One-drop rule: Wikis

  
  

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The one-drop rule is a historical colloquial term for a belief among some people in the United States that a person with any trace of African ancestry is black.

This notion of invisible/intangible membership in a racial group has seldom been applied to people of other ancestry. The concept has been chiefly applied to those of black African ancestry. As Langston Hughes wrote, "You see, unfortunately, I am not black. There are lots of different kinds of blood in our family. But here in the United States, the word 'Negro' is used to mean anyone who has any Negro blood at all in his veins. In Africa, the word is more pure. It means all Negro, therefore black. I am brown."[1]

Contents

History

Beginnings

Legislation

The one-drop rule was a tactic in the U.S. South that codified and strengthened segregation and the disfranchisement of most blacks and many poor whites from 1890-1910. After Supreme Court decisions in Plessy v. Ferguson and related matters, White-dominated legislatures felt free to enact Jim Crow laws segregating Blacks in public places and accommodations, and passed other restrictive legislation. Legislatures sought to prevent interracial relationships to keep the white race "pure" long after slaveholders and overseers had taken advantage of enslaved women and fathered many mixed-race children.[citation needed]

Jim Crow laws reached their greatest influence during the decade from 1910–19. Tennessee adopted a one-drop statute in 1910, and Louisiana soon followed. Then Texas and Arkansas in 1911, Mississippi in 1917, North Carolina in 1923, Virginia in 1924, Alabama and Georgia in 1927, and Oklahoma in 1931. During this same period, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Utah retained their old "blood fraction" statutes de jure, but amended these fractions (one-sixteenth, one-thirtysecond) to be equivalent to one-drop de facto.[2]

Before 1930, individuals of mixed European and African ancestry were usually classed as mulattoes, sometimes as black and sometimes as white, depending on appearance. States often stopped worrying about ancestry at "the fourth degree" (great-great-great-grandparents).

Madison Grant of New York in The Passing of the Great Race wrote: "The cross between a white man and an Indian is an Indian; the cross between a white man and a Negro is a Negro; the cross between a white man and a Hindu is a Hindu; and the cross between any of the three European races and a Jew is a Jew."[3]

In the case of Native American descendants with whites, the one-drop rule of definition was extended only so far as those with more than one-sixteenth Indian blood, due to what was known as the "Pocahontas exception." The "Pocahontas exception" existed because many influential Virginia families claimed descent from the American Indian Pocahontas of the colonial era. To avoid classifying such people as non-white, the Virginia General Assembly declared that a person could be considered white as long as they had no more than one-sixteenth Indian "blood".

Walter Plecker of Virginia[4] and Naomi Drake of Louisiana[5] insisted on trying to label families of mixed ancestry as Black. In 1924, Plecker wrote, "Two races as materially divergent as the White and Negro, in morals, mental powers, and cultural fitness, cannot live in close contact without injury to the higher." A subtext to this concept was the assumption that Blacks were somehow "improved" through White intermixture.

When the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed Virginia's ban on inter-racial marriage in Loving v. Virginia (1967), it declared Plecker's Virginia Racial Integrity Act and the one-drop rule unconstitutional.

Despite this holding, the one-drop theory retains influence in U.S. society, among people of all races. Multiracial individuals with visible European and African, and/or Native American ancestry are often still considered black or at least non-white, unless they explicitly declare themselves to be white. (After the Civil War, some people of mixed ancestry who "looked white" "passed" into the majority white community by not going into detail about their backgrounds.) The Melungeons have been a multiracial community of families that tended to marry "white" and move into majority culture.

Recent classifications

There are different ways of trying to assess the future of the one-drop rule in the United States. Such an evaluation depends on several factors, including how interracial parents label their children on the decennial U.S. censuses, scholarly opinions, and trends in affirmative action court cases.

