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Crosscurrents

The gains and losses of racial "code switching"

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Stanford Professor Allyson Hobbs' latest book, 'A Chosen Exile.'

On today’s episode of “Crosscurrents,” we are talking about identity. We have heard how people, whether intentionally or not, can “pass” as another race, just by the sound of their voice. Passing can also be a full-time, physical endeavor. The United States has a long history of African Americans who chose to live as white in their daily lives. 

Stanford Professor Allyson Hobbs recently released a book covering this history, called A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life. Hobbs recently visited KALW, and I asked her to explain when and why this form of "code switching" was preferred.

ALLYSON HOBBS: Particularly during the Jim Crow era, which was the era of legalized segregation, there were many advantages to passing as white. ... To pass as white meant to get a better job, it meant to live in a better neighborhood, being treated with much more respect and dignity than African Americans were often treated.

Click the player above to listen to the full interview.

You can also watch a video of Hobbs' TEDx Talk she presented last year on the topic of "racial passing."

This piece first aired on 01/27/2015.

Hana Baba is host of Crosscurrents, KALW's weeknight newsmagazine that broadcasts on KALW Public Radio in the San Francisco Bay Area.