Good evening beautiful people,
I wanted to share with you a book I read a while ago as I began organizing and researching for Beyond The Colored Line.
As many of you know, I am preparing to release a short story soon that deals with the concept of passing: when a member of one ethnic group passes as a member of another ethnic group. Most notably, when an African American who appears European passes, or pretends, to belong to that race.
This has been a phenomenal experience exploring history, and I’ve had the opportunity to come across some decent reading material. One of the books I read is The House Behind The Cedars by Charles W. Chesnutt, who was, interestingly enough, light enough himself to pass and did on occasion. Chesnutt’s paternal Grandfather, Waddell Cade, was a white slaveholder, and his Grandmother, Ann Chesnutt, Cade’s mistress, was a free Black woman.
The book is about a brother and sister, John and Rena Walden, two African Americans, who decide to cross the colored line by pretending to be white to claim and maintain their portion of the American dream.
The book was first published in 1900 and revealed how deep self-hatred could be for a people lost to true identity. It shows the extent to which some are willing to go to keep secrets hidden and what they are willing t
o endure to be part of the American fabric to which they believe they are entitled.
It also showcases how the depth of childhood exposure and teachings play a part in one’s perception, not just of the world, but of one’s own self.
Without revealing too much, Chesnutt surpassed race in general and also included status. No one would choose to be poor or hungry, Black or white, and I find this is the basis on which many of my ancestors who did pass built their logic.
Still, what price is one willing to pay to live the American dream?
And is it the American Dream, real? Is it a real thing, or is it a perception?
2 thoughts on “The House Behind The Cedars”
The “paper bag test” mentioning Alpha Kappa Alpha isn’t accurate as the organization never had this test, the article never mentions the sorority, recants it the next publication and was actually published in 1929. source: https://dh.howard.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1073&context=hilltop_192430
I appreciate the feedback, though I didn’t mention Alpha Kappa Alpha in this article. I assume you meant to comment on that particular post.
Nevertheless, Historically Black Fraternities and Sororities (including Alpha Kappa Alpha) have a history of colorism, whether they utilized “the brown paper bag test” specifically or a different kind of system (there were several) to admit members.
Either way, the impact of colorism on Black American collegiate Greek letter organizations is not discussed enough but is very real.
For me, one of the best displays was Spike Lee’s movie School Daze, which exposes the issue of colorism among Blacks, specifically from a sorority perspective.