Hobbs: Robert Peace & Chosen Exile
I decided to catch up on a few NPR Books podcasts and author Allyson Hobbs made me want to read something again. Tales of passing have always held my interest, so it wasn’t hard. I’ve seen Pinkie and both versions of Imitation of Life dozens of times (as if those are the qualifiers). So when Hobbs discussed her new release on NPR, I promised myself that I’d do more research.
A search for Hobbs & NPR, led me to another author with the same last name. Both might be worthy reads:
A heartfelt, and riveting biography of the short life of a talented young African-American man who escapes the slums of Newark for Yale University only to succumb to the dangers of the streets—and of one’s own nature—when he returns home. When author Jeff Hobbs arrived at Yale University, he became fast friends with the man who would be his college roommate for four years, Robert Peace. Robert’s life was rough from the beginning in the crime-ridden streets of Newark in the 1980s, with his father in jail and his mother earning less than $15,000 a year. But Robert was a brilliant student, and it was supposed to get easier when he was accepted to Yale, where he studied molecular biochemistry and biophysics. But it didn’t get easier. Robert carried with him the difficult dual nature of his existence, “fronting” in Yale, and at home.
Between the eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, countless African Americans passed as white, leaving behind families and friends, roots and community. It was, as Allyson Hobbs writes, a chosen exile, a separation from one racial identity and the leap into another. This revelatory history of passing explores the possibilities and challenges that racial indeterminacy presented to men and women living in a country obsessed with racial distinctions. It also tells a tale of loss.
Happy reading, y’all.