That Middle World

Race, Performance, and the Politics of Passing

By Julia S. Charles

242 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 10 halftones, 1 fig

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5957-2
    Published: October 2020
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5956-5
    Published: October 2020
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-5958-9
    Published: October 2020
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5924-2
    Published: October 2020

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In this study of racial passing literature, Julia S. Charles highlights how mixed-race subjects invent cultural spaces for themselves—a place she terms that middle world—and how they, through various performance strategies, make meaning in the interstices between the Black and white worlds. Focusing on the construction and performance of racial identity in works by writers from the antebellum period through Reconstruction, Charles creates a new discourse around racial passing to analyze mixed-race characters’ social objectives when crossing into other racialized spaces. To illustrate how this middle world and its attendant performativity still resonates in the present day, Charles connects contemporary figures, television, and film—including Rachel Dolezal and her Black-passing controversy, the FX show Atlanta, and the musical Show Boat—to a range of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literary texts. Charles’s work offers a nuanced approach to African American passing literature and examines how mixed-race performers articulated their sense of selfhood and communal belonging.

About the Author

Julia S. Charles is associate professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder.
For more information about Julia S. Charles, visit the Author Page.


“Charles has presented a fascinating new take on the phenomenon of racial passing during a particular moment in U.S. history. This book is a must-read for anyone studying the politics of race in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.” – The Journal of Southern History

“In both depth and breadth, That Middle World situates mixed-race characters in early African American literature as figures Black writers employ to analyze and interrogate issues of identity. Julia S. Charles adroitly examines the implications of racial identity and racialized characters in African American writing over a long span from the nineteenth through the twentieth centuries.”—Barbara McCaskill, author of Love, Liberation, and Escaping Slavery: William and Ellen Craft in Cultural Memory

“With this book, Julia S. Charles has given us an excellent study of the performance of mixed-race identity in classic and widely read twentieth-century African American literary works. The informative and surprising That Middle World offers an in-depth analysis of racial identity and narratives of racial passing, asking questions of belonging we still struggle with today.”—Alisha Gaines, author of Black for a Day