Autobiographical Reflections of Gendered Colorism in Women’s Harlem Renaissance Literature

The Harlem Renaissance included a revolutionary recognition of African-American female artists and activists. However, this movement was mostly led by a select group of fair-skinned black women due in part to colorism, the apparent privilege for lighter-skinned individuals in African American communities. In her short story “The Sleeper Wakes,” Jessie Redmon Fauset, an influential voice among female Harlem Renaissance authors, portrays how naivety and racially ambiguous features allow a young girl to “pass” for white in search of life fulfillment. This presentation will analyze how Fauset and other Harlem greats such as Nella Larsen, author of the famed novel, Passing, reflect on their own experiences of passing and other forms of racial questioning to expose a legacy of colorism among African American women rooted in the inflexible understandings of race and women’s appearances in America.