James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (published anonymously in 1912, then under his name in 1927) features a passing biracial man who, upon learning of the false promises of passing, as well as the literal and metaphoric “dead end” of his racial position, decides he will live not white, black, or both, but ambivalently ex-colored.
To understand why the main character has no real name—why he is referred to merely by the designation of "ex-colored"—we need to consider the cultural and legal framework of racial passing against the context of the Harlem Renaissance. Racial passing was in part an effect of the uneasy exchange between blacks and whites relative to changing spatial configurations of black populations during the Great Migration. Given the backdrop of state legislation that outlawed miscegenation in several states, passing was ultimately less about constructing black consciousness anew than responding to segregation. The emphasis was not on being black, which was synonymous at the time with “lesser opportunity,” but being more than black.
For Johnson, travel as a physical journey and desire for social (and geographical) mobility doubles as the search for a new community of black people interested in literal movement—and moving up the ladders of society. The recounted journeys of the unnamed narrator through Europe and the US as a musician who shares an ambiguous relationship to his “colored” self emphasizes the variant meaning attributed to racial subjectivity that was a goal of many of the Harlem writers: passing was a plausible ticket to social mobility.
Our ex-colored narrator is the "New Negro" personified; the fact that we only know him as little else but "ex-colored" (we do know him as a boy born of a union between a wealthy white man and “colored” woman) indicates that it is not really his color that matters the most but that he is identified as someone who is capable of reinventing himself as a multidimensional man who is always on the move.