Passing

I just read an interesting letter in an article online by a bi-ethnic woman (black and white) who ran into the problem of people at her job holding it against her when they found out she was mixed with black. They apparently did not know this because she does not “look black” in that she has green eyes, fair skin and straight hair. So since she never brought up her mixed heritage they assumed she was part of the “all-white” club at this particularly law firm in New Jersey. And some felt she had hoodwinked them by not proclaiming her half black status at the door. How interesting.

This makes me think of two things. One is that people need to learn, and learn quickly, that these days there is a lot more ethnic mixing going on than most know, so it would probably be smart to not make assumptions about what people “are,” even when they look like something you assume to be obvious. The second thing is this whole issue of “passing,” or pawning oneself off to be something other than what they are, ethnically speaking. That New Jersey woman had no obligation to wear a sign saying, “by the way, I am not all white” nor should she have felt obligated to pronounce it to people. As long as she did not deny that fact or hide it out of shame or some other reason, it sounds like the problem was not hers but the people who made assumptions based on skin color.

The problem was probably that people at that firm had made comments about blacks or other minorities, not realizing she was minority (multi-ethnic) as well. If people would just treat all people with respect then they wouldn’t have to worry so much about the language or joke they are about to use with someone, someone who may or may not be what you think they are.

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