This essay was originally delivered as the keynote address at a conference on passing held at Vassar College in April of 2019. Titled “Quiet As It’s Kept: Passing Subjects, Contested Identities,” the conference was inspired by the legacy of Vassar’s first African American graduate, Anita Hemmings, who passed for white before being outed by her roommate shortly before graduation in 1897. DuCille maintains that the timeliness and importance of the conference theme are signaled by what both the media and the masses tout as the most diverse slate of candidates ever to vie for the office of president of the United States. Challenging the practical application of theoretical claims of race as a social construction, “Can’t You See I’m White?” explores the ways in which their racial and gender “difference” from the typical roster of white males seeking the presidency has made some of the candidates—most notably Senators Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts—the subjects of unprecedented debates about identity, biology, and culture. These debates, which raise questions not only about who gets to be black or brown or red but also who gets to be American, duCille claims, take on even greater significance in the time of Trump and the rise of white nationalism.

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