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A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life Hardcover – October 13, 2014

3.9 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

By investigating the binary lives of the so-called ghosts that exist in American history, Hobbs raises important questions and ideas about race relations and the ‘lost’ histories of African American communities. (Cicely Douglas Library Journal 2014-09-15)

In narrating the lives of Americans at the border of whiteness, Hobbs illuminates our understanding of our country’s tortured race history and of the injustices that drove people to make the ultimate migration―out of the tyranny of enslavement and the terrors of Jim Crow to the costly privilege of the larger white world. Their anguish, alienation, and constant fear of discovery are brilliantly and painfully rendered in this important book, and, through them, we see the arbitrariness of race and the origins of racial divisions that we live with to this day. (Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration)

With remarkable research and deep feeling for her subjects, Hobbs uncovers the stories of countless Americans of African descent who severed their family ties to pass into a world where they would be accorded the privileges of whites. At turns sad, inspiring, and provocative, the book raises important questions about the enduring power of race in American life. (Martha A. Sandweiss, author of Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line)

Hobbs provides fresh analysis of an oft-ignored phenomenon, and the result is as fascinating as it is innovative. She foregrounds the sense of loss that passing inflicted, and argues that many of those who were left behind were just as wounded and traumatized as those who departed. Those who passed may have had much to gain, but what were the hidden costs, the invisible scars of enforced patterns of subversion and suppression? She suggests that the core issue of passing is not what an individual becomes, but rather ‘losing what you pass away from.’ By turning safe assumptions inside out, Hobbs questions some of the longest-held ideas about racial identification within American society. (Catherine Clinton Times Higher Education 2014-10-30)

Passing, as Allyson Hobbs describes in this brilliant, fascinating new study, is itself as fluid, complex, and contradictory as our ideas of race. (Kate Tuttle Boston Globe 2014-11-02)

A book that is at once literary, cultural, archival and social, crossing the borders of various approaches to the study of history in order to create a collage of a fascinating yet elusive phenomenon. Intrigued by the story of a distant relative who crosses the color line, Hobbs has followed this interest to explore the practice of passing with detail and rigor. Her writing is elegant, bubbling with curiosity even as it is authoritative and revelatory. (Imani Perry San Francisco Chronicle 2014-11-06)

The book is an admirable effort to catalogue the myriad classifications of race in America, to develop a taxonomy of biases that endure even as the country’s complexion changes. (Joshua Cohen Harper’s 2014-12-01)

[An] incisive cultural history…[Hobbs] takes nothing at face value--least of all the idea that the person who is passing is actually and truly of one race or the other…[A] critically vigilant work. (Danzy Senna New York Times Book Review 2014-11-23)

About the Author

Allyson Hobbs is Assistant Professor of History at Stanford University.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 13, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067436810X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674368101
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #172,288 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author is brilliant. I can not believe how beautifully she explains such heartbreaking choices. I was expecting more of a Historical Fiction Novel and although surprised, I was not disappointed at all by the style of the author. If you are interested in heartbreaking facts of real people and the consequences of the choices they make, don't hesitate to read this book.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Very, very interesting book. The stories are fascinating; clearly Allyson Hobbs has done exhaustive research on the many stories chronicled in the book.

Hobbs does a wonderful job at presenting the impact of passing on the individual who passes and their family. For instance, many times, when a member of a Black family chooses to pass, often that person just disappears from their family - can't risk being found out as non-white...the lengths people go to in order to survive in a racist, bigoted society...shameful time in American history.

I also learned about facets of passing that never occurred to me. For instance, indentured servants (many who were White) whose passage to America was paid by an employer in exchange for years of work as a laborer. When these people were able to develop the diction, social graces, etc., they were able to pass as free, thus escaping the rule of their employer.

As much as I'm enjoying the stories, I'd like to see them told in a more concise manner; they are very wordy. I've read 60% of the book and plan to finish. If the stories weren't so interesting, I would have baled on this book a long time ago.
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Format: Hardcover
A great book. The first social history of passing, from the 19th century to the present. Easy to read and very moving, from start to finish.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a very interesting book if you enjoy history; particularly African American history. I don't agree with the few negative reviews posted. If you are looking for the author's reflections to be told in a soap opera-ish format (which I enjoy now and again depending on the topic), than this is not the book for you. If you are interested in learning about the pure history through the various accounts outlined in the book, then you'll enjoy the read as I did.Factually presented yet an easy read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I first heard of this book, I was really excited to read it, as the subject matter is especially interesting to me. However, I found the writing somewhat clunky and disjointed, which made it difficult for me to lose myself in the reading experience. Still, the information is historically significant and culturally relevant. I would recommend it for these reasons.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This has been an inside look at racial passing at various times in our country's history up until now. I knew it happened; for all I know there may have been some in my family who have done it. It's an eye opener for sure. I've been intrigued to read more about it but also to look into the other publications from her research.
This book does not discriminate but educates.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In a way, the book "A Chosen Exile" is a psychology book. It is a study of human behavior as to why people raised and living in one group or society would voluntarily choose to pass and live in another society. I found that author Allyson Hobbs writes in a very clear and concise writing style on this subject. There are many different reasons why people choose to pass. Before the civil war, bi-racial African Americans used passing as a way to escape the horrors of slavery to get to freedom. Later, this practice was used for better job opportunities, escape segregation, etc. As a reader. I found the people who choose to be completely cut off from their families to be a very devastating practice. I believe they and the families they left behind paid a very high emotional price. Another very good book on this subject is Nella Larson's novel titled "Passing".
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent book, I learned so much about American History and the cultural landscape of the United States from this book. The most valuable aspect for me was learning from the journals, archives, and historical records the author used to create this manuscript. Very well done.
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