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Anatole Broyard's "Passing:" Everybody Had Heard
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Philip Roth’s recent screed about his novel The Human Stain not have anything at all to do with his literary booster Anatole Broyard (1920-1990), whose passing from black to white Roth hadn’t heard about until first meeting him in 1958, inspired Paleo Retiree (formerly Michael Blowhard) at his new group blog Uncouth Reflections to recall that virtually everybody in New York’s arts & literature world gossipped about Broyard:

Many, many years ago, while Broyard was still in his prime, a book critic I knew told me that Broyard was black/Creole; another friend, who’d hung around the NYC lit-intellectual world in the ’50s and ’60s, confirmed it to me; and the black intellectual Albert Murray told me about it too. Murray told the tale with great amusement: he thought Broyard’s adventures were pretty funny. … 

Despite the big fuss at the time the info about Broyard’s blackness went public, I suspect that it had been an open secret in some fancy NYC circles for decades. I mean, even I knew about it. (Never met Broyard myself.) 

All of my sources told me that there were two reasons Broyard didn’t want to identify as black: 1) he didn’t want the racial thing to be a big issue in his life (it wasn’t a topic that interested him much), and 2) as a Creole, he genuinely didn’t think of himself as black. (My acquaintances all told me that Broyard was a successful ladies’ man too.) Needless to say, once Broyard died and the fact that he’d been black became more widely known, most commentators turned the discussion into one “about race” — something that struck me as wildly unfair given that Broyard wanted his life and his work to be about different subjects entirely.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Books, Race 
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  1. Elvisd says: • Website

    Of the creoles I've known, they just want to be called "people".

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  2. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    I grew up in New Orleans, so I can say this from firsthand experience: Louisiana Creoles consider themselves to be a separate race. They don't think of themselves as black, white, or mixed, they consider themselves Creole. I remember a Creole friend who was extremely offended by an episode of the TV show "Frank's Place" in which a Creole social club invited the black lead character to apply.

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  3. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    This is totally unrelated, but, maybe worth a post too, some time. Or maybe it already was?

    http://www.8asians.com/2012/07/20/asian-jewish-couple-publishes-research-on-asian-jewish-couples/

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  4. Dearieme says:

    Heretic.

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  5. Well I guess my advice would be not to die, because once you do you have no control over anything about yourself.

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  6. Huh. The brouhaha encouraged me to pick The Human Stain at the library. But it turned into just another old-men-reminiscing-about-their-lays borefest.

    Is this what passes for men's lit these days?

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  7. Yeah, pretty much.

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  8. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    I knew one Creole guy. Sometimes he identified as black, sometimes as Creole. (For the record, he looked like a white guy with a 'fro.)

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  9. Philip Roth is such a bore. It pains me to think we have (or had?) a literary culture that afforded his work any sort of notice.

    Uck.

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  10. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    This is totally unrelated, but, maybe worth a post too, some time. Or maybe it already was?

    http://www.8asians.com/2012/07/20/asian-jewish-couple-publishes-research-on-asian-jewish-couples/

    From the link comes this nugget about the kids of Asian/Jews.

    When Mark Zuckerberg got married, some Jewish American writers talked about “losing” him. Kim and Levitt’s data show otherwise. They found that almost all the children of the Jewish Asian couples were raised as Jews. For those of you who know the children of Jewish Asian couples – do you also find that to be true?

    I am sure the above will come in handy the next time whiskey says intermarriage is eliminating Jews.

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  11. (My acquaintances all told me that Broyard was a successful ladies’ man too.)

    Is the implication that it would have impeded his success as a ladies' man were he considered to be black? If so, how things have changed.

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  12. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    Philip Roth cemented his rep when people had to go to high art to get forbidden, sexy stories and images. Now popular culture of every kind is so sex-saturated Roth looks to modern eyes like a dated prude.

    Gloria

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  13. Average Joe says: • Website

    When Mark Zuckerberg got married, some Jewish American writers talked about “losing” him

    I think the writers meant that his children will not look like other Ashkenazi Jews regardless of how they are raised.

