No, with Passing
, Larsen did something much more powerful. The reactions on Twitter — including complaints about our “cultural fixation”
with white-passing people, since in Larsen’s novel, questioning the fixation is the point — only solidified the power of this nearly century-old book. Instead of ruminating on the consequences of passing, Larsen used passing to pull the cloak off the concept of race itself. We, as the readers, are in on the absurdity and performance of it all. When Clare’s racist husband declares there will be “no n*gg*rs in his family,” the room of white-passing women he’s surrounded by fight to stifle their laughter. If the movie does Larsen’s novel justice, which is still to be seen, this debate over whether two light-skinned Black actresses could pass as white will seem as irrational as race pseudoscience. In the book, we witness how these two characters both perform and lie to themselves about race, for survival or love or money or fear. Doing Larsen’s novel justice would also mean questioning the concept of race itself.