit, attend a fancy party, and still be confused for the help.

In a divergence from the deeply individualistic essays about passing in America, Dolen Perkins-Valdez presents a compelling essay about how America itself passes. In "On Historical Passing and Erasure", the author argues that the USA, through the way it selectively idolizes historical figures, the history it chooses to teach to its students, and the ways in which it rewards its citizens, it tries to pass as a democratic country that is truly devoted to "liberty and justice for all", not just a select few.

Other essays discuss religious passing - for example having Jewish heritage and surname, but none of the stereotypical physical markers that others identify with Jews, so that you are almost always treated as a gentile and have to explain why those antisemitic jokes aren't funny. Other essays explore the complications of passing as a cis-gendered heterosexual, when you truly identify as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. There is a wealth of diverse experiences here, but they certainly do not compose the entirety of what it is like to pass in America.

I would highly recommend this book, especially if you're interested in the concept of "passing", and what it's like from a personal perspective. Each of the contributors offers a glimpse into what it is like to live in America, when your identity is in flux. Who you are, and how you present yourself can be an easy choice, or it can be a lifelong struggle. Whatever your experience, you will probably find some essays that will speak to you.
Profile Image for Lauren.
1,353 reviews66 followers
August 30, 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!
Thank you LibraryThing for sending me this - I will be recommending it as one of my best of the year - and you will too.
Profile Image for Crystal.
433 reviews159 followers
February 10, 2020
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 served being placed further in because it gave the idea the anthology would be full of vaguely Rachel Dolezal-like authors when the rest of the anthology was quite the opposite.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
243 reviews8 followers
May 5, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Alia S.
187 reviews5 followers
May 27, 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, of course—and here I’ll paraphrase again—“your soul screams when you encounter a white woman dating outside her race.”

Among the hundreds of sieg-heil inanities in the comments section, one has stuck with me. It said, “Number nine is so true. When you look a mixed-race person in the eye, you can see that something was stolen from them before they were born.”

It’s true, I will admit here; it’s true, and I’ll even tell you what it is that I’m missing. I have been robbed of the most fundamental human delusions—of absolutes, of distinctions, of tribal fealty. And I have filled the insidious void beneath my ambiguous skin with a dangerous secret. Lean in, little Nazi, and I will whisper it in your ear:

nOoooThIiiiNG is aS iT seEeeeEeeEeeemMmmmsSSsssss

😂 😂 😂

Profile Image for Shannon.
1,524 reviews
January 19, 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 particularly liked Gabrielle Bellot’s essay on passing as a woman (especially the passage on the first time) and Clarence Page’s “Class Acts: Ways to Be Something You’re Not.” Not even though I had favorites, I suspect that was largely about writing style. All of the stories were honest and vulnerable and enlightening.

It was striking to read this book because my great great grandparents went from Cherokee on one census to white on the next. This book made me ponder that more deeply than I have before: What motivated them? How did it change their lives? How did it change mine?

If you’re interested in contemplating the ways race and class and gender and sexuality play out in our world today, We Wear the Mask is both well written and informative.
Profile Image for Laura Hoffman Brauman.
2,521 reviews35 followers
November 18, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Aria.
482 reviews42 followers
September 14, 2017
---- 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 fall under the passing umbrella, so to speak. So I learned something new, and realize now that the concept of "passing" is a fluid one, and can be appropriately used in a multitude of both unique, and sadly common situations.

As it goes with these types of works, some pieces are better than others. There was only one that I didn't finish and honestly feel was written poorly, and somewhat gimmicky. (It also has the longest title of all the included works.) I have to recommend Letter to the Lady Who Mistook Me for the Help at the National Book Awards-or Some Meditations on Style be pulled out of this compilation altogether. Rich people think everyone but themselves are the "help." Big surprise. I think I may have actually rolled my eyes when I realized this one interaction spawned such an ongoing bit of meandering verbiage. Just skip this one if it is still in the book when you read it.