From Reconstruction until about 1930, the children of black/white interracial parents and of mulatto parents were usually identified as mulatto. It is becoming increasingly common for people to identify themselves as multi-racial, bi-racial, mulatto or mixed, rather than as black or white. The fraction of mixed children census-labeled as solely black dropped from 62% in 1990 to 31% in 2000 (when respondents were allowed to select multiple races), suggesting that the one-drop theory and denying one's European ancestry are no longer accepted the way they used to be.

Despite the one-drop rule being held illegal (ever since the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 overturned the Racial Integrity Act of 1924), as recently as 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a decision by the federal Office for Dispute Resolution to refuse to hear a case attacking Louisiana’s racial classification criteria as applied to Susie Phipps (479 U.S. 1002) (In 1985, the fair-complexioned Phipps had checked "White" on her passport application. It was denied because, decades before on her birth certificate, a midwife had checked "colored" for one of her parents. Phipps sued, testifying that "this classification came as a shock, since she had always thought she was White, had lived as White, had twice married as White." 479 So. 2d 369). In addition, several authors and journalists have found it very profitable to "out" as black famous historical mulattoes and whites, who were regarded as white in their society, who self-identified as such, and who were culturally "European" (whether from Europe, the United States, or elsewhere), merely because they acknowledged having (often slight) African ancestry (Anatole Broyard, James Augustine Healy, Patrick Francis Healy, Michael Healy, Sir Peter Ustinov, Calvin Clark Davis, John James Audubon, Mother Henriette Delille — a Louisiana Creole).

Many scholars publishing on this topic today (including Naomi Zack, Neil Gotanda, Michael L. Blakey, Julie C. Lythcott-Haims, Christine Hickman, David A. Hollinger, Thomas E. Skidmore, G. Reginald Daniel, F. James Davis, Joe R. Feagin, Ian F. Haney-Lopez, Barbara Fields, Dinesh D'Souza, Joel Williamson, Mary C. Waters, Debra J. Dickerson) affirm that the one-drop rule is still strong in American popular culture. Affirmative action court cases, on the other hand, (when an apparently white person claims invisible black ancestry and claims federal entitlements and/or EEOC enforcement) are mixed. In some cases, such as the 1985 Boston firefighters Philip and Paul Malone's case, courts have held that such claimants are guilty of "racial fraud" despite their claim of having a black grandparent.

Other countries of the Americas

The one-drop rule is nearly unique to the United States. People in most other countries tend to treat race less rigidly, and often self-identify racially in ways different than many people in the United States. Just as a person with physically recognizable sub-Saharan ancestry can claim to be black in the United States, someone with recognizable Caucasian ancestry may be considered white in Brazil.

In the caste system of colonial Spanish America, there was no barrier for interracial relationships while, at the same time, a racial hierarchy operated, combined with the Iberian purity of blood rules. As a result, the status of a mixed-race person would be determined by the proportion of "white blood" with an elaborate system of different names classifying the combinations of black, Amerindian and white. Inverse from this system, small drops of white blood were enough to position a person above "pure" non-whites. Furthermore, racial caste not only depended on ancestry or skin color, but also could be risen or lowered by the person's economical fortune. After the abolition of slavery and Latin American independence, the caste divisions blurred into wider groups.

In December 2002, the Washington Post ran a story on the one-drop theory. In the reporter's opinion: "Someone with Sidney Poitier's deep chocolate complexion would be considered white if his hair were straight and he made a living in a profession. That might not seem so odd, Brazilians say, when you consider that the fair-complexioned actresses Rashida Jones ("Boston Public" and "The Office") and Lena Horne are identified as black in the United States."[6]

According to Jose Neinstein, a native white Brazilian and executive director of the Brazilian-American Cultural Institute in Washington, in the United States, "If you are not quite white, then you are black." However, in Brazil, "If you are not quite black, then you are white." Neinstein recalls talking with a man of Poitier's complexion when in Brazil: "We were discussing ethnicity, and I asked him, 'What do you think about this from your perspective as a black man?' He turned his head to me and said, 'I'm not black,' . . . It simply paralyzed me. I couldn't ask another question."[6]

The Washington Post story also described a Brazilian-born woman who for 30 years before immigrating to the United States considered herself a morena. Her skin had a caramel color that is roughly equated with whiteness in Brazil and some other Latin American countries. "I didn't realize I was black until I came here," she explained.[6] "'Where are you from?' they ask me. I say I'm from Brazil. They say, 'No, you are from Africa.' They make me feel like I am denying who I am."

