The Philosophy of Passing


The story of Rachel Dolezal’s outing as a white woman (insert whatever scare quotes you think appropriate there) is being widely discussed all over the place, including, now, the philosophy blogosphere. I’ll be putting up a post comprised of contributions from several philosophers here by the end of the weekend, but in the meanwhile, Daniel Silvermint (Connecticut) has a guest post on the subject—particularly on the idea of “passing”—over at Feminist Philosophers. An excerpt:

A lot of weight is being placed on what are purported to be her high school photos, which show a young woman with lighter-seeming skin. Using these photos to draw the conclusion that she is “actually white” is social construction in action. When we think a member of group x is actually a member of group y based on how they look, dress, act, sound, spend, associate, etc., or because they appear in social spaces where we normally expect members of y to appear, then we’re often doing more to maintain and reinforce social reality than we’re doing to meaningfully track it. Identity is messy and complicated. For almost any given group, its members run the gamut in terms of appearance, personality, and expression, but when we see borderline or ambiguous individuals as members of one group rather than another, this serves to fix the boundaries of both…

Much more here.

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