Gary Younge presents radio documentary on racial passing

On 6 May 2021, Gary Younge presented a new BBC Radio 4 documentary on racial passing, belonging and identity.

Gary Younge explores stories of racial passing through the prism of one of his favourite books, Passing, by Nella Larsen. The 1929 novella tells the story of two friends; both African-American though one 'passes' for white.

Passing is a term that originally referred to light-skinned African Americans who decided to live their lives as white people.

The civil rights activist Walter White claimed in 1947 that every year in America, 12000 black people disappeared this way. He knew from first-hand experience. The black president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had blonde hair and blue eyes which meant he was able to investigate lynching in the Deep South while passing in plain sight.

In a strictly segregated society, life on the other side of the colour line could be easier. But it came at a price.

Gary speaks with Bliss Broyard, who was raised in Connecticut in the mono-racial world of suburbs and private schools. Her racial identity was ensconced in the comfort of insular whiteness. Then in early adulthood Bliss' world was turned upside down. On her father's deathbed, she learned he was in fact a black man who had been passing as white for most of his life. How did this impact Bliss' identity and sense of self?

Gary hears three extraordinary personal accounts, each a journey towards understanding racial identity, and belonging. With Bliss Broyard, Anthony Ekundayo Lennon, Georgina Lawton and Professor Jennifer DeVere Brody.

Listen to the programme on the BBC website.

Share this release

Share on: Twitter
Share on: Facebook
Share on: LinkedIn