Racial Identity Choice and its Consequences: A Study on Elizabeth Alexander’s Race


Race, as people understand it, is something that you were born with. One was born with specific physical features that by social construction, define one’s race. What if a person was born with physical features that enable him to choose whether to embrace the race defined by blood or the one defined by social construction? And are there any consequences of the choices made? This research studies the choice made by mulatto to pass as white and the consequences following the decision. The focus of the study is a poem written by Elizabeth Alexander entitled Race (2001). To answer the abovementioned questions, the poem is analyzed using a new historical approach. The approach enables the researcher to understand the historical background of and the author’s perspective on racial passing depicted in the poem and its relation to the reality of racial passing in American society. The results show that there are external and internal factors that make it possible for an individual to pass as a member of a different race from what he was. The external factors include the biological taxonomy that identifies him as belonging to a dominant race and the social construction that classifies people based on their physical features. The internal factor is the passer’s belief that by assuming a new racial identity, he will be able to lead a better life and be relieved from the oppression of the dominant race. Despite the privilege and opportunity that the new racial status can offer, racial passing can also bring some disadvantages such as the loss of the sense of belonging to the old racial identity, the feeling of insecurity, and the possibility of being disowned by one’s family.

Keywords: racial passing, mulatto, biological taxonomy, Race, Elizabeth Alexander

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