The same racial culture shock has come to hundreds of thousands of dark-skinned immigrants to the United States from Brazil, Colombia, Panama, and other Latin American nations. Although most lack the degree of African ancestry required to be considered black in their homelands, they have often been considered black in US society. According to the Washington Post, their refusal to accept the United States' definition of black has left many feeling attacked from all directions. At times, white Americans might discriminate against them for their black skin; African Americans might believe that Afro-Latino immigrants are denying their blackness; and they think lighter-skinned Latinos dominate Spanish-language television and media. A majority of Latin Americans possess some African or Native American ancestry. Many of these immigrants feel it is hard enough to accept a new language and culture without the additional burden of having to transform from white to black. Yvette Modestin, a dark-skinned native of Panama who worked in Boston, said the situation was overwhelming: "There's not a day that I don't have to explain myself."[6]

Rice and Powell (on the left) are considered black in the US, Bush and Rumsfeld (on the right) are considered white.

Professor J.B. Bird has said that Latin America is not alone in rejecting the United States' notion that any visible African ancestry is enough to make one black: "In most countries of the Caribbean, Colin Powell would be described as a Creole, reflecting his mixed heritage. In Belize, he might further be described as a 'High Creole', because of his extremely light complexion."[7] This shows that the perception of race, particularly concerning people of black heritage, is relative to each individual person or a people.

Racial mixtures of blacks and whites in modern America

Mark D. Shriver, a molecular anthropologist, heads a group of nine population researchers at Penn State University. They conducted a study of their own regarding the racial admixture of black and white Americans. Who was black or African American and who was white or European American in his study was based on self-identification. It is important to note that measurements are estimates, and might not be completely accurate.[8]

Taking a 3,000 American persons sample from 25 locations in America, among those from the sample who self-identified as white, the black racial admixture between them was only about 0.7%; which is the equivalent of among 128 great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, having 1 black and the other 127 white. Nationwide, estimates project 70% of white Americans have no African ancestors, and among the 30% that do, their black racial admixture is only 2.3%; the equivalent of having 3 three ancestors out of those same 128.[8]

Blacks, on the other hand, are much more racially mixed than whites, although Shriver's study indicates that blacks are less white European than other popular race studies indicate; (studies that indicate blacks being around 25-30% white on average). Taking into consideration that Shriver's study is still not yet complete, results already in indicate that on the whole blacks are around 18% white; which is the equivalent of having 22 white ancestors among those 128. About 10% of blacks are over 50% white. Shriver also points out that the admixture rates also vary by region. For example, the black populations with the highest average white ancestry discovered at this time are those in California and Seattle, with blacks in those two locations being a little over 25% white European on average.[8]

Allusions

The one-drop rule and its consequences have been the subject of several works of popular culture. In the musical Show Boat, Steve, a white man who is married to a black woman, is pursued by the sheriff, who is going to arrest Steve and charge him with miscegenation. Steve pricks his wife's finger and swallows some of her blood. When the sheriff arrives, Steve asks him whether he would consider a man to be white if he had "negro blood" in him. The sheriff replies that "one drop of Negro blood makes you a Negro in these parts". Steve tells the sheriff that he has "more than a drop of negro blood in me". After being assured by others that Steve is telling the truth, the sheriff leaves without arresting Steve.[9][10]

Alternatives

Preponderance of ancestry

Increasingly, the one-drop rule and the reverse one-drop rule are being replaced by another methodology of deciding who is black and white. In this definition, a person's race is expressed in terms of where most of their ancestors come from.

