Reading about a married couple, two slaves in the American Deep South in the mid-19th century, who manage to escape to freedom due to the fact that the woman could ‘pass for white,’ you’d probably admire the author’s way of solving a difficult situation for her characters, and mutter something about it being unbelieveable.
But as they say, truth can be stranger than fiction, and in this case Tanya Landman has based her story on a real life couple, who really did get away from their owner, purely because the woman had white skin. That, and the fact that they were hardworking and brave, as are Tanya’s fictional couple Rosa and Benjamin.
Written for Barrington Stoke, this short but strong tale is truly inspiring, showing us what people are capable of. Rosa is ‘white’ because she was fathered by her owner. She was then sent away from her mother, to a new owner who uses her in the same way her father did her mother. It seems they ‘all’ did this.
That alone means Rosa’s marriage to Benjamin can never be quite as real as you’d expect, nor can they live together. So it’s not only freedom they are escaping to, but they hope to finally be able to lead a normal life, to live together, to be sure whose baby they could be expecting, and much more.
Unlike fictional characters whose creators have allowed them to learn to read and write, for instance, Rosa and Benjamin don’t have these necessary skills, and that becomes a problem as Rosa is trying to pass herself off as her husband’s [male] owner. She doesn’t have the knowhow to be a white man. But there are good people out there, as well as really bad ones.
And it’s fascinating to see quite how racist the people who worked against slavery in the North actually were. There are setbacks and there are successes, and we know they will escape, but we can’t foresee what almost insurmountable problems they will face.
Passing for White is an essential read.