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.
July 26
1945—Churchill Given the Sack
In spite of admiring Winston Churchill as a great wartime leader, Britons elect Clement Attlee the nation's new prime minister in a sweeping victory for the Labour Party over the Conservatives.
1952—Evita Peron Dies
Eva Duarte de Peron, aka Evita, wife of the president of the Argentine Republic, dies from cancer at age 33. Evita had brought the working classes into a position of political power never witnessed before, but was hated by the nation's powerful military class. She is lain to rest in Milan, Italy in a secret grave under a nun's name, but is eventually returned to Argentina for reburial beside her husband in 1974.
July 25
1943—Mussolini Calls It Quits
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini steps down as head of the armed forces and the government. It soon becomes clear that Il Duce did not relinquish power voluntarily, but was forced to resign after former Fascist colleagues turned against him. He is later installed by Germany as leader of the Italian Social Republic in the north of the country, but is killed by partisans in 1945.
July 24
1915—Ship Capsizes on Lake Michigan
During an outing arranged by Western Electric Co. for its employees and their families, the passenger ship Eastland capsizes in Lake Michigan due to unequal weight distribution. 844 people die, including all the members of 22 different families.
1980—Peter Sellers Dies
British movie star Peter Sellers, whose roles in Dr. Strangelove, Being There and the Pink Panther films established him as the greatest comedic actor of his generation, dies of a heart attack at age fifty-four.
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