“It Goes Both Ways”: Negotiating Passing, Identities of Liminality, and Everything In-Between
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This paper on “passing” was of a particularly personal nature to me. As a student at Goucher, I explored and was exposed to critical theories and experiences of race both inside the classroom and out. But as a non-black biracial person, I never understood where to situate myself in such conversations: I often inhabit both positions of “oppressor” and “oppressed” at once, or I oscillate back and forth between them. How can it be true that I have faced blatant racism and microaggressions most of my life, but at the same time there are contexts and situations in which I benefit from white privilege? When people first meet me, often they ask me some form of the question, “What are you?” and I’ve never really known how to answer. I have always identified as a person of color, as Indian, but a part of me often felt there was an element of hyperbole in making such a claim. Certainly, it would be just as much of a lie to identify as white. When I studied abroad in India, this feeling of being in-between, of hovering between two half-identities, was brought into even sharper relief. Strangers would approach me on the streets, confused about my Western appearance, my Punjabi features, my failure to speak perfect Hindi, my skin that was both too fair to be Indian and too dark to be white. I had never felt more in the middle—not one but not the other either. When I returned I knew this experience was something I wanted to pursue further through a sociological lens. After being privy to similar, almost parallel discussions amongst my queer and trans friends and classmates—conversations about benefitting from the privileges of one identity while simultaneously suffering from the oppressive trauma of being misidentified and misgendered—I decided to look at “passing” as a broad analytical framework rather than focusing on race passing specifically. Out of this idea came a group project (we conducted data as a team and pooled resources for a literature review but each did our own analysis and wrote our own paper) that explored the nuances of flip-flopping between identities, a series of experiences more complex than we ever could have imagined at the onset of out research.