Bodies/texts: passing and writing in <i>The White Boy Shuffle</i> and <i>The Human Stain</i>

Sinéad Moynihan

in Passing into the Present

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print September 2010 | ISBN: 9780719082290
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781702727 | DOI:
Bodies/texts: passing and writing in The White Boy Shuffle and The Human Stain

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In her famous defence of Bill Clinton, Toni Morrison articulated succinctly the question with which all standard racial passing narratives wrestle: if blackness is not physically manifest, then what is it? A form of behaviour? A state of mind? A set of cultural affiliations? Conversely, if blackness is physically apparent but the behaviour/state of mind/cultural affiliations do not accompany this, is the subject still ‘black’? This chapter analyses Paul Beatty's The White Boy Shuffle (1996) and Philip Roth's The Human Stain (2000), neither of which fits easily within the ‘standard racial pass’ (black-to-white) and ‘reverse racial pass’ (white-to-black) schema that Phillip Brian Harper elucidates: the first, because it features an African American protagonist who passes to become black(er); the second, because it foregrounds black-for-Jewish passing. Both Gunnar Kaufman from The White Boy Shuffle and Coleman Silk from The Human Stain grapple with the weight of their genealogy and ancestors. Both rely on their bodies as a key site of self-definition through their commitment to their respective sports (basketball; boxing). Both are, moreover, committed writers.

Keywords: passing; Bill Clinton; Toni Morrison; blackness; Paul Beatty; White Boy Shuffle; Philip Roth; Human Stain; ancestors; genealogy

Chapter.  13605 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)

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