When Racial Passing Becomes Racial Fraud
Meena Krishnamurthy (Queen's University)

October 14, 2021, 7:00pm - 8:30pm

This event is online



In the past year and a half, race and racism have been at the forefront of many people’s minds because of widespread Black Lives Matter protests and the disproportionately negative impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on certain racialized communities. But the underlying phenomenon is not only recent. For centuries, racialized communities across North America have faced social and environmental injustices.

Each year, the Rotman Institute of Philosophy and the Department of Philosophy at Western University organize a public lecture series in partnership with the London Public Library. The theme for this year’s lecture series is race & racism.

Oct 7 - Quayshawn Spencer: What is Race?

Oct 14 - Meena Krishnamurthy: When Racial Passing Becomes Racial Fraud

Oct 21 - Carolyn McLeod, Kharissa Edwards & Sinéad Osivwemu: Race, Distrust, and Vaccine Hesitancy

Oct 28 - Deborah McGregor: Indigenous Climate Justice, Nature Based Solutions and Self-Determined Futures

Join us online each Thursday in October from 7:00 - 8:30 pm. Visit our website to view talk abstracts and speaker profiles, and to register.


Despite the attention given to the many recent cases of racial fraud, little has been said about what distinguishes these cases from those such as Rev. Jesse Routté – a Black American pastor – who, in 1947, put on a turban and an Indian accent when travelling in the American south. Racial fraud is assumed to be morally wrong, but Routté’s case doesn’t seem to be obviously so. I argue that racial fraud is distinct from, what we might call, mere racial passing. Both involve a self-conscious choice to alter one’s racial identity, but, unlike racial passing, which is a way of evading racial oppression, racial fraud actually works to entrench racial oppression. In fact, racial fraud is wrong precisely because of this moral asymmetry.


Professor Krishnamurthy is a political philosopher who works on race, democracy, and social movements. She is currently writing a book (The Emotions of Nonviolence) and a series of related papers on Martin Luther King Jr.’s political philosophy. Her work is about King’s views on the role of the political emotions in motivation to end racial injustice. It explores how he used the various tactics of the civil rights movement (protest, images, letters, and oratory) to engage these emotions and to overcome some of the barriers to political action. As a mother of a white passing child, she also has special interests in the ethics of racial passing.


  • Briit Bennet, The Vanishing Half
  • John Howard Griffin, Black Like Me
  • Grace Halsell, Soul Sista
  • Allyson Hobbs, Chosen Exile
  • Nella Larsen, Passing

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October 14, 2021, 2:00pm EST

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