The Color of Fascism: Lawrence Dennis, Racial Passing, and the Rise of Right-Wing Extremism in the United States

By Gerald Horne | Go to book overview

Introduction

More Than Passing Strange

What Is Passing?

It is, according to one analyst, a “deception that enables a person to adopt specific roles or identities from which he or she would otherwise be barred by prevailing standards”; it “requires that a person be consciously engaged in concealment.” By this standard, Lawrence Dennis —whose mother was black—was “passing,” since according to U.S. standards, he should have been viewed as a “Negro.” I should add immediately that I do not view it as an offense or sin of any type that one chooses to escape persecution by “passing”—or by fleeing abroad or elsewhere for that matter. I say this not least since the definition of “race” is sufficiently tenuous that Dennis had as much claim to “whiteness” as any.

For definitions of “race” in the United States have been rather malleable over the years. In Ohio “racial” categories were ambiguous, at least until 1859, when the state decreed that anyone with discernible “colored” ancestry was to be deemed “colored.”1

A precondition for “passing,” it has been suggested, is a kind of “'social and geographical mobility'” particularly as it prevails in “environments such as cities” that “'provided anonymity to individuals, permitting them to resort to imaginative role-playing in their self-presentation.'” Cities are accustomed to diversity and the offbeat and oft times are too wrapped up in hustle and bustle to stop and ask, “is that fellow really 'white'?”2 Dennis, born in Atlanta, raised in Washington, D.C., and a long-term resident of the suburbs of New York and the liberally minded region surrounding the Berkshires, steered well-clear of small towns in the South where his authenticity was most likely to be challenged.

There was a similar flexibility among presumed antiracist stalwarts. William Lloyd Garrison, the abolitionist with the flaming tongue, begrudgingly accepted intermarriage between black and white but did not endorse it with enthusiasm, while Wendell Phillips was more embracing

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The Color of Fascism: Lawrence Dennis, Racial Passing, and the Rise of Right-Wing Extremism in the United States
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Introduction - More Than Passing Strange 1
  • 1: Passing Fancy? 17
  • 2: Passing Through 31
  • 3: Fascism 44
  • 4: The Face—of Fascism 59
  • 5: Fascism and Betrayal 71
  • 6: Approaching Disaster 85
  • 7: Framing a Guilty Man? 98
  • 8: Fascism on Trial 112
  • 9: A Trial on Trial 126
  • 10: After the Fall 140
  • 11: An Isolationist Isolated? 156
  • 12: Passing On 171
  • Notes 179
  • Index 209
  • About the Author 229
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