After the completion of the Human Genome Project it became evident that the concept of "race" is not reflected in the human genetic makeup. Although genetic variation does reflect genetic ancestry and patterns of human migration, an individual's race can not be determined by analysis of their DNA. Therefore, while the concept of race still exists on a social level, on a genetic level "race" does not exist:

DNA studies do not indicate that separate classifiable subspecies (races) exist within modern humans. While different genes for physical traits such as skin and hair color can be identified between individuals, no consistent patterns of genes across the human genome exist to distinguish one race from another. There also is no genetic basis for divisions of human ethnicity. People who have lived in the same geographic region for many generations may have some alleles in common, but no allele will be found in all members of one population and in no members of any other. Indeed, it has been proven that there is more genetic variation within races than exists between them.
[5]

Debra Dickerson writes that since "easily one-third of blacks have white DNA", why, in light of this, has so much of the focus on tracing ancestry in the black community focused on finding a link back to a region in Africa. She argues that in ignoring their white ancestors, African Americans are denying their fully articulated multi-racial identities.[11]

According to J. Phillipe Rushton, a psychologist who holds that gaps in IQ scores between races represent genetic differences between these races.:

Yes, to a certain extent all the races blend into each other. That is true in any biological classification system. However, most people can be clearly identified with one race or another. In both everyday life and evolutionary biology, a "Black" is anyone most of whose ancestors were born in sub-Saharan Africa. A "White" is anyone most of whose ancestors were born in Europe. And an "Oriental" is anyone most of whose ancestors were born in East Asia. Modern DNA studies give rather much the same results.
[12]

According to Michael Levin:

Hybrid populations with multiple lines of descent are to be characterized in just those terms: as of multiple descent. Thus, American Negroids are individuals most of whose ancestors from 15 to 5000 generations ago were sub-Saharan African. Specifying 'most' more precisely in a way that captures ordinary usage may not be possible. '> 50%' seems too low a threshold; my sense is that ordinary attributions of race begin to stabilize at 75%.
[13]

Meanwhile, the company DNAPrint Genomics analyzes DNA to estimate the percentage of Indo-European, sub-Saharan, East Asian, and Native American heritage someone has and assigns the person to the category White, Black, East Asian, Native American, or mixed race accordingly. According to U.S. sociologist Troy Duster and ethicist Pilar Ossorio:

Some percentage of people who look white possess genetic markers indicating that a significant majority of their recent ancestors are African. Some percentage of people who look black will possess genetic markers indicating the majority of their recent ancestors were European.
[14]

Pencil test

During the system of apartheid in South Africa, one drop of sub-Saharan blood was not enough to be considered black. South African law maintained a major distinction between those who were black and those who were coloured. When it was unclear from a person's physical appearance what racial classification they belonged to, the pencil test was employed. This involved inserting a pencil in a person's hair to determine if the hair was kinky enough for the pencil to get stuck.[15][16] If the pencil remained stuck in a person's hair, the person was "black". This type of test was used by authorities during the apartheid era in South Africa to "ascertain" a person's race. In the absence of any centralized method, this and other subjective tests were used in various places across South Africa as part of the Population Registration Act of 1950. A pencil would be placed in a person's hair, if it fell through they were classified as "White" (or "Coloured", depending on other subjective classification considerations); if the pencil did not fall through, they were classified differently ("Coloured" or "Black", also depending on other subjective classification considerations). Members of the same family who had different hair textures would find themselves in different race groups as a result of this test. This presented serious consequences for many families such as Population Registration Act, Pass Law, Group Areas Act, District Six. [17][18][19][20]

