Shape Shifting into Blackness in the Post–Civil Rights Era

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



University of Nebraska Press


This chapter investigates how non-Black people engage with Blackness in the post–civil rights era. As Paul Spickard describes in chapter 1 of this volume, not all shape shifting is passing, and passing is a much more complicated phenomenon than previously acknowledged. Shape shifting better captures the plasticity of race and the impermanence of racial categories. How, then, do non- Blacks shape shift in order to take up political, intellectual, and cultural forms of Blackness that, in the past, have been the exclusive terrain of African Americans? The goal of this chapter is not to question who is really Black or what kinds of Black experiences are “authentic” Black experiences, as much of the previous passing literature has done. These are impossible questions to answer and do not move forward a project of racial justice. Instead, I outline how lived Black experiences of many sorts have become split apart from Black identities and the implications of that split for African American communities. I am not suggesting that all non- Black people who engage in political, intellectual, or cultural Blackness are mimicking Blackness or culturally appropriating Blackness in problematic ways. In fact, there are some ways in which more people taking on aspects of Blackness (like political or intellectual Blackness) might lead to better outcomes for the Black community at large.

Chapter of

Shape Shifters: Journeys across Terrains of Race and Identity

Part of

Borderlands and Transcultural Studies


Lily Anne Y. Welty Tamai
Ingrid Dineen-Wimberly
Paul Spickard