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  14. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    P.S. Broyard's daughter wrote a book about discovering her father's roots. She researched the family in New Orleans and was shocked and humiliated to discover that the colored Creole Broyard family owned slaves pre-WWII. Proof that they really were Creoles and that she knew nothing about Louisiana. As far as looks go, that young lady looked like a rather plain, smart white girl who would've fit in beautifully at Wellesley.

    Gloria

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  15. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    I am sure the above will come in handy the next time whiskey says intermarriage is eliminating Jews.

    First, Asian-Jewish intermarriages are a minority of Jewish intermarriages in the U.S. If the intermarriages with other groups lead to the progeny being raised in another religion, intermarriage isn't good for Judaism. The second issue is that it creates a schism within the Jewish community. Orthodox and Conservative Jews don't accept children of Jewish fathers and gentile mothers as Jewish, whereas Reform Judaism does under certain conditions. Of course, we all know that none of this matters to you WN's. In your view, anyone with even the tiniest quantum of Jewish ancestry is Jewish and shares the perspective of the hive mind, am I right?

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  16. Gringo says:

    Gloria
    P.S. Broyard's daughter wrote a book about discovering her father's roots. She researched the family in New Orleans and was shocked and humiliated to discover that the colored Creole Broyard family owned slaves pre-WWII. Proof that they really were Creoles and that she knew nothing about Louisiana.

    Bliss Boyard knew nothing about her father's Louisiana creole origins until several weeks before he died. So, she would be the first to admit that she knew nothing about Louisiana, until she started researching.

    Here is Bliss Boyard's reaction in her book One Drop about discovering some of her Creole ancestors owned slaves:

    That my white Louisiana ancestors had owned slaves wasn't surprising, but the fact that my black ancestors had also partaken in the “peculiar institution” astounded me. These weren't the noble tragic figures I'd been expecting to encounter. My claim to an authentic black identity felt more distant than ever.

    She also found out that her mother of Norwegian ancestry was 1/8 Indian, courtesy of ancestors who lived on the Minnesota frontier in the 19th century.

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  17. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    I remember a couple of years ago Philip Roth came out with a book called "The Plot Against America," and I thought, "Aha! One of them is finally going to admit it!"

    But it was just a lot of weird nonsense about Charles Lindbergh. Ho hum.

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  18. Gringo says:

    Anatole Broyard's "passing:" Everybody had heard

    In her book One Drop,about her father's hidden background, Bliss Boyard recounted meeting a black man who several decades earlier had done some manual labor at her parent's house in Fairfield County in CT. She asked him if he had known that her father was black. Oh yes, came the reply.

    She also mentioned his dancing. Her father did not dance like white bread.

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  19. Ogunsiron says: • Website

    Sorry if this is off topic :
    does anyone know of african-americans ( and their equivalents in other countries) who today are aiming to assimilate into the white majority and who don't hide it?
    I'd be interested in texts or documentaries about such people whether they already look white or are just regular blacks.
    I'd be interested in material on hardcore oreos in general.

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  20. Jazz great Charlie Parker identified Broyard as part black from across a public park. Blacks tend to be more acutely aware of racial morphological differences than whites are.

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  21. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    " Blacks tend to be more acutely aware of racial morphological differences than whites are."

    Does that mean they're right about Bob Barr?

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  22. Former Congressman Barr, the Libertarian candidate for President in 2008, looks a lot like Rev. Jeremiah Wright. I wonder if he kicks himself that if he'd only self-identified as black many years ago, he might have been the Republican nominee for President against Obama?

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  23. CJ says:

    She researched the family in New Orleans and was shocked and humiliated to discover that the colored Creole Broyard family owned slaves pre-WWII.

    Do you mean about 80 years pre-WWII?

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  24. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    Former Congressman Barr, the Libertarian candidate for President in 2008, looks a lot like Rev. Jeremiah Wright. I wonder if he kicks himself that if he'd only self-identified as black many years ago, he might have been the Republican nominee for President against Obama?

    House Republican Leader John Boehner may be passing as well. He is know for his deep "tan". I saw a TV report which interviewed his sister, a bar owner, and she looked clearly mixed race.

