There Are Some Things I Just Do Not Understand : LUSENET : A.M.E. Today Discussion : One Thread

Anthony Hopkins' new movie "The Human Stain" is opening this weekend. It is being panned by many critics, the msot common reasoning is thus: "We learn that Hopkins' character, Coleman Silk is not Jewish, as he long claimed to be, but rather a light skinned black man from New Jersey who abandoned his heritage-in order to get ahead in culturally biased America. Now,if you'll buy Hopkins-British accent and all-as a black man from Jersey, well, perhaps I can interest you in some red-hot mountainside property in Southern California."

Now, most people in our community understand that for as long as there was an "America" there have been black Americans who "passed" as white. A member of my church who I will refer to as "Sister Smith" met one of her old high school friends at the church for a tour. Sister Smith works as a tour guide and her old school chum came to tour the church with a bus group of white ladies. Sister Smith did not immediately recognize her old classmate (as it has been more than 40 years since their graduation). The lady pulled her over and mentioned who she was to Sister Smith, but she kept out of view of the other tourists. This woman was born to two black parents but had been passing as white.

I had an uncle who lived in Washington DC who passed as white until he got tired of it. You can imagine the faces on his white friends and neighbors when the whole family drove up. Colors ranging in hues from the whitest white to the blackest black. I can still remember the face of one of his neighbors....this woman could not believe it. I was around 12 and I remember being so tickled when he explained who who every one was. Their faces were in shear amazement. This was in the late 60s you would think people wouldn't be so suprised or taken back anymore.

Somebody.....please straighten me out.

-- Anonymous, October 31, 2003


A good friend of mine @ Vanderbilt University wrote the definitve biography of the Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen about 10 years ago. Larsen gained literary fame by publishing a powerful novel called "Passing" in the early 1930s. That one book probably best captures the exisitential dilemma posed for many octageroons (sp?) who struggle with racial identity. It sounds like the new Hopkins movie is based on the life of the gifted writer Anatole Paul Broyard. Broyard was a 20th century writer who was born black in New Orleans but chose to become "white" and suppressed his racial identity through the camoflauge of writing. I look forward to seeing the movie. In the end we will understand it better by and by. QED

-- Anonymous, October 31, 2003

Brother Dickens...

As soon as you see the movie, please let me know what you think. God bless.

-- Anonymous, November 01, 2003


This is an example of what often happens when folk are widely discriminated against because of their culture and race. One of my favorite stories in the Bible is a classic example of it. This story also has a classic example of women's lib.

If you want to know the length and breadth to which "passers" go and how much some of them achiever by it, just open your Bible and read the entire story of Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecia.

Although God is never mentioned once in the ten short chapters of this book. We see the hand of God from its beginning to it end. We are reminded that the Bible covers every state and condition know to man. We also see how God uses the conditions we face to achieve His good and perfect will.

"Who knowest whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this? "

-- Anonymous, November 01, 2003

Perhaps this will help: You said "but rather a light skinned black man from New Jersey who abandoned his heritage-in order to get ahead in culturally biased America." Now if he is "light-skinned" enough to "pass" then perhaps he has not "abandoned his heritage". He-is heritage is certainly more white than black or perhaps that obnoxious "one-drop" rule is at work here. I don't understand what "culture bias" is so I can't help there.

BE Blessed

-- Anonymous, November 01, 2003

Reverend Paris,

Does the fact that Esther looked like she was Assyrian mean that she was denying a part of her racial heritage or that the one-drop rule applied? I think not.

Now for the meaning of cultural discrimination, once again the Bible describes it best. Esther was not the name that she was given at the time she was born, nor was Beltshazzar the name Daniel or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego the Hebrew Children's names. Their captors changed their names.

The Bible also tells us that when Joseph's brothers came to Egypt they were shepherds by trade. This was an abomination to the Egyptians so they could not live among the Egyptians as Joseph had done. Instead they were sent to the land of Goshen to live. Then there arose a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph and despised the lot of them. He not only relegated them to slavery but also applied impossible tasks to them.

This also happens in America where racial and cultural differences exist. In America there often also arises a "pharaoh" who knew not Joseph" nor the work he has done. This "pharaoh's" policies and actions relegate the playing field and the progress made back to square one. Thus, making both racial and cultural discrimination felt as a strong reality again.

If this were not the case, then there would be no reason for some to feel that passing was the path, which they must choose. They would, rather, feel that there was equal opportunity and justice for all no matter what their skin tone, culture or race.

