• Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in Twentieth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture

    Pages: 272
    Illustrations: 12 b&w photographs
    Sales/Territorial Rights: World
    Series: New Americanists
    Series Editor(s): Donald  E. Pease
  • Cloth: $99.95 - In Stock
  • Paperback: $25.95 - In Stock
  • Quantity
  • Add To Bag
  • Preface


    Introduction: Race, Passing, and Cultural Representation

    1. Home Again: Racial Negotiations in Modernist African American Passing Narratives

    2. Mezz Mezzrow and the Voluntary Negro Blues

    3. Boundaries Lost and Found: Racial Passing and Cinematic Representation, circa 1949

    4. “I’m Through with Passing”: Postpassing Narratives in Black Popular Literary Culture

    5. “A Most Disagreeable Mirror”: Reflections on White Identity in Black Like Me

    Epilogue: Passing, “Color Blindness,” and Contemporary Discourses of Race and Identity



  • “Wald has written an insightful and often provocative examination of the permeability of race as a marker of identity.”

    "[C]reatively conceived and researched."

    "Wald makes a valuable contribution to scholarship in her articulation of the high cost of passing."


  • “Wald has written an insightful and often provocative examination of the permeability of race as a marker of identity.”

    "[C]reatively conceived and researched."

    "Wald makes a valuable contribution to scholarship in her articulation of the high cost of passing."

  • Crossing the Line offers a superbly well-developed analysis of narratives of racial passing and a strategy for engaging such narratives. It will set the standard for subsequent treatments of racial passing.” — Dana Nelson, author of, National Manhood: Capitalist Citizenship and the Imagined Fraternity of White Men

    “Deeply engaging, well-researched, and effective, Crossing the Line is a fine multidisciplinary study not only of passing narratives but of the social, political, and economic struggles that they negotiate in racial terms.” — Priscilla Wald, author of, Constituting Americans: Cultural Anxiety and Narrative Form

  • Permission to Photocopy (coursepacks)

    If you are requesting permission to photocopy material for classroom use, please contact the Copyright Clearance Center at copyright.com;

    If the Copyright Clearance Center cannot grant permission, you may request permission from our Copyrights & Permissions Manager (use Contact Information listed below).

    Permission to Reprint

    If you are requesting permission to reprint DUP material (journal or book selection) in another book or in any other format, contact our Copyrights & Permissions Manager (use Contact Information listed below).


    Many images/art used in material copyrighted by Duke University Press are controlled, not by the Press, but by the owner of the image. Please check the credit line adjacent to the illustration, as well as the front and back matter of the book for a list of credits. You must obtain permission directly from the owner of the image. Occasionally, Duke University Press controls the rights to maps or other drawings. Please direct permission requests for these images to permissions@dukeupress.edu.
    For book covers to accompany reviews, please contact the publicity department.

    Subsidiary Rights/Foreign Translations

    If you're interested in a Duke University Press book for subsidiary rights/translations, please contact permissions@dukeupress.edu. Include the book title/author, rights sought, and estimated print run.

    Disability Requests

    Instructions for requesting an electronic text on behalf of a student with disabilities are available here.

    Rights & Permissions Contact Information

    Email: permissions@dukeupress.edu
    Email contact for coursepacks: asstpermissions@dukeupress.edu
    Fax: 919-688-4574
    Duke University Press
    Rights and Permissions
    905 W. Main Street
    Suite 18B
    Durham, NC 27701

    For all requests please include:
    1. Author's name. If book has an editor that is different from the article author, include editor's name also.
    2. Title of the journal article or book chapter and title of journal or title of book
    3. Page numbers (if excerpting, provide specifics)
    For coursepacks, please also note: The number of copies requested, the school and professor requesting
    For reprints and subsidiary rights, please also note: Your volume title, publication date, publisher, print run, page count, rights sought
  • Description

    As W. E. B. DuBois famously prophesied in The Souls of Black Folk, the fiction of the color line has been of urgent concern in defining a certain twentieth-century U.S. racial “order.” Yet the very arbitrariness of this line also gives rise to opportunities for racial “passing,” a practice through which subjects appropriate the terms of racial discourse. To erode race’s authority, Gayle Wald argues, we must understand how race defines and yet fails to represent identity. She thus uses cultural narratives of passing to illuminate both the contradictions of race and the deployment of such contradictions for a variety of needs, interests, and desires.
    Wald begins her reading of twentieth-century passing narratives by analyzing works by African American writers James Weldon Johnson, Jessie Fauset, and Nella Larsen, showing how they use the “passing plot” to explore the negotiation of identity, agency, and freedom within the context of their protagonists' restricted choices. She then examines the 1946 autobiography Really the Blues, which details the transformation of Milton Mesirow, middle-class son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, into Mezz Mezzrow, jazz musician and self-described “voluntary Negro.” Turning to the 1949 films Pinky and
    Lost Boundaries, which imagine African American citizenship within class-specific protocols of race and gender, she interrogates the complicated representation of racial passing in a visual medium. Her investigation of “post-passing” testimonials in postwar African American magazines, which strove to foster black consumerism while constructing “positive” images of black achievement and affluence in the postwar years, focuses on neglected texts within the archives of black popular culture. Finally, after a look at liberal contradictions of John Howard Griffin’s 1961 auto-ethnography Black Like Me, Wald concludes with an epilogue that considers the idea of passing in the context of the recent discourse of “color blindness.”
    Wald’s analysis of the moral, political, and theoretical dimensions of racial passing makes Crossing the Line important reading as we approach the twenty-first century. Her engaging and dynamic book will be of particular interest to scholars of American studies, African American studies, cultural studies, and literary criticism.

    About The Author(s)

    Gayle Wald is Assistant Professor of English at George Washington University.

Explore More

Create a reading list or add to an existing list. Sign-in or register now to continue.

Contact Us

  • Duke University Press
  • 905 W. Main St. Ste 18-B
  • Durham, NC 27701
  • U.S. phone (toll-free): 888-651-0122
  • International: 1-919-688-5134
  • orders@dukeupress.edu