See also

References

  1. ^ Langston Hughes, The Big Sea, an Autobiography (New York: Knopf, 1940).
  2. ^ Pauli Murray, ed. States’ Laws on Race and Color (Athens, 1997), 428, 173, 443, 37, 237, 330, 463, 22, 39, 358, 77, 150, 164, 207, 254, 263, 459.
  3. ^ Madison Grant, The Passing of The Great Race, 1916
  4. ^ For the Plecker story, see J. Douglas Smith, "The Campaign for Racial Purity and the Erosion of Paternalism in Virginia, 1922-1930: 'Nominally White, Biologically Mixed, and Legally Negro'," Journal of Southern History 68, no. 1 (2002): 65-106
  5. ^ For Drake, see Virginia R. Dominguez, White by Definition: Social Classification in Creole Louisiana (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University, 1986)
  6. ^ a b c d washingtonpost.com: People of Color Who Never Felt They Were Black
  7. ^ FAQ on the Black Seminoles, John Horse, and Rebellion
  8. ^ a b c Race Now: #2: How White Are Blacks? How Black Are Whites? by Steve Sailer; Mark. D. Shriver
  9. ^ Show Boat (1951) Overview, Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
  10. ^ Make Believe - Show Boat - Synopsis, from the 1993 Canadian cast recording, Theatre-Musical.com. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
  11. ^ The End of Blackness by Debra Dickerson.
  12. ^ Rushton J. P. (2000) Race, Evolution, and Behavior: A Life History Perspective, Charles Darwin Research Inst. Pr; 3rd edition (ISBN 0965683613). Abstract available here
  13. ^ Levin M. The Race Concept: A Defense, Behavior and Philosophy, 30, 21-42 (2002)
  14. ^ http://www.racesci.org/in_media/canadian_police.htm
  15. ^ Stanford News Service. South African activist teacher gets education doctorate
  16. ^ Art in South Africa. Pencil Test Series
  17. ^ [1]
  18. ^ [2]
  19. ^ [3]
  20. ^ [4]

Further reading

  • Daniel, G. Reginald. More Than Black? Multiracial Identity and the New Racial Order. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 2002. ISBN 1-56639-909-2
  • Daniel, G. Reginald. Race and Multiraciality in Brazil and the United States: Converging Paths?. University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press. 2006. ISBN 0-271-02883-1
  • Davis, James F., Who is Black?: One Nation's Definition. University Park PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-271-02172-1
  • Guterl, Matthew Press, The Color of Race in America, 1900-1940. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-674-01012-4
  • Moran, Rachel F., Interracial Intimacy: The Regulation of Race & Romance, Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press, 2003. ISBN 0-226-53663-7
  • Romano, Renee Christine, Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Post-War America. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-674-01033-7
  • Savy, Pierre, « Transmission, identité, corruption. Réflexions sur trois cas d’hypodescendance », L’homme. Revue française d’anthropologie, 182, 2007 (« Racisme, antiracisme et sociétés »), p. 53-80
  • Yancey, George, Just Don't Marry One: Interracial Dating, Marriage & Parenting. Judson Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8170-1439-X

External links


Genealogy

Up to date as of February 01, 2010

From Familypedia

The one-drop rule is a historical colloquial term in the United States that holds that a person with any trace of sub-Saharan ancestry (however small or invisible) cannot be considered white[1] and so unless said person has an alternative non-white ancestry they can claim, such as Native American, Asian, Arab, Australian aboriginal, they must be considered black.

This notion of invisible/intangible membership in a "racial" group has seldom been applied to people of Native American ancestry (see Race in the United States for details). The notion has been largely applied to those of black African ancestry. Langston Hughes wrote, "You see, unfortunately, I am not black. There are lots of different kinds of blood in our family. But here in the United States, the word 'Negro' is used to mean anyone who has any Negro blood at all in his veins. In Africa, the word is more pure. It means all Negro, therefore black. I am brown."[2]

During the Black Pride era of the Civil Rights Movement, the stigma associated with sub-Saharan ancestry was claimed as a socio-political advantage.[3]

Contents

History

Beginnings

Legislation

The 1910–19 decade was the nadir of the Jim Crow era by most measures. Tennessee adopted a one-drop statute in 1910. It was followed by Louisiana the same year, Texas and Arkansas in 1911, Mississippi in 1917, North Carolina in 1923, Virginia in 1924, Alabama and Georgia in 1927, and Oklahoma in 1931. During this same period, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Utah retained their old blood fraction statutes de jure but amended these fractions (one-sixteenth, one-thirtysecond) to be equivalent to one-drop de facto.[4] By 1925, almost every state had a one-drop law on the books, or something equivalent. These were the laws that gave power to bureaucrats like Walter Plecker of Virginia,[5] Naomi Drake of Louisiana,[6] and similar people around the country, who insisted on labeling families of mixed ancestry as Black.