-- Anonymous, November 01, 2003

Bro Matthews, I don't find anything in the book of Ester as to what she looked like. You must remember that Israel (God's People) were multi-racial at that time as they are now. The Israeli people, coming out of Egypt (Africa) were a mixed up bunch. I don't consider one is abandoning ones heritage for again: "If he is white (color) enough to pass as white (Adam Clayton Powell comes to mind; he made a pratice of changing "race" when it benefitted him; then his heritage is mostly white; unless black has nothing to do with color and one drop makes one black. Changing one's name does not make one lose his/her culture. After all, what is in name? It is what you feel inside and what God says that counts. The last verse in Numbers 13 indicates that the 10 spies saw themselves as "grasshoppers" and therefore they believed the people in the land thought they were grasshoppers too. But it was in thier minds. For me, race and culture is a dynamic thing and I don't make a big deal of either.

Be Blessed

-- Anonymous, November 02, 2003

Thank you Bro. Robert and Rev. Paris for the exciting discussion regarding Esther. For in many ways esther is an early reflection of what blacks in the past had to do in order to survive.

Esther was Jewish and her birth name was Haddasah, which was a jewish name. Her uncle Mordecai told her to conceal her jewish identity. (She was passing) biblical scholars have pointed out that Esther was not praying or practicing her faith. But one of the things that makes the book of esther so powerful is that the Jews at that time were being obedient. Though they were marked to be massacred, God intervenes, not because Esther prayed but because of the faithful of the jews. God uses someone who does not acknowledge him to save his people and thus brings Esther back to him.

It was dangerous to be jewish at that time and "safer" to be anything but a jew. Esther chose not to associate with the jews. Yet God chose a jew to save the jewish people. The book of esther is replete with many discussions regarding cultural heritage and ethnicity. God is the creator of all things and all people. He made black people the wonderful shades of brown, beige, ebony etc. When we pass, are we saying "God made a mistake"? The book of esther is about God's relationship with us, no matter how apathetic we are towards him, his grace still prevails and he calls out to us.

I do not judge my ancestors who passed, they did what they felt they needed to do. A side note in the early 1970's I sang at a gallery opening for the artist Romare Beardon. My manager had told me what a wonderful black artist he was, I was excited to see his work and meet this fantastic black man. After I finished singing, this bald headed white man came over to tell me how much he loved my singing, I asked his name and he said "Romare Beardon", I could not believe it, he looked white. He was always proud of his black heritage and chose not to pass.

In 2003 it may be hard for young people to understand why some passed, for they did not experience jim crow, lynching etc. But by reading the book of esther, we see others have also passed and God continued to love them and use them for their race.

-- Anonymous, November 02, 2003

A side note on Ester: God intervened in the proposed killing of all Jews by allowing them to defend themselves. Hmmm, why did He not use Affirmative Action? I guess God chose to enable them by removing the legal restrictions and allowing the Jews to do the rest for themselves. May I suggest that we as black folk are enabled, the legal discrimination has been struck down, and now it is time to do it for ourselves. Be Blessed

-- Anonymous, November 03, 2003

Well, I suppose if we are going to cite examples of Biblical personalities who engaged in "passing behaviour" we should recognize individuals who accomplished this before Esther. The Book of Genesis around chapter 13 describes how Abram's wife Sarai intentionally engaged in this form of social behavior. Joseph (Genesis ch. 37-50) and Moses (Exodus ch. 1-3) "passed for being Egyptian" and thus made a successful assimilation in Egyptian society. QED

-- Anonymous, November 03, 2003

Genesis 12 begins the account of Sarai trying to "pass". She not only passed her culture but Abraham had her passed her off as his sister instead of his wife. This action almost had Pharaoh and his people killed with a plague. (God was not pleased)

Joseph was displaced, he did not pass himself off. It was ONLY the hand of God on his life that lead to his success. And that success was for the good of Joseph's family at the appointed time. (Imagine that being in a position to help your brother.)

Moses, was raised as an Egyptian, again, not his choice, but the King's daughter found him and he was raised as an Egyptian, and royalty at that. When he became older and saw the mistreatment of the Jewish people, he identified himself with them, and tried to take matters into his own hands and had to flee. But in the fullness of time God still used him to be a deliverer of the Jews. He had to wait to do it God's way.

