Day 22 – Passing Privilege

Passing is classified as a member of one racial group being accepted as a member of a different racial group and usually applies to a person of color or multiracial ancestry.  Think Nicole Richie, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Soledad O’Brien, or Rachel Dolezal.  Okay, maybe not that last one but you get the picture.

Welcome to Day 22!

This story I came across about how the  Johnston family was able to live a lie for many years certainly isn’t new , but it gained national attention once the details came out in a lightly fictionalized movie called “Lost Boundaries”.  It highlighted the act of passing and showed how some people, especially of mixed backgrounds are literally able to pick and choose what race they want to be.

“He was a Negro for the first 28 years of his life and a white man many for 20 or more years…”

Dr. Albert Johnston was born in Chicago, Illinois and was a prosperous physician and respected figure who lived in Gorham, New Hampshire for many years with his blue-eyed fair skin wife Thyra and their four children.  For 12 years, Dr. Johnston and his wife kept a secret from their friends, neighbors and even children.  That they were both part black but for all of those years had been passing as white.

According the Johnston family, they hadn’t thought of passing even with the doctor using his racially ambiguous features interchangeably but hearing the tales of his experiences makes you believe otherwise.  Dr. Johnston was black enough to be one of two “black” students admitted to his medical class under a racial quota, but when he completed his premed studies and tried finding work as an intern, white became the more favorable identity.  Is this nothing more than passing privilege or a racial identity crisis?

I’m sharing this story for Black History Month not as a celebration of how the Johnston family was able to live the double lives but as a reminder that many blacks have never been able to escape racism and prejudice, solely because our ethnic makeup and outward appearance simply does not allow it.






(Featured Image/Photo Credit: Historical Society of Cheshire County)




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