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  25. Gringo says:

    There were rumors that Warren Harding was mixed race. Coincidentally, four years ago I constructed a metric of work experience for US Senators who became President.

    The metric was: Vice President experience, US Cabinet experience, US House of Representatives experience, Governor experience, military experience.

    Barack Obama scored a 0 on that metric. The only other US Senator who became President who also scored a 0 was Warren Harding. But Harding had management experience, running a newspaper for over a decade.

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  26. Gringo says:

    The anonymous comment about Warren Harding was mine.

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  27. David says: • Website

    >John Boehner may be passing as well.<

    Maybe Obama's and Boehner's difficulties in working with each other are more than politics-deep.

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  28. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    "Blacks tend to be more acutely aware of racial morphological differences than whites are."

    Blacks are used to living, working, etc… around a lot of heavily mixed-race people that identify as black that they can easily identify "blood" when they see it. With most whites, it occurs so little by comparison, they don't acknowledge it as much, and when they do, it is usually a mixed-race person identifying as white.

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  29. Sunbeam says: • Website

    Philip Roth. Portnoy's Complaint.

    If I only had two options, being a drooling idiot, or a genius who had to be Portnoy…

    Well I'd grab a drill and lobotomize myself.

    Being smart wouldn't be worth it. Being rich wouldn't be worth it, I'd rather be a homeless hobo on the street.

    In it's own way that novel is as repulsive as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (for some reason the only movie I've ever seen that disturbed me).

    To me it's like that movie Slumdog Millionaire, or Precious. People actually live that way?

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  30. BB says:

    Neither Bob Barr or John Boehner look anything but white to me. Is there something fishy about their family lines that we should know?
    Anyway, I´ve always wondered how Broyard could get away with it, since he did look obviously like an octoroon. He kind of reminds me of part Guadeloupian French singer and composer Julien Clerc. Judging from his later pictures, Broyard looked "blacker" as he got older. His green eyes probably gave him the benefit of doubt.

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  31. Severn says:

    First, Asian-Jewish intermarriages are a minority of Jewish intermarriages in the U.S. If the intermarriages with other groups lead to the progeny being raised in another religion, intermarriage isn't good for Judaism. The second issue is that it creates a schism within the Jewish community. Orthodox and Conservative Jews don't accept children of Jewish fathers and gentile mothers as Jewish, whereas Reform Judaism does under certain conditions. Of course, we all know that none of this matters to you WN's. In your view, anyone with even the tiniest quantum of Jewish ancestry is Jewish and shares the perspective of the hive mind, am I right?

    Ha, ha. In the real world (as opposed to your fevered imagination) it is Jews who go to near-Nazi-like lengths to uncover the tiniest trace of Jewish ancestry, especially in famous or accomplished people.

    Check out the wikipedia entry on mathematician Georg Cantor for an example of this.

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  32. Sunbeam says: • Website

    Anonymous said:

    "House Republican Leader John Boehner may be passing as well. He is know for his deep "tan". I saw a TV report which interviewed his sister, a bar owner, and she looked clearly mixed race."

    Mixed race what? Is there some branch of the human race that is orange? The guy is strange looking, but it always seemed to me he was addicted to tan in a can or something. Or had some weird genetic disorder like those blue people in Kentucky.

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  33. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    Don't be stupid. In Obama's America, EVERYTHING is about race whether you want it to be or not. Broyard should be glad that he is dead.

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  34. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    Mixed race what? Is there some "branch of the human race that is orange? The guy is strange looking, but it always seemed to me he was addicted to tan in a can or something. Or had some weird genetic disorder like those blue people in Kentucky."

    I agree. His features are completely European. He does have a weird color. Tanning bed. Also don't see the "mix" in Bob Barr.

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  35. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    Steve, take a look at how hyper-aware Southern whites were of the slightest black admixture.

    These fair skinned, fair haired children were forced into a black family to separate them from whites:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/04/honoring-chm-one-drop/38952/

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  36. BB says:

    I meant to say:

    Both Bob Barr and John Boehner look totally white to me.
    I´ve traveled and lived all over Europe and I see nothing exotic about them.

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