Publisher/Date: Dafina, June 2008
We’ve all dealt, in some form or fashion, with the issue of being black, being a woman, and being gay – at times feeling as if you don’t really fit on any side, but having to stay true to both aspects of yourself. In PASSING FOR BLACK, the first foray into fiction by renowned journalist Linda Villarosa, this entanglement is experienced by Angela Wright, a buppie struggling with both her sexual and racial identities.
By outside appearances, Angela’s life is seamless in her middle-class world, where she’s an editor at Désire magazine, engaged to a history professor at a prominent university and mingles with a Black elite inner circle. Yet it’s simply a facade. Angela has never felt secure with herself, and “passing” is simply her coping mechanism to deal with never feeling “black enough.” With her mother, Janice, considered a local heroine in the black female community, she always felt tragically compelled to live up to her mother’s roots. And at 29, she should be ready to be married after a six-year relationship with Keith, but something always holds her back. Namely, her attraction to women, a temptation she forbade herself from having for so many years.
But it’s one she can’t resist with Cait Getty, one of Keith’s colleagues at Amsterdam University. After spying the woman hanging posters for a lesbian sex conference, all pretenses of a white picket fence life fade away. Instead, she finds herself drawn to the androgynous vibe of this white woman, an activist whose fervor for women’s issues is only matched by her passion for Angela. With sandy brown hair, boyish good looks and British accent, Cait is nothing Angela expected to be infatuated with. In fact, she’s everything opposite of what her family and friends would see her with.
It leaves Angela, who’s normally indecisive and non-confrontational, torn as to whom she should be with. Her head tells her to do the right thing and stay with her “good black man,” while her heart demands she face her fears and be with the one person who makes her feel true to herself. It’s a hard decision, with consequences that will manage to hurt anyone involved.
And while Angela’s living an illusion, others in her life are also passing. Cait focuses so much lesbian rights that she ignores the plight of anyone else that doesn’t fit in her box. Keith feigns a “good Negro” veneer to his white superiors while alienating his own people. Even her best friend, Mae, learns to leave her Southern roots behind to be accepted in the workplace.
Yet Angela is the center of this provocative tale. When Angela decides her future much later, she satisfies her craving to be true to herself, and passing just isn’t good enough anymore. Because of Cait, everything she never thought she wanted turns out to be everything she needs.
Passing for Black makes for a challenging read. Villarosa tackles the subject of racial and sexual identity with class and a sense of humor. It’s down-to-earth enough for the casual reader, and speak to any black lesbian feeling out of step with their two worlds. Passing conveys that every woman’s journey to herself is never easy, but one she shouldn’t spend passing by.
Reviewed August 2008