In her seminal Harlem Renaissance novel Passing, Nella Larsen chronicles the story of Clare Kendry, a biracial woman who decides to pass for white after her father’s death. Like some fair-skinned African Americans during the 19th and 20th centuries, Clare assumes a white identityto have greater social mobility, freedom, and economic access.

Her transition into white society was a success, but it came with steep consequences. Like many people of color who have passed for white, Kendry was forced to cut all ties with her past or risk being found out as black—a move that could have meant disaster, financial ruin, imprisonment, and in extreme circumstances, death.



As society has become more inclusive, passing for white is no longer commonplace among people of color, but the conversation is once again a hot topic after Rachel Dolezal, the president of the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the NAACP, was recently outed by her parents as being white.

Dolezal, who is also an adjunct professor of Africana Studies at Eastern Washington University and the chair of Spokane's Office of Police Ombudsman Commission, has allegedly been pretending to be black for more than a decade. In addition to tanning her skin, wearing ethnic hairstyles like braids and dreadlocks, and attending Howard University, a historically black college and university, Dolezal has also claimed she was the target of hate crimes because she was black, something Spokane police deny.

On Thursday, Dolezal’s parents said their daughter spent more than two decades “assimilating into the African-American community” and cut all ties with them because she “doesn’t want us visible in the Spokane area in her circle because we’re Caucasian.