By far the 2 stand-outs here were On Historical Passing and Erasure, and Stepping on a Star. The former was a unique way of presenting historical revisionism and erasure as a way of (somewhat collectively) editing and therefore altering our understanding of reality and our very selves. The latter was a fabulously personal presenting of a transgender experience in 2 countries that confronts the female-lived reality of patriarchal normativity in a way that is resounding. The realities of how females must live, must be aware of their surroundings and how one occupies space, must be aware of others, and how the need to be aware of these is unabating and constant.... well, these things are suddenly thrust upon one's consciousness when one has not been reared to unconsciously incorporate those measures into one's every moment. It only adds to the difficulty of successfully passing as a societally-defined female in public space, as well as to the danger that is inherent in failing to take proper measure of the so very many nuances of behavior that go along w/ females interacting with others in the world. I found it telling that the author, despite having desired to be publicly seen and identified as female since childhood, was so overcome with the enormity of these female-in-public demands. It seemed to highlight the degree to which patriarchal-oriented societies go to indoctrinate the (so-designated) female mind that even a long-term observer of all that is specifically designated as female was so completely caught unaware by the reality of presenting as female in the world at large.....even in 1st-world art museums. This piece just said so much about the ridiculous constraints the gender-binary concept has created, and the degree to which we are so unaware of the very deep repercussions of such limitations. (The same can be said for many ridiculous concepts we have created, but I'd be hard pressed at the moment to think of a better example of how intertwined these constraints are on our beings than is presented in this essay.)

Another notable piece in this book was Among the Heterosexuals, in which the author tells us about learning to own one's own story, and about her efforts to fit in with an upper-class crowd while attempting to navigate through young adulthood wherein lesbianism was not an accepted part of such a scene. She discusses attempts to have adult relationships, to redefine herself, and experiences enough twists of fate to make the moving through her claiming of self very real world and gripping. These things don't happen in a vacuum, after all. Society pushes pre-defined roles and their accompanying expectations onto us. the ability claim for oneself what one is and is not, or will and will not be, well these are hard-won struggles. As such, I loved her mention of Kristen Stewart's dismissal of the sexual identity question as trivial.....what a modern (and elitist) luxury this young actress has that she can be so flippant about a question people are still being killed over. (unless, of course she is avoiding the question). It reminded me of Morgan Freeman's suggestion re: problems of race, that we should just, "stop talking about it." Wow. I understand he may be tired of having "black" questions put to him, just as many female professionals in their fields grow tired of having "female" questions brought up in interviews. The suggestion, however, that ignoring the very real issues these questions represent will be resolved by dismissing the relevance of the questions themselves (presumably b/c one no longer wishes to be bothered with them) is a slap in the face. Eventually, of course, the goal is to reach a place where these things are no longer problematic issues. That goal can't be reached, however, until we at least recognize the issues by name and make effort to understand from whence they have arisen, and how is it that they retain their power. First things first, or we'll never reach the end of that road. Like I said, these things do not exist in a vacuum.

To sum, this book is a good intro to anyone exploring identity, or the ways in which the modern person influences and also is formed by society. The work as a whole presents a myriad of experiences in which people try their best to come to grips with a pre-arranged structure that does not accommodate their own realities, and demonstrates some of the ways in which people might try to survive and improve their existences by navigating this unfriendly terrain in whatever way they can manage. Most people have attempted to pass in some way or other, even if it is some small, seemingly insignificant social matter. It all matters, though. We are all seeking something. We all want to be seen as ourselves, and be allowed to live our lives as it best suits who we are.....but in the end we are still stuck in the same societal rules that endeavor to define and regulate how we define both ourselves and others, how we live, and who we can safely claim to be in one situation or another. We are all confined in some kind of box, and the recognition of that will help us to support each others attempts to live outside of those constraints so that, hopefully, we might one day be able to finally leave those concepts behind, without forgetting what it was like before we did so. We can't forget that, lest new constraints manifest themselves so that our old boxes are replaced with new ones. How tragic that would be. (I'm looking at you, Morgan and Kristen.)

