Passing: When People Can't Be Who They Are / Edition 1

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Despite the many social changes of the last half-century, many Americans still "pass:" black for white, gay for straight, and now in many new ways as well. We tend to think of passing in negative terms-as deceitful, cowardly, a betrayal of one's self. But this compassionate book reveals that many passers today are people of good heart and purpose whose decision to pass is an attempt to bypass injustice, and to be more truly themselves. Passing tells the poignant, complicated life stories of six present day "passers" whose stories, interwoven with others from history, literature, and life, explore the social realities which make passing an option in our culture and its logistical, emotional and moral consequences. They also raise fascinating questions about both the nature of identity and the structure of society.
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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
Kroeger's biographical and narrative skills give nuance and depth to the touchy, often explosive topic of 'passing'. . .
An engaging look at how certain people choose to deal with social inequities.
Publishers Weekly
luminous sociological research... Kroeger explicates the dilemmas with a fine understanding of the difficulties of modern life... quirky and provocative...
Eye-opening, taboo-shattering...someone is pulling the curtain back on a one has been willing to face.
Publishers Weekly
Biographer Kroeger, whose lives of reporter Nellie Bly (1994) and novelist Fannie Hurst (1999) were well received, now extends Hurst's Imitation of Life subplot on "passing" into luminous sociological research. Passing-the search to be what you're not-has gotten a bad reputation over the years, and Kroeger's aim is to challenge readers' assumptions regarding this still-taboo topic. To this end she assembles six profiles of young contemporary Americans, mixing extensive interviews with expert comment from psychologists and ethicists, with reference to such tragic tales of "passing" as that of Brandon Teena, the drifter whose murder became the basis for the film Boys Don't Cry. Among Kroeger's portraits: a half-Jewish man suppresses the black heritage of his father; a Puerto Rican student becomes an Orthodox Jew; a gay man denies his growing homosexuality to obtain a rabbinical certification, while a career navy officer hides in the closet unwilling in the age of "Don't ask, don't tell" either to ask or tell. Some of the stories are genuinely moving, some amusing, and Kroeger explicates the dilemmas with a fine understanding of the difficulties of modern life. A male rock critic with a female-sounding pseudonym lies to his cross-country editors about his gender, then gets to keep his job anyhow, as all involved come to realize the extent to which everyone "passes" in one way or another. Kroeger skillfully musters scholarly and theoretical sources to support her speculations on identity and authenticity, and even casts an eye back to the original Passing, Nella Larsen's 1929 Harlem Renaissance masterpiece. "Who says I am obliged," asks Kroeger, "to be what you think I am? Or what I think you think I am? Or even what I think I am but sincerely wish I weren't?" Kroeger's study is quirky and provocative, and doesn't settle for answers where none can be found. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586482879
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 12/1/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 0.66 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Brooke Kroeger wrote the biographies, Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist, and Fannie: The Talent for Success of Writer Fannie Hurst, and is an associate professor of journalism at New York University. A former foreign correspondent and editor, she has written widely for newspapers and magazines. She lives in Manhattan.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Passing Then, Passing Now 1
1 Not Some Social Agenda Struggle 11
2 Passing, Virginia 43
3 That's Not Me 65
4 Leviticus 18:22 93
5 Conduct Unbecoming 141
6 The Jane Game 167
7 Passing Notes, Passing Tones 209
Endnotes 221
Bibliography 252
Acknowledgments 272
Index 274
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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2007

    The Truth about Passing

    When the idea of passing comes to mind, most would first think of racial minoritespassing as white to live with the priveleges the white race comes with. What Brooke Kroeger attempted to do with 'Passing' is reveal a side of this epidemic that wouldn't necessarily come to mind when asked. Minorities passing for white very well may be a common theme in today's world, but Kroeger worked to provide insight on other examples of passing: blacks passing for white Jews, homosexuals passing for straight to follow dreams of becoming arabbi, a respected male poet passing for a female rock 'n roll enthusiast. Are these people wrong for not waiting for social change, for instead taking matters into their own hands and risking their jobs, relationships, etc. by pretending to be something they aren't? Kroeger explores this phenomenon that has intrigued scholars for decades. Kroeger seems to have based 'Passing' on an earlier tale of a light-skinned African-American woman who passes for white and cuts off all ties to her African-American background to marry a white man and live a white life. Kroeger makes a reference to 'Imitation of Life' by Fannie Hurst early on in her book 'Passing' retells this story in sic more contemporary ways, each story becoming more complex than the one before. With each story, Kroeger instills a questioning of views, on the phenomenon of passing in itself, and on society's flaws in general. It challenges the idea that the phenomenon itself might not be as deceitful and cowardly as one might think. Kroeger has succeeded in creating a piece of work that not only gives reasoning to the act of passing, but sheds light on the injustices still intertwined in modern society, the same injustices we have fought to eliminate for decades.

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