CFP for Edited Volume: Passing While "Post-Racial": Performance and Identity Production in Neo-Passing Narratives

full name / name of organization: 
Editors: Mollie Godfrey and Vershawn Young
contact email: 

On July 17, 1952, the African American weekly Jet Magazine featured an article titled: "Why Passing is Passing Out." This article suggested that the growing Civil Rights Movement would put an end to Jim Crow legislation and therefore to acts of racial passing—the phenomenon whereby some African Americans with optically white skin chose to live as white in order to escape the pains of segregation. Although Jet was accurate in predicting the imminent end of Jim Crow that began in 1954, its projection that passing would pass out has still yet to occur. Not only has the practice continued, but in more recent years it has expanded beyond race to other categories of identity such as class, gender, sexuality, religion, education, profession, criminality, and citizenship.

Post-Jim Crow film, literature, and popular culture illustrate the continuation and enlargement of racial passing both as a historical phenomenon and as an artistic trope. As Civil Rights-era audiences came to terms with the changing political landscape, passing lingered in film and literature such as Imitation of Life (1959) and Black Like Me (1961). Now and in the decades leading up to our "post-racial" moment, passing has reemerged in a variety of genres, from novels such as Danzy Senna's Caucasia (1998) and Philip Roth's The Human Stain (2000) to memoirs such as Gregory Howard Williams's Life on the Color Line (1995) and Bliss Broyard's One Drop (2007). Recent artists such as Percival Everett, Mark Stewart, Daniel Black, and ZZ Packer are also playing with passing, pushing it to interrogate investments in static conceptions of class, sexual desire, gender identity, and racial authenticity. At the same time, passing is appearing in a variety of forms within popular culture, from comedic work by Dave Chappelle, Sarah Silverman, and Ben Stiller, to reality TV series such as Ice Cube's Black White, America's Next Top Model, and The Jersey Shore. Given that these works are emerging in the age of post-structuralism and post modernism, when it is largely accepted that essentialist notions of identity are flawed and that identities are always in production, if not in flux, then it must be asked: Why does passing persist?

Growing out of a panel presented at the most recent American Studies Association meeting in 2013, this volume will focus on a range of texts, broadly construed, that can be identified as part of the emerging genre of neo-passing narratives: contemporary narratives that depict a protagonist being taken for an identity other than what s/he is considered really to be. That these narratives or texts are written, constructed, or produced at a time when passing should have passed reveals that the questions passing raises—questions about how identity is performed and contested in relation to social norms—are just as relevant now as they were at the turn of the twentieth century. This volume seeks to explore passing's proliferation in the post-Jim Crow moment. How do these works compare to earlier passing literature, such as Charles Chesnutt's The House Behind the Cedars (1900), Nella Larsen's Passing (1929), or Langston Hughes's "Who's Passing for Who?" (1952)? What does passing look like now? How does it relate to contemporary discourses of race, gender, and class? Why is it still of literary and cultural interest?

Potential topics include:
• A comparison of contemporary passing texts to pre-Civil Rights passing texts. In what ways are later texts indebted to that prior literature? In what ways are they transformative?
• A consideration of neo-passing narratives that illustrate not just racial, but spatial, class, gender, sexual, and professional passing.
• Neo-passing narratives as they emerge in a variety of current media, including music, film, television, reality television, advertising, and social networks.
• Neo-passing narratives as a reflection and/or exploration of neo-liberalism.
• Passing at it relates to current notions of authorship, racial authenticity, racialized commodities, post-racialism, or cosmopolitanism.
• Passing in relationship to particular generic conventions, such as those of the memoir, the novel, or particular genres of music.
• Passing in relation to contemporary controversies in schools, higher education, the workplace, prisons, electoral politics, and to laws about immigration, diversity, affirmative action, and discrimination.

Please send proposals of no more than 500 words and biographies of no more than 100 words, in either *.rtf (rich text format) or *.doc (MS Word document format), to co-editor Mollie Godfrey ( by June 1, 2014. Selected authors will be notified by June 15, 2014. Please note that invitation to submit a full essay does not guarantee inclusion in the volume. Full articles (5500-7000 words) will be expected by August 15, 2014.