Before 1930, individuals of mixed European and African ancestry had usually been classed as mulattoes, sometimes as black and sometimes as white. The main purpose of the one-drop rule was to prevent interracial relationships and thus keep whites "pure." In 1924 Plecker wrote, "Two races as materially divergent as the white and negro, in morals, mental powers, and cultural fitness, cannot live in close contact without injury to the higher." In line with this concept was also the assumption that Blacks would somehow be "improved" through white intermixture.

Walter Plecker had been preceded by Madison Grant who had written in his book The Passing of the Great Race: "The cross between a white man and an Indian is an Indian; the cross between a white man and a negro is a negro; the cross between a white man and a Hindu is a Hindu; and the cross between any of the three European races and a Jew is a Jew."[7]

In the case of Native American admixture with whites the one-drop rule was extended only as far as those with one-quarter Indian blood due to what was known as the "Pocahontas exception." The "Pocahontas exception" existed because many influential Virginia families claimed descent from Pocahontas. To avoid classifying them as non-white the Virginia General Assembly declared that a person could be considered white long as they had no more than one-sixteenth Indian blood.

In 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court, in its ruling on the case of Loving v. Virginia, conclusively invalidated Plecker's Virginia Racial Integrity Act, along with its key component, the one-drop rule, as unconstitutional. Despite this holding, the one-drop theory is still influential in U.S. society. Multiracial individuals with visible mixed European and African and/or Native American ancestry are often still considered non-white, unless they explicitly declare themselves white or Anglo, and are typically identified instead as mixed-race, mulatto or mestizo, or Black or American Indian, for example. By contrast these standards are widely rejected by America's Latino community, the majority of whom are of mixed ancestry, but for whom their Latino cultural heritage is more important to their ethnic identities than "race." The one-drop rule is not generally applied to Latinos of mixed origin or to Arab-Americans.

Recent classifications

According to the one drop rule Mariah Carey (center) is black because her father is Afro-Venezuelan. On left, a black sub-Saharan woman, on right Angelina Jolie, a woman of European descent

There are different ways of trying to assess the future of the one-drop rule in the United States. Some of them include how interracial parents label their children on the decennial U.S. census, scholarly opinions, and trends in affirmative action court cases.[8]

From Reconstruction until about 1930, the children of black/white interracial parents and of mulatto parents were usually identified as mulatto. It is becoming increasingly common for people to identify themselves as multi-racial, mulatto, or mixed rather than as black or white. That the fraction of mixed children census-labeled as solely black dropped from 62% in 1990 to 31% in 2000 (when multiple "races" were first allowed) suggests that the one-drop theory and denying one's European ancestry is no longer accepted the way it used to be.

Despite the one-drop rule being illegal (ever since the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 overturned the Virginia Racial Integrity Act), as recently as 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the ODR to stand by refusing to hear a case against Louisiana’s "racial" classification criteria as applied to Susie Phipps (479 U.S. 1002). In addition, several authors and journalists have found it very profitable to "out" as black famous historical mulattoes and whites, who were regarded as white in their society, who self-identified as such, and who were culturally European-American, merely because they acknowledged having (often slight) African ancestry (Anatole Boyard, Patrick Francis Healy, Michael Morris Healy., Sir Peter Ustinov, Calvin Clark Davis, John James Audubon, Mother Henriette Delille — a Louisiana Creole).

