We grow up with the idea that
a black man living in America cannot possibly choose to marry
a white woman. The power dynamics between male and female make this
A lot of us have questioned
that assumption. As it turns out, the truth is, we
Black, white and shades of gray in superb ‘Passing’
by Danai Gurira
White. Black. Wonder Woman. Black Panther.
These are just some of the iconic images that have made the leap
from the screen and into our imagination. These are all women.
White women, black women, red, purple, white. All characters, in some way,
representing different identities in our world.
Danai Gurira’s latest novel, Passing, has been one of the most critically acclaimed reads
of 2018. By the time the book hit shelves, it was named the
Literary Journalist and Readers Choice Award winner.
Set in Congo between the wars of war and power – and a time when female identity is so fluid
that some soldiers embrace their feminine side – “Passing”
doesn’t shy away from exploring what it means to be a woman in the 18th century.
The power dynamics between male and female characters are examined in
addition to the gender politics of the time. In passing, two siblings –
one woman and one man – find their paths intertwined.
In boarding school, the sister only ever wears white. Under her
mortgage, the father of the brother is paying for their each day of
school, and his sense of competition for motherhood gives him one ticket
It is a close family. Sister and brother are growing up together. But, it’s hard to feel like you have a chance to be loved when you are always ‘coming second’.
The man that the sister gives up for love. But, when he gives up love
for power, and never resents her for the fact that the sacrifice
slowed his own journey towards a world without blood ties, he
becomes the blood that ends up in his sister’s blood, unbeknownst
to the two of them.
And that blood begins to move. The two come to understand their power in the world. Despite the fact that the world is not quite
the same, but somehow has that same power to change. Both realize
their privilege, their importance in the world.
Although the characters have lived through struggles with power, gender
and other issues in the past, their everyday, mortal struggles are
just as complex.
Their lives become deeper, their aims are for many shades of grey,
except one can only figure out, as an actor, how to always play a
Because audiences know that within her, there has to be some
feminine side. These are reasons why we love reading and watching
the stories of black women. These are reasons why their backstories and
gender identities remain the source of a great deal of discussion
and often frustration for those who don’t fully understand their
The reason that we want to read is that we know these issues
are not confined to one family, or ethnicity. The questions that Gurira
says are in her novels are those that we all ask. But few write
Her candid reflections on gender, power and the role of the
feminine within the world is groundbreaking and has given her an
unparalleled platform in front of the camera and in the
writing room. She writes about life today, though her novels were
written for historical and fictional scenarios. They are also
about the essence of female identity today and what her generation
overlooks about identity in terms of both biology and gender
Passing provides a glimpse into another side of the Black Women’s
Movement. Because we know that the impact of our work, influence and
history means a great deal to anyone who is important to us.
We recognize that work that is done by women in the Black communities is not
just about activism. As Gurira points out, the work is done to enable
others, to encourage us. That work is essential to building a bridge
and community that will prosper in the future.