87 Passing: The Success of Imperialism and Neocolonialism

Dalton Puffer

While trying to think of ways to perform a postcolonial critique with a medium of my choice, I came around to looking at Passing as holding a sort of internal imperialism–something we spoke briefly of during our class discussion on Wednesday.

Imperialism is, for myself, still a murky subject. The best definition I can muster of it now is that it is a process by which a country extends its power and/or influence through abstract, colonial-like means or through the use of capitalism. It is not as physical as colonialism is. It’s not simply finding acquiring, overpowering, occupying, and exploiting. It works along the same lines, yet it is more abstract. If anyone would like to comment and help form my definition of imperialism more I’d greatly appreciate it!

With this idea of imperialism, I began to think of how it take’s place in Nella Larsen’s Passing. I realized that it is strongly connected with neocolonialism, which exemplifies that we are not post-colonialism. In Passing, Irene is a black woman who can often pass to be white–or rather, not black–sometimes being seen as hispanic. Why is this? Well it is because people who are not black are able to live much, much easier in the United States during this time and that derives from effects of colonialism.

When countries colonized African lands, they claimed them to be primitive, primal people, of less worth. This ideology carried on long after this happened, even into the day of Larsen’s novel. The reason why many people who were black that tried to pass as white were doing it is directly because of the lasting effects of that colonialism. Even though the process and stage of colonization have long passed, its effects still persisted. Thus coining the idea of neocolonialism: that there is no post-colonialism, rather a lasting effect of colonialism.

This also has to do with imperialism in that it is an abstract concept of holding control. The majority of the county actually believed the ideologies created about people with dark skin and with that, the country was able to extend its power over those unfortunate victims. This, in a capitalistic country, was effective because it made them into profitable items. It relates strongly to Audre Lorde’s idea of the profit economy.

As I before mentioned, I still am not completely sure of my definition of imperialism. It’s difficult to completely differentiate it from colonialism. Hopefully, that gets cleared up soon.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

The Student Theorist: An Open Handbook of Collective College Theory Copyright © 2018 by Dalton Puffer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book