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Degrees of Passing: Representations of White Passing in Popular Culture

Updated: Aug 14, 2023



If popular culture reflects society, then studying popular culture representations of White passing can provide insight into the motivations for passing, the different degrees to which racialized “Others” pass, and society’s changing attitude toward the practice of passing. This article explores White passing through an analysis of the portrayals of White passing in Nella Larsen’s Passing, Francisco Arriví’s play Vejigantes, and Netflix’s series One Day at a Time. There’s a clear progression in the representations of passing from survival strategy in the early to mid-1900s, as demonstrated by Irene and Clare in Passing and Marta in Vejigantes, to a denial of your heritage in current times, as represented by Clarita in Vejigantes and Elena in One Day at a Time. These texts argue that despite the privilege and supposed security approximating whiteness may grant, it's not worth the trauma it causes. They do so through socio-politically correct and emotionally moving narratives that call their audience to reject racist discourse and decolonize their perspectives. The motivations of each character for passing as White will be explored using the work of Frantz Fanon and Homi Bhabha while the degrees and mechanics of passing will be explored using the work of Catherine Rottenberg.


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