“This year’s election season is “the battle of the racial passers.” While many have fixated on the authenticity of a multiracial President Obama and a Latino Mitt Romney, questions of racial identity and passing have taken center stage in the Massachusetts Senate race between GOP incumbent Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren as well.
To put it bluntly, Brown is accusing Warren of “passing,” or representing herself as a member of a different racial group than the one to which she belongs. These accusations are to be expected, as I wrote in my new book, Clearly Invisible: Racial Passing and the Color of Cultural Identity, which deals with how people from all walks of life reconcile who they are with who society tells them to be in a society where racial definitions are constantly changing.
When the votes are counted this November, Warren’s racial identity will be less significant than the fact that questions about her identity persist as means of disqualification. Such questions demonstrate the ongoing problems of racial identification in the twenty-first century.
But, if we’re willing to get past the noise and listen to Warren, we may also find some answers. Answers to questions like: What are you? Who is most qualified to respond? What evidence can be considered? Warren’s identity also provides a new answer to the old question about the definition of race. Is race real? Is it biological? Is it sociological? For Warren the answer is complicated. Race is clearly invisible — a fact of life that may also be, to some degree, a fiction.”
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