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Passing: When People Can't Be Who They Are Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (September 16, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1891620991
  • ISBN-13: 978-1891620997
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,063,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Biographer Kroeger, whose lives of reporter Nellie Bly (1994) and novelist Fannie Hurst (1999) were well received, now extends Hurst's Imitation of Life subplot on "passing" into luminous sociological research. Passing-the search to be what you're not-has gotten a bad reputation over the years, and Kroeger's aim is to challenge readers' assumptions regarding this still-taboo topic. To this end she assembles six profiles of young contemporary Americans, mixing extensive interviews with expert comment from psychologists and ethicists, with reference to such tragic tales of "passing" as that of Brandon Teena, the drifter whose murder became the basis for the film Boys Don't Cry. Among Kroeger's portraits: a half-Jewish man suppresses the black heritage of his father; a Puerto Rican student becomes an Orthodox Jew; a gay man denies his growing homosexuality to obtain a rabbinical certification, while a career navy officer hides in the closet unwilling in the age of "Don't ask, don't tell" either to ask or tell. Some of the stories are genuinely moving, some amusing, and Kroeger explicates the dilemmas with a fine understanding of the difficulties of modern life. A male rock critic with a female-sounding pseudonym lies to his cross-country editors about his gender, then gets to keep his job anyhow, as all involved come to realize the extent to which everyone "passes" in one way or another. Kroeger skillfully musters scholarly and theoretical sources to support her speculations on identity and authenticity, and even casts an eye back to the original Passing, Nella Larsen's 1929 Harlem Renaissance masterpiece. "Who says I am obliged," asks Kroeger, "to be what you think I am? Or what I think you think I am? Or even what I think I am but sincerely wish I weren't?" Kroeger's study is quirky and provocative, and doesn't settle for answers where none can be found.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The term passing is most often thought of as racial minorities passing for white to receive the privileges denied them due to race. But Kroeger plumbs the varieties and complexities of passing across racial, sexual, and economic lines. She offers profiles of a black man who passed for a white Jew; a working-class Puerto Rican woman who became an Orthodox Jew and passed for privileged; a gay man at a conservative Jewish seminary passing for straight; a lesbian naval officer who passed for straight; and a respected poet who, on a lark, adopts a difference persona and ends up writing pseudonymously about the rock-and-roll music scene. Kroeger intersperses these profiles with references in history, literature, psychology, and contemporary culture that explore the dynamics of passing--the lies and deception involved as well as the separation from community and family. She also explores the parallels between civil disobedience and passing, which, although it is a self-centered act, allows the passer to secure opportunities in the present rather than waiting for social change. An engaging look at how certain people choose to deal with social inequities. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

I'm a journalist, author of four books and professor of journalism at New York University. My website has full details at And don't miss the amazing undercover reporting database at

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Cathy Goodwin TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I gave Passing four stars, because of the high quality of the author's writing -- no surprise, she's a journalist -- and because the topic has rarely been explored.
Passing recounts stories of individuals who chose to present themselves to others in a way that can best be described as "problematic." David, for instance, has an African-American father and a white, Jewish mother. Until his mid-twenties, David presented himself to others as a white Jew.
A gay woman presented herself as straight while serving in the Navy, and a gay man presented himself as straight while studying to be a Conservative rabbi. A Hispanic woman converted to Orthodox Judaism but had trouble getting accepted by the Jewish community. A white woman unexpectedly was mistaken for African-American and she wasn't sure how to clarify the confusion. A young male poet wrote under a female pseudonym.
Kroeger focuses on philosophical and ethical aspects of passing, rather than the psychological. She accepts the right of others to judge and at times she seems to be judging her own subjects.
On page 32, for instance, Kroeger states directly that identity is "not a matter of choice." On page 33, the author suggests, "We migh see" David's actions as those a "young black man willfully engaged in an insult to his black heritage." Or, says the author, we might be "amused" by his "tenuous Jewish connection."
First, if David feels closer to his Jewish friends than his "black heritage," who are we to judge? Was he insulting his heritage or just being a friend-seeking adolescent?
And David's Jewish connection is hardly tenuous.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Arlen N. Weinstein on October 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Kroeger has written a piece that allows us to witness deception as a virtue in certain circumstances. When the zeitgeist tyrannizes isn't the most virtuous path subversion? In many of these cases, that is the conclusion to which the "passer" comes.
It is a book where "sophisticated" and "page turner" belong in the same sentence. Read it!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on February 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
It may surprise readers to learn that many Americans today still 'pass: black for white, and in new ways. Passing is viewed as negative, but Brooke Kroeger's Passing reveals the underlying reasons why people pass for other than what they are, using the lives of six present-day 'passers' to reveal these motives and experiences.
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By mary thompson on October 3, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I choose this rating because of the quality of the book and the content of the book.Would share with others.
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By Jessica Pettitt on April 28, 2013
Format: Paperback

The concept of Passing describes when one is perceived by others as something they aren't. Sometimes this is by choice - sometimes it isn't. Sometimes this is positive - sometimes it isn't. I first heard the concept when describing "light skinned" blacks navigating the white world successfully as whites perceived them to be white and not black. This often led to rejection from the home black communities and a fear of being "found out" in the white community.

I then heard the term used within the trans community as a marker of success -- when a person can "pass" as the gender of which they identify as compared to that which they were labeled at birth. This means that biological or cisgender women view another woman without question or threat even if that woman was born and labeled male. Or a trans man, born female now living as a man, can stealthily navigate a male space without question, doubt or suspicion from the other men in the space. If a trans person is transitioning physically through hormones and/or surgery - when they pass as the "other" gender their transition process is complete.

A past book review for this blog, After Long Silence, is the story of young Jewish woman passing as Catholic Italians to escape WWII in Germany. This story is written by the daughter who has passed as straight and longs to come out as a lesbian to her family.

Kroeger does as excellent job in Passing, of recounting personal stories from a number of people in various situations where passing is something that must be done for survival or the achievement of personal happiness. Excellently researched and written in a manner where the people interviewed don't get lost in the author's words, Passing is an incredible read for all.
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