It’s a subject that has been explored in several novels: Passing, Kingsblood Royal, The Stain. What if a person appears to be of one race when they are actually of another, not as well-accepted, race. Then there are the others works which deal with the experience of racial inequality from the other direction, such as Black Like Me. But there is a third, and far more subtle, method of exploring the difference between the races and that is to say nothing and leave it all up to the reader to make assumptions from the text … assumptions that might not be true.
Early-on in my study of literature at the university the class was reading Faulkner’s Light In August. Obviously a very important book replete with textual difficulty and powerful themes. But in the midst of it all, the professor quietly asked: “What color was Joe Christmas?” He followed up reading a passage where a white scar is described as standing out on Christmas’s face … a white scar? Is the suggestion being made that Joe Christmas is a black man? If so, it changes the reading of the narrative and themes drastically. Is there reader prepared for such a shift?