the invisible line


from the Introduction:

. . . On a more intimate level, the stories of the Gibsons, Spencers, and Walls suggest a paradoxical relationship between tolerance and intolerance in American life.  The conventional understanding of racial passing as masquerade does not begin to approach the broad range of individuals’ experiences as they migrated from black to white.  They were not invariable forced to leave home and cover their tracks.  There were entirely different ways of becoming white.  Often Southern communities knew that certain of their members had ambiguous ancestry but still accepted them, even at times of great racial polarization and violence.  These communities repeatedly displayed a wealth of humanity and pragmatism with respect to race, but they remained committed to slavery, segregation, and white supremacy.  So did their newest members–for racial migrants, and for the communities who accepted them, one of the surest ways to deflect outside scrutiny was to hate black people.  White Southerners were amply capable of being tolerant in their daily lives but chose intolerance as a guiding ideology.


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