Profile Image for SundayAtDusk.
667 reviews23 followers
August 21, 2017
"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 Top-Siders, because: "These shoes would telepathically instruct the Kennedys to invite me to Hyannis Port for Thanksgiving." A 3-star rating, because there were too many stories I found uninteresting to give the book a 4 or 5-star rating.
Profile Image for Anara Guard.
Author 12 books10 followers
October 22, 2017
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 adolescence. More than a question, it was a rude demand—explain to me why you look/sound/act the way you do. Just as often, presumptions were made (“you must be Puerto Rican/white/black/fill in the blank) and stereotypes confirmed.

“Many times, people told me to figure out who I was. But first, I passed. I did it consciously. That was my job: to figure out just exactly who you wanted me to be.”-- Lisa Page

This book arrives at an urgent juncture in American life: when others judge vociferously and mercilessly and, at the same time, so many of us are claiming our own identity in new and nuanced ways.

“I own this story. I don’t want it told uncharitably by an outsider,” writes M.G. Lord. In each of the fifteen pieces, the writer owns their story and tells it: charitably, boldly, baldly, courageously.

“I’m fifty-three years old, have been writing and thinking about race and race identity for over thirty years, and only now do I find out I have been passing all my life.” --Trey Ellis

Some of the writers passed (or were passed) as a different race, ethnicity or nationality; others were thought to be straight, goy, or a gender other than their own. And as Rafia Zakaria observes, “The burden of passing, its central fault, lies…in the requirement of deception that it imposes…the clear message of inadequacy, of falling short, of being less than an ideal, inferior to an original.”

These are essays that demand return visits because each contains rich memories and realizations. The title comes from Laurence Dunbar’s agonized poem of the same name but these authors have moved from agony to more nuanced perspectives. Get a copy; read it; give one to someone else who may need to learn from it—and that means all of us.

“And how I felt so happy, finally, when I realized that he wanted me simply for me, not for a version of me that passed, how I felt like a queen stretched out on my bed with him atop me, a queen who was being treated like royalty by this gentle giant of a man, regardless of what genitalia she had or did not.” --Gabrielle Bellot
Profile Image for Tonstant Weader.
1,180 reviews66 followers
November 15, 2017
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 passing, discovering an ancestor passed and they inherited that identity. Marc Fitten discovers his grandfather passed. For him, passing is “a person forging a new identity based on the fact that some identities have more unearned advantages than others, and the effects of that change on subsequent generations.” For Achy Abejas, passing is unwanted, but it happens anyway and feels like erasure. Clarence Page argues that America practices what he calls “historical passing” by erasing our history, claiming postracial comity, and honoring the traitors of the Confederacy. Passing, he says, “is the American way.”

Passing imposes a cost on many people. There is shame for many, in rejecting their history, their community, to pass for better opportunities. For some, there is freedom and fear, a woman who is trans may feel freedom when mistaken for a cisgender woman while also fearing reprisal if discovered. There is also loss of family and friends. One woman is so ashamed of her biracial children she makes them hide from the neighbors. There is a lot of pain there.

This collection of essays ranges from race to class and educational passing, from mistaken identity to denying identity. The writers dug deep to think about what it means to pass, what is gained and lost, and what burdens are imposed by passing. I appreciated the authenticity and honesty of these authors, their willingness to expose their history and their pain. It is a small book, but one worth reading slowly to give yourself time to reflect on these different experiences and how they add to our understanding of our county.

I received a copy of We Wear the Mask from the publisher through a drawing at LibraryThing.

Profile Image for Kathy.
1,015 reviews
April 18, 2018
[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 parties… each of us sometimes employs misdirection to let someone jump to a different conclusion about who we are.

[W]hat passing is: a person forging a new identity based on the fact that some identities have more unearned advantages than others, and the effects of that change on subsequent generations.

