Go White, Young Man
Reviewed: DANIEL J. SHARFSTEIN, THE INVISIBLE LINE: THREE AMERICAN FAMILIES AND THE SECRET JOURNEY FROM BLACK TO WHITE (Penguin Press, 2011).
Sharfstein’s book follows three families whose members at some point crossed the color line separating black from white—or tried and failed to. These case studies tell us what it is to be American—how race is central to our identity, how we use race to take down opponents or to exclude—and how the line separating black and white is sometimes porous. However, is not the story of race and American legal history about the ways that race is defined by law and by norms? Race mattered because people policed the line separating blacks and whites. That many states classified people with a small percentage of African ancestry as white suggests that it was possible to move across the color line. Still, the cases where the color line was policed, rather than crossed, are significant.