Passing in Europa, Europa: Escape into Estrangement
Oppression produces superb actors. Jews take on gentile roles. Homosexuals learn to play the part of heterosexuals. African-Americans mask themselves as whites. All learn to live life as a masquerade, donning costume after costume in order to survive in a hostile world. It seems like the ideal escape. No wonder many members of dispossessed groups decide to "pass," that is, masquerade as their own oppressors. By doing nothing more than concealing a socially despised identity and taking on a new one, people who pass transform their lives, escaping moral biases such as antiSemitism, homophobia and racism while seeming to harm none.2 Despite the apparent desirability of passing, movies, novels and everyday life abound with people who risk their relationships, jobs, and even lives because they can no longer bear to pass: Jews revealing their concealed identity in Nazi Germany; homosexuals in the military declaring their homosexuality to officers; African-Americans divulging their race to potentially racist whites.3 What drives these people to take such quixotic risks? This is a difficult question to answer if passing is thought about in the abstract; for people who have not passed, to imagine living in a divided world is challenging. Film, however, aids a faltering imagination. By exploring the complexity of the passing person's world, film provides an entry into the puzzling dynamics of passing.