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They write: We find that biracial people pass as black for several reasons. Khanna and Johnson also found that their interviewees, who had an average age of 24, lived in the Atlanta area and were primarily from middle- and upper middle–class families, having grown up in “predominantly white settings,” tended to manipulate their racial identities aggressively. The researchers argue that it does, because it involves a concerted effort to reveal one portion of ancestry while concealing and rejecting another.

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They also aligned themselves with cultural markers like clothing, language and food that were blacker, and rejected others that were perceived to be symbols of whiteness. One essential element of passing involves deception.

The authors write: While Anthony and Denise highlight black cultural symbols (via clothing and language) to manage their black identities, Stephanie managed her black identity in school by distancing herself from cultural symbols of whiteness: “[I attended] an all black school and so all my friends were black then. In order to pass, a person has to self-identify differently than his or her public presentation.

As Olivia, 45, explained during her interview with the researchers: My father has sixteen brothers and sisters and … I mean it’s easier if you can go to any movie theater you want. [A] few of my aunts told me about a place they used to go to and eat all the time that was “whites only” … they did it because they wanted to show how stupid [segregation] was. People passing for white broke all ties with family and friends, and left their communities — a sacrifice deemed necessary to get jobs and education that were not available to members of the black community. Nor are they compelled to deny their racial ancestry in order to succeed — at least less so now than in the past. I felt like I had to stress to people that I was black … I hate this white music.” Black identity extended to dating choices and organized socializing — many of the women interviewed reported dating dark-skinned black men and joining exclusively African-American organizations like the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) or Jack and Jill of America. (More on Time.com: The Authentic Self: How Do You Know If You’re ‘Really’ Racist or Sexist?

(More on Time.com: They All Look the Same: How Racism Works Neurologically) Yet passing may still be widespread in an era that, for the most part and at least institutionally, embraces multiethnic identities. The researchers found that the motivations for passing are very different today. With generations of interracial mixing between blacks and whites and the broad definition of blackness as defined by the one-drop rule, Khanna (2010) argues that most Americans cannot tell the difference between biracial and black. Further, we find that biracial respondents pass as black for additional reasons — to fit in with black peers in adolescence (especially since many claim that whites reject them), to avoid a white stigmatized identity, and, in the post–civil rights era of affirmative action, to obtain advantages and opportunities sometimes available to them if they are black (e.g., educational and employment opportunities, college financial aid/scholarships). “I can’t imagine a life where I wasn’t part of Jack and Jill and I wasn’t in AKA … ) The question is whether strongly identifying with a racial minority really qualifies as passing.

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