The Consequences of Crossing the Color Line: Identity and Racial Passing in Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half

Magdalena Łapińska

University of Białystok, Poland

Magdalena Łapińska holds a PhD in Literature and works at the Faculty of Philology, University of Białystok. She has published articles on identity, memory, and affect in African American prose, as well as on the representation of racial issues in fantasy literature.


https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7686-3086



Abstract

The article explores the concept of identity and the notion of transgressing the color line in Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half. Racial passing, in which light-skinned African Americans lived their lives as white people, is a trope present in numerous African American novels, notably Nella Larsen’s Passing. Brit Bennett’s novel returns to the once-popular trope of transgressing the color line in the second half of the twentieth century in the United States. Although Bennett subverts the trope as no tragedy befalls those who cross the line of the racial divide, the novel presents how one’s race, circumstance, and choices shape not only one’s own identity but also how they impact the next generation. Through the return to the past, Bennett’s novel emphasizes the continued divide within American society. Based on the historical and cultural backdrop of the United States, as well as through the application of affect theory, the article explores to what degree one’s race, choices, experienced violence, and society’s stereotypes and prejudice impact how characters feel, behave, and define themselves. The focal point of the analysis is the exploration of two generations of women from one family and the examination of how differently their racial identities have been shaped.

Keywords:

identity, race, transgressions, African Americans, racial passing

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Published
2024-06-06


Łapińska, M. (2024) “The Consequences of Crossing the Color Line: Identity and Racial Passing in Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half”, Crossroads. A Journal of English Studies, (44), pp. 66–83. Available at: https://czasopisma.filologia.uwb.edu.pl/index.php/c/article/view/2256 (Accessed: 16 July 2024).

Magdalena Łapińska 
University of Białystok, Poland

Magdalena Łapińska holds a PhD in Literature and works at the Faculty of Philology, University of Białystok. She has published articles on identity, memory, and affect in African American prose, as well as on the representation of racial issues in fantasy literature.

https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7686-3086