In Christ,

-- Anonymous, November 03, 2003

Carmen -

Interestingly, Sarai was Abram's half-sister so depending on whether you need a legal definition of "sister", Sarai was not "passing" and Abram did not perjure himself. I disagree with you conclusion about Joseph and Moses. Ethnographic evidence during this time period points to Jews and Egyptians sharing many similar facial features. This is a by-product of both being Semitic peoples. I do not read in the Genesis or Exodus accounts where both men publicly announced their Jewish nationality when they were young men. If is highly unlikely that Joseph could have ascended to the top of the Egyptian hierarchy if his ethinic identity was publicly known. While Moses' "passing" did end after his homicidal encounter with an Egyptian, before that he could comfortably move in and out of Pharoah's court knowing his real "identity" was safe and secure. QED

-- Anonymous, November 03, 2003


You are absolutely right about her being Abraham's half sister. Perhaps I should have mentioned that, but she was also his wife, which is what was hidden. Being passed as an Egyptian and also not mentioning it was his wife, could have caused big problems for Pharoah. He had no idea is was about to lye down with another man's wife.

When they found Joseph in the well, they took him in as a slave. His identity was known. It was the hand of God that put him in a position of elevation. He was one who could interpret dreams. The king needed something and could have cared less about him being a Jew. You are so right about Moses, he went in and out as an Egyptian enjoying the royal treatment, which is how he was raised and what he believed himself to be. (Makes sense to me) But for some reason he identified himself one day with the Jews. Rather it was his heart that was touched as he saw their cruel treatment, or some type of ethnic characteristic, he identified himself with the Jews.

In Christ, Carmen

-- Anonymous, November 03, 2003

In response to Brother Bill and Rev. Paris' initial entries, the actual movie takes place during World War II. The young man in the movie, as stated before, is raised by two black parents, the father an optometerist and his mother, a nurse. He was scheduled to attend Howard University in pursuit of a medical degree. A Jewish boxing trainer suggests that he not mention he is black so that he can obtain a boxing scholarship. His parents tell him that with his grades and records he can attend Howard U without problem, so money is not an issue. Prior to this time, according to the movie, the young man never entertained the thought of passing. But he soon discovers not only the freedoms America allows him once he passes, but also the prison he sets himself in. It is quite intersting indeed. The dialogue between the mother and son once he informs her of his decision is truly interesting. I thought it a bit stilting in the movie, but it imparts with certain clarity his intention.

Regarding the biblical discussions, I never thought of passing being mentioned in the bible until your entries, particularly the story of Esther. According to the first chapter of Esther, King Ahasuerus reigned kingdoms from India to Ethiopia, so it does not appear to be a color issue, but more of an ethnic issue. The bible does not reference color bias.

I would like to point out an error in Ms. Buchanan's entry. Exodus 2:6 states that Pharoah's daughter clearly identifies Moses as a Hebrew. Moses' sister hiding in the bullrushes asks the Pharoah's daughter if she can fetch a Hebrew midwife, which she does, who turns out to be Moses' mother. Therefore, Moses was raised in an Egyptian household, but by a Hebrew mother. By being raised by a Hebrew mother he had some idea of the sufferings of his people, but he had all the advantages of an Egyptian upbringing. In addition, Moses could not have been wholely accepted by the Egyptians because once Pharoah found out he killed an Egyptian he sought to kill Moses (Ex:2:15).

The clearest case of not trying to pass and non-assimilation is the 3 Hebrews, Daniel, Hananiah and Mishael. During their captivity, they clung to God's way. In Daniel 3:23 and 24, the king says I cast 3 men in the furnace, but I see a 4th man and they are not hurt." (Somebody shout!!!!) Because they were faithful to God, not only they were blessed, but so was king Neuchadnezzar who was able to tell of the signs and wonders of the Most High God. (Shouting time again!)

God bless.

-- Anonymous, November 03, 2003

Mary opines -

"The clearest case of not trying to pass and non-assimilation is the 3 Hebrews, Daniel, Hananiah and Mishael. During their captivity, they clung to God's way. In Daniel 3:23 and 24, the king says I cast 3 men in the furnace, but I see a 4th man and they are not hurt." (Somebody shout!!!!) Because they were faithful to God, not only they were blessed, but so was king Neuchadnezzar who was able to tell of the signs and wonders of the Most High God. (Shouting time again!)"

I'm going to get my shout in but first I want to read that great passage from Daniel 3:23-25 from the KJV. According to the KJV the king observed that the 4th person looked like the Son of God(v.25). GLORY!!! HALLELUAH!!! Thank God for the non-assimilationists represented by the 3 Hebrew Boys in the fiery inferno. QED

-- Anonymous, November 03, 2003

Thank you Sister Brooks for bringing that back to my remembrance. Another proof of God's providence. His own mother did indeed raise him (though as a midwife). So he indeed knew who he was.

And I had to get a shout in too regarding the Hebrew Boys.

-- Anonymous, November 06, 2003

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