“If passing for white will get a fellow better accommodations on the train, better seats in the theater, immunity from insults in public places, and may even save his life from a mob, only idiots would fail to seize the advantage of passing, at least occasionally, if not permanently.” - William Pickens, Secretary of the NAACP in 1927

Indians are the minority that almost every American wants to claim in their family tree – as if that drop of Indian blood makes them just that much more American than most other Americans.
Profile Image for Jasmine.
26 reviews
January 16, 2022
I was really excited to read this book. I've long been fascinated by the concept of passing, especially in the Black American historical context. I was intrigued by the synopsis of this book, and hoped to learn more about passing in the modern world, in terms of race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, etc. Unfortunately, as with most essay collections, there was a significant difference in quality from essay to essay. A few were very interesting and informative. Others were boring, or just plain weird. I think my hackles initially rose when I was reading the Editors' Note, which begins with a discussion of Rachel Dolezal. It also felt like the different writers had different definitions of passing, so as a collection, it was not as cohesive as I would have liked. For a few of the essays, there wasn't enough explanation of why they chose to pass, so it came across as blase. I went into this book with no prior familiarity with any of the writers; maybe if I'd known more about them beforehand, I would have been more interested in the memoir style of this book. Overall, I didn't love it, didn't hate it, wouldn't really recommend it.
Profile Image for Sharon.
559 reviews18 followers
November 3, 2017
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. Real people with situations in life they must deal with that all involve passing in some manner, mostly in bigger rather than smaller ways. It's eye opening. I liked the last story the best -- it was one of the most powerful ones. For those of us who don't think we pass, there's plenty of new information to ponder here. And we may not intentionally pass but be doing it anyway, or be reflected in a different way through others.

All the authors are accomplished writers, most literary. I received this book from Library Thing.

Profile Image for Julia.
821 reviews11 followers
September 13, 2017
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 the idea of “passing” not only with respect to more dominant identities such as race or religion, whose advantages or disadvantages may carry a more considerable weight, but also the minor ways in which we all pass for one thing or another in our daily lives.
Profile Image for lisa.
1,519 reviews
October 27, 2017
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 essays I liked, and maybe one star for the essays I didn't like (which was almost all of the ones I didn't mention).
Profile Image for Melanie.
62 reviews
February 13, 2022
It took me a while to get through all of these stories... which says something about how compelling I found the writing. The topic is fascinating - an exploration of the concept of passing as it relates to various identities including race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and class. The two leading stories I found the hardest to get through, and the last few the most relatable. All of them were thought provoking to a degree... mostly because thinking about the other ways (beyond race) in which people choose to or feel compelled to pass is such a reflection of American societal values. Some of the stories gave me insight into ways of/reasons for passing I hadn’t considered before.
Profile Image for Mary.
891 reviews14 followers
May 16, 2022
I thought it was interesting that the book does not focus solely on the topic of African-Americans passing as white. I think that was important to bring to the table in the discussion of race and how society disproportionately allows people to live their lives based on race. For example, the author, whose story comes first, discusses how his mother raised him to pass as Native American, although he was actually of Mexican descent.

On the other hand, though, I grew bored with the first story after a while. I have so many good books on my TBR list. If something does not hold my interest, I move on.
3,224 reviews26 followers
June 12, 2017
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 read!
Profile Image for Karen (Living Unabridged).
975 reviews43 followers
January 23, 2021
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-switching, belonging, and identity, but there are few definitive answers or conclusions.
May 1, 2022
This book is 15 stories about passing, but not in the way I thought it would be. I assumed it would be 197 pages of light-skin and white passing tears. Instead they are are personal essays from all types of people that pass in different ways. Racial passing, cis-passing, straight passing, class/economic passing and more. They are all very personal and well written essays on things the essayist has experiences. All in all I enjoyed this book, but as with all anthologies some stories are better than others. Still, I learned a lot about "passing" and how it does not just have one look.
Profile Image for Amy.
546 reviews
January 8, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Naomi.
168 reviews1 follower
October 2, 2020
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.
14 reviews
September 18, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Carol Buchter.
475 reviews2 followers
February 17, 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.
Profile Image for Sadie Forsythe.
Author 1 book263 followers
June 22, 2020
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.
21 reviews
January 14, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Jenny.
30 reviews
February 4, 2018
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.
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