Puzzled by Ralph and Co.

Just as I started to write this entry, my computer decided to go a long strange trip. So I’ll make it quick.

Touré wrote this provocative essay “Do Not Pass” some time back. He catalogs a number of books about black folk (mostly men) who pass for white.

He assumes that once the person has crossed the line, he never returns. That certainly wasn’t true for my great-uncle Charley Hudson, who passed himself off as a white farmer from New Haven and enlisted in the Lincoln Cavalry in 1864. He also lied about his age, but that’s a whole other issue.

Uncle Charley and Aunt Tillie Hudson

Uncle Charley walked back and forth across the color line for the rest of his life. He worked as a barber and identified himself as black after he recovered from being shot outside Winchester, Virginia, days before Lee surrendered. My great-grandmother,  who never tried to pass as far as I know, lived with him and his wife for a time in New Jersey in the early 1890s.

Later, he worked as the manager of a factory in Massachusetts, again passing himself off as white. I’m sure that there are others who have done the same based solely on expediency.

The people that Touré writes about seem filled with self-loathing, and I’m sure that motivated many such conversions, but I suspect the greater motive was simple practicality. Especially in the days of Jim Crow, it was easier to be white than to be black. Which is also the answer to the question Touré raises at the end of his essay about why white people don’t want to be black these days. Jim Crow isn’t stalking the streets in an overt fashion any more but he still shows up in the form of nooses at work places and racist humor spread by the likes of the GOP candidate for governor of New York.


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