\ˈpa:siŋ\To be accepted as or believed to be, or to represent oneself successfully as, a member of an ethnic or religious group other than one's own, esp. one having higher social status; spec. (of a person of black ancestry in a racially segregated society) to be accepted as white.

Some people pass every once in a while, some every day, but there’s nothing new about it. The United States has a long history of racial passing. The stories that we have about it, even now, often have high stakes: allowing the privilege of passing as white in order to avoid discrimination and violence. Most famously in the American literary canon, there is the 1929 novel Passing by Nella Larsen, a book which centers around mixed race characters who pass as white. Even the 2004 movie White Chicks tackles passing, albeit in an unorthodox way.

Passing as white in the United States allows for many advantages. Still, being a white person is not identical to being a person of color who experiences being perceived as white.

And there is no prerequisite criteria for passing. Yes, those who are mixed race can certainly pass, but monoracial individuals of color can, too. Those who are mixed race but are not of white descent can also pass. It varies –just like the stories of those who live that experience.

While we can recognize race rather quickly, we often do so incorrectly. In person, there is no way around first impressions. But as you listen to each student's story here, his or her photo will be withheld until the end of the interview. We hope this lets you focus on their words, and not their appearances.

Put on your headphones


If you liked this story, you might enjoy
Mixed Feelings
another thought-provoking story from NBN about mixed race students at Northwestern.

Or check out today's stories at

Note: Mande Younge has designed for the North by Northwestern print magazine in past quarters. She is not currently on the magazine's staff.