USC historian Natalia Molina is reframing how we think about race in America. Her new book is called “The Unspoken: A History of Racial Passing.” In an interview, Molina explains why.
Nathan Bomey: How did you come to the topic of racial passing?
Natalia Molina: I am the granddaughter of a Jamaican and grew up in Florida. I grew up knowing that some people didn’t look like everyone else and that some people, even if they were African-American at one point in history, weren’t African-American anymore.
We know that African-American culture and African-American society don’t have a lot of overt racism. But there is this idea that African-Americans are “passing” through many aspects of their culture, and that they’re being passed around throughout history. This idea that “blackness is going to pass” came from a book that my grandmother read, and which she passed on to me and her children: Martin Delany’s “Passing: An Interpretation of the Negro Problem in America.”
The idea that black people in America are passing through and being passed through and through, along with the idea that black people in America have no identity, no culture, and that black people are just pawns of history, that people were passing them around as slaves, that was something that really affected me a lot and affected my children a lot. That’s what drew me to write this book. I wanted to show why we have this kind of notion that “blackness is passing” through the American history.
Nathan Bomey: Are you saying that we have this idea because there were African-Americans who were slaves, that we have racist ideas that African-Americans are going to be slaves for a long time, which is not the case?
Natalia Molina: No, and even if they were slaves, they’re just pawns of history. They’re being passed along as slaves. And it wasn’t until the civil rights movement that we really began to understand the fact that black people were going to be slaves and that they’re just pawns of history.
I’m also saying that it has to do with the fact that African-Americans are just passing through, and they