The following is a quote from Elise Johnson McDougald’s “The Double Task: The Struggle of the Negro Women for Sex and Race Emancipation.” First published in March 1925 in Survey Graphic magazine, the article was then retitled and published in Alain Locke’s anthology The New Negro–a selection from which we read earlier this semester. This quote will be useful as we think about Larsen’s Passing:
Like women in general, but more particularly like those of other oppressed minorities, the Negro woman has been forced to submit to overpowering conditions. Pressure has been exerted upon her, both from without and within her group. Her emotional and sex life is a reflex of her economic station. The women of the working class will react, emotionally and sexually, similar to the working-class women of other races. The Negro woman does not maintain any moral standard which may be assigned chiefly to the qualities of race, any more than the white woman does. Yet she has been singled out and advertised as having lower sex standards. Superficial critics who have had contact with only the lower grades of Negro women, claim that they are more immoral than other groups of women. This I deny. This is the sort of criticism which predicated of one race, to its detriment, that which is common to all races. Sex irregularities are not a matter of race, but of socio-economic traditions. Research shows that most of the African tribes from which the Negro sprang have strict codes for sex relations. There is no proof of inherent weakness in the ethnic group.
Gradually overcoming the habitual limits imposed upon her by slave masters, she increasingly seeks legal sanction for the consummation and dissolution of sex contracts. Contrary to popular belief, illegitimacy among Negroes is cause for shame and grief. When economic, social, and biological forces combined bring about unwed motherhood, the reaction is much the same in families of other racial groups …
We will discuss this amazing paragraph today.