Shades of White

From The New York Times:

Arsenault-articleInline Racial passing is one of America’s deeply hidden traditions, a largely unacknowledged and unstudied aspect of national life. Historically, African-Americans with identifiably dark skin have had only two choices when confronting racial discrimination and oppression: either they could try to ease their burden through accommodation, making the best of a bad situation, or they could engage in protest and active resistance. The situation was often quite different, however, for light-skinned African-Americans of mixed parentage. For them, there was a tempting third option of trying to pass as white.

In an illuminating and aptly titled book, “The Invisible Line,” Daniel J. Sharfstein demonstrates that African-Americans of mixed ancestry have been crossing the boundaries of color and racial identity since the early colonial era. An associate professor of law at Vanderbilt University and an author with a literary flair, Sharfstein documents this persistent racial fluidity by painstakingly reconstructing the history of three families. In a dizzying array of alternating chapters, he presents the personal and racial stories of the Gibsons, the Spencers and the Walls. The result is an astonishingly detailed rendering of the variety and complexity of racial experience in an evolving national culture moving from slavery to segregation to civil rights.

More here.