Daily Archives: November 12, 2013

Passing Strange

Staying on board the “Cotton Blossom” is no easy task. Just ask THIS dude.

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Anatole Paul Broyard (July 16, 1920 – October 11, 1990) was an American writer, literary critic and editor for The New York Times. In addition to his many reviews and columns, he published short stories, essays and two books during his lifetime. His autobiographical works, Intoxicated by My Illness (1992) and Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir (1993), were published after his death.
After his death, Broyard became the center of controversy and discussions related to how he had chosen to live as an adult in New York. A Louisiana Creole of mixed race, he was criticized by some blacks for “passing” as white as an adult and failing to acknowledge his African-American ancestry. Multiracial advocates though have cited Broyard as an example of someone forging their own racial identity long before it was acceptable in mainstream America.
In 1996, six years after Broyard’s death, Henry Louis Gates criticized Broyard for concealing his African-American ancestry in a profile entitled “White Like Me” in The New Yorker. He expanded on this in “The Passing of Anatole Broyard”, an essay published the next year in his Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man (1997). Gates felt that Broyard had deceived friends and family by “passing” as white, but also understood his literary ambition. He wrote,
“When those of mixed ancestry—and the majority of blacks are of mixed ancestry— disappear into the white majority, they are traditionally accused of running from their “blackness.” Yet why isn’t the alternative a matter of running to their “whiteness”?”
(In his mini-series, African American Lives 2 (2008), Gates learned by DNA analysis and genealogical studies that he himself was more than half white by ancestry.)

So there! None of us are “pure”

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But neither the President nor I could possibly “pull a Broyard”

In 2007, Broyard’s daughter Bliss published a memoir, One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life: A Story of Race and Family Secrets. (The title related to the “one-drop rule” adopted into law in some Southern states that classified people with any black ancestry as black.) It was about her psychological and physical journeys of exploring her father’s family in New York, New Orleans and the West Coast, and their meaning for her own identity and life.

Broyard had quite a life. Among his dalliances — singer Beverly Kenney

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Novelist William Gaddis, who was onto him

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wrote about Broyard a clef in his first masterpiece The Recognitions

But today we have a far more mundane “Miscegenation Case” at hand.

Cue William Warfield and Ava Gardner.