Piper, Adrian · Passing for White, Passing for Black

Reading Piper’s entire essay was well worth my time. In it, she discusses the ways in which her identity is inscribed on herself as she can pass for both Black and White. She recognizes the privileges she has passing through both worlds and also talks about the alienation, trauma, guilt, and shame that she carries. She goes on to discuss passing’s relation to class, blood quantum issues, the fear of memory tied to White people’s recognition of Black ancestry, and her family’s tumultuous histories.

From discussing the Suffering Test, to the imposter syndrome, to ‘ticking the box’, and to ‘outing’ others, Piper covers a wide variety of problems that passing people go through on a daily basis. She ends the essay with a call for collective responsibility to face the past because we currently profit from the crimes of our forebearers. Piper also concludes that how she identifies will upset or offend others because in doing so the categories of racial classification are exposed as what they are – instruments of racism.

My Calling (Card) #1 (1986-1990) perfectly encapsulates her essay. The weird guilt felt when you’re making someone uncomfortable because you’re uncomfortable, how passing is more than just theory but a lived experience with real consequences, everyday racism, white privilege, and the hurt and anger felt when betrayed by friends.

Anselm Kiefer’s Athanor (1991) and his art in general work through the collective guilt of Germany and the atrocities which happened under the Nazis. There is a responsibility to remember the past, not just overcome it.

In Genevieve Gaignard’s work, like with Miss/ed America (2017), she explores what it is like to be both White and Black in America. Her photography explore the intersections of race, class, and gender, prodding our mis/conceptions.

Duck Test, featuring Rachel Dolezal still, 2018

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, is it a duck? The artist Sula Bermudez-Silverman, with the “transracial” Rachel Dolezal, explores race and identity by changing her hair at the hands of a woman who has “changed”, and I use that term facetiously, races. I’m blown away by her body of work.

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