Vintage Pulp Mar 18 2020
INCOMPLETE PASS
Mixed race woman finds herself in a cultural grey area.


You sometimes hear the term “mixed race,” but as far as black and white in America goes, in practice there isn't any such thing. In the past, half black was termed “mulatto,” a quarter black was “quadroon,” and one eighth black was “octoroon.” The fact that white America invented these terms shows you that whites were obsessed with knowing at all times exactly what the ratio was of cocoa to milk. And in reality, of course, all those people with their various shades were fully black in terms of day-to-day treatment. The same is true in 2020, without the demeaning terminology. Government forms may have a box for mixed race or n/a, but in the real world a person who appears to be even a little black is still treated fully black.

I Passed for White, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1960, deals with this cultural truth. It was based upon a novel by Reba Lee, as told to Mary Hastings Bradley, and stars Sonya Wilde, a white actress. Her mere casting says more than the script can, but even so, this is an interesting little b-movie. Not good, exactly, but certainly watchable. Wilde plays Bernice Lee, a beautiful young woman who'd be happy to be either white or black but can't stand being something in between. Tired of all the unpleasantness and uncertainty, she decides to take the solution available to her and become white, renaming herself Lila Brownell. Respect, career, and romance quickly follow.

The question soon arises for Bernice/Lila of whether she can pretend to be something she's not, whether she can disown her black family, whether she can live in peace when there's the constant fear of discovery, whether she can be to witness racism and, like most of white America, ignore it or pretend it doesn't exist, and whether she can explain to her white husband why she dances so well. It's not possible to explore all this to great depth in ninety-three minutes, but the film doesn't have to because all these questions are familiar to viewers. As we've noted before, science has trash-binned the concept of race because it doesn't exist biologically. I Passed for White is more than sixty years old, yet is still a reminder that, culturally, the day when race doesn't exist is a long, long way off.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 07
1922—Teapot Dome Scandal Begins
In the U.S., Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall leases the Teapot Dome petroleum reserves in Wyoming to an oil company. When Fall's standard of living suddenly improves, it becomes clear he has accepted bribes in exchange for the lease. The subsequent investigation leads to his imprisonment, making him the first member of a presidential cabinet to serve jail time.
April 06
1930—Gandhi Leads Satyagraha March
In India, Mahatma Gandhi raises a lump of mud and salt and declares, "With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire." His words, which were a protest against the British salt tax, mark the beginning of the Satyagraha March, which in turn triggers the wider Civil Disobedience Movement that ultimately culminates in Indian independence.
April 05
1955—Churchill Resigns
Winston Churchill resigns as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom amid indications of failing health. He had suffered a mild stroke during the summer of 1949, and another, more severe stroke, in June 1953. News of these events were kept from the public and from Parliament, who were told that Churchill was suffering from exhaustion. After his retirement he suffered yet another stroke in February 1956, but survived for nine more years before finally dying of a fourth stroke in 1965.
1976—Howard Hughes Dies
Eccentric American billionaire Howard Hughes, one of the world's richest men, and a former movie magnate and aviation pioneer, dies on an airplane en route from Mexico to Texas. After years of self neglect, he is almost unrecognisable and fingerprints are used to identify his body. In addition, he is determined to have died without a will, meaning twenty-two cousins inherit his fortune.
2005—Rainier III Dies
Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, whose 50-plus year reign made him one of the longest ruling monarchs of the 20th century, dies of heart and kidney conditions after more than a year of progressively worse health. Rainier is probably best known outside Europe for marrying American actress Grace Kelly, and he was buried in Monaco next to her, twenty-three years after she had perished in a car accident.
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