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Defining White Passing

I never truly understood the impact of the idea of being “white passing” until early 2020, when an Asian girl at The New School was assaulted at Hate Crime Wendy’s, simply because she was Asian. That girl lived in Kerrey Hall, the same dorm as me. She was attacked on the block we lived on, steps away from the UC. Xenophobia towards the Asian, particularly Chinese communities enraged me just as much as my Asian family and friends. But, racism towards Asians didn’t affect me in the same way. Unlike my fully Asian friends, I am mixed half white and half Chinese, and I am white passing. 

Recently I’ve been on the theme of being white passing, and discussing my own experiences as a mixed individual. Today I hoped to take the time to discuss usage of the term white passing, and why it can be improper/insensitive to use the term. Generally, to be white passing means an individual’s physical traits conform enough a standard of “whiteness.” 

When I call myself white passing, it is not to call myself white. Rather, it’s a term I use to hold my white privilege accountable, even though I am not entirely white. To call myself white passing is to understand I have privilege, and to use it in ways that benefit my POC friends and family. It is very different from calling myself white.

This is where the term white passing can become problematic. When another individual calls a POC or mixed individual white passing, it doesn’t hold the same connotation as when a POC uses the term themself. Why? To call someone other than oneself white passing, isn’t to hold their privilege accountable. More often than not, calling someone white passing is labeling them as white. 

It is a form of invalidation. POC and mixed individuals have an experience different than someone who is only white. Their experiences are informed by their culture, and they also experience racism. Being a white passing individual isn’t a free pass from racism, nor does it make a POC’s experience equal a white person’s. This is why the use of the term “white passing” shouldn’t be used to describe someone else other than yourself. 

That being said, I hope this has been some food for thought. I want to state this is my own opinion, and I do not speak for all mixed individuals, nor do I speak for POC. This is my opinion on the usage of why the usage of the term white passing needs to be discussed, and is informed by my own opinion as a mixed individual. 

Jade Welder

New School '23

Jade is a student at The New School pursuing a degree in media studies and a minor in food studies. This isn't really a secret: she's a boba connoisseur by day and closet weeb by night. And yes, boba ice cream is really worth the hype.
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