Commentators have suggested that Nella Larsen's Passing rejects the view that there is some sort of black essence. This article challenges this reading. Since Irene is the most vocal advocate of an essence in respect to which all blacks are homogenous, much of the evidence for thinking that Passing is skeptical about such an essence amounts to evidence for not trusting Irene's judgment in general, and for not trusting her judgment on this matter in particular. My arguments, then, will often involve explaining why Passing is not leading the reader to mistrust Irene's judgment on this matter. Now, what exactly is meant by a black essence is, explicitly in this book, mysterious. Nevertheless, this article intends to shed some light on how Passing understands the nature of this something, this je ne sais quoi, peculiar to blacks. My tentative interpretation is that this something is an intangible and indefinite manner of being that is neither a conscious choice nor an inborn fact of biology, but rather a given of culture. This article takes this, in effect, blackness manner to be, so Passing seems to indicate, a function of one's belief that one is black in a milieu of pervasive anti-black prejudice. Passing thus has something to offer those today who struggle to adjudicate between a pull towards essentialism and a pull towards constructionism. What Passing emphasizes in this discussion is the possibility that, in addition to biological and societal influences, one's mind state is a crucial ingredient to one's racial identity.

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