Many scholars publishing on this topic today (including Naomi Zack, Neil Gotanda, Michael L. Blakey, Julie C. Lythcott-Haims, Christine Hickman, David A. Hollinger, Thomas E. Skidmore, G. Reginald Daniel, F. James Davis, Joe R. Feagin, Ian F. Haney-Lopez, Barbara Fields, Dinesh D'Souza, Joel Williamson, Mary C. Waters, Debra J. Dickerson) affirm that the one-drop rule is still strong in American popular culture. Affirmative action court cases on the other hand (when an apparently white person claims invisible Black ancestry and claims federal entitlements and/or EEOC enforcement) are mixed. In some cases, such as 1985 Boston firefighters Philip and Paul Malone, courts have held that such claimants are guilty of "racial fraud" despite their claim of a Black grandparent. In other instances, such as the 1988 Denver case of schoolteacher Mary Walker — a person of fair complexion, green eyes, light brown hair, and no documented Black ancestry — courts have ordered employers to accept claimants as Black for EEOC purposes. And other claimants, such as 1997 Detroit businessman Mostafa Hefny, a Black-looking immigrant actually from Africa (Egypt), are denied benefits because North Africans are considered to be White.

As the 2008 U.S. presidential election approaches, Orlando Patterson acknowledged the change in a Time magazine essay on potential candidate Barack Obama's "black" identity:
This is the infamous one-drop rule, invented and imposed by white racists until the middle of the 20th century. As with so many other areas of ethno-racial relations, African Americans turned this racist doctrine to their own ends. What to racist whites was a stain of impurity became a badge of pride. More significantly, what for whites was a means of exclusion was transformed by blacks into a glorious principle of inclusion. The absurdity of defining someone as black who to all appearances was white was turned on its head by blacks who used the one-drop rule to enlarge both the black group and its leadership with light-skinned persons who, elsewhere in the Americas, would never dream of identifying with blacks.[9]

The one drop rule and Latin America

See also: Race in Brazil

The one drop rule does not apply outside of the United States. Many other countries treat race much less formally, and when they do self-identify racially, they often do so in ways that surprise Americans. Just as a person with physically recognizable sub-Saharan ancestry can claim to be black in the United States, someone with recognizable Caucasian ancestry may be considered white in Latin America.

In the caste system of colonial Spanish America, there was no barrier for interracial mating while, at the same time, a racial hierarchy operated, combined withe the Iberian purity of blood rules. As a result, the status of a mixed-race person would be determined by the proportion of "white blood" with elaborate names classifying the combinations of black, Amerindian and white. Inverse from the abovesaid system, small drops of white blood was enough to position a person above "pure" non-whites. Furthermore, racial caste did not only depend on ancestry or skin color but also could be risen or lowered by the person's economical fortune. After the abolition of slavery and Latin American independence, the caste divisions were blurred into wider groups.

A picture of Lena Horne for illustration.

In December, 2002 the Washington Post ran a story on the one drop theory. In the reporter's opinion: "Someone with Sidney Poitier's deep chocolate complexion would be considered white if his hair were straight and he made a living in a profession. That might not seem so odd, Brazilians say, when you consider that the fair-complexioned actresses Rashida Jones of the television show "Boston Public" and Lena Horne are identified as black in the United States."[10]

According to Jose Neinstein, a native white Brazilian and executive director of the Brazilian-American Cultural Institute in Washington, in the United States, "if you are not quite white, then you are black." However, in Brazil, "If you are not quite black, then you are white." Neinstein recalls talking with a man of Poitier's complexion when in Brazil: "We were discussing ethnicity, and I asked him, 'What do you think about this from your perspective as a black man?' He turned his head to me and said, 'I'm not black,' . . . It simply paralyzed me. I couldn't ask another question."[10] It must be said that precisely what the gentleman considered himself — white, brown or other — the story doesn't say.

The Washington Post story also described a Brazilian-born woman who for 30 years before immigrating to the United States considered herself a morena. Her skin had a caramel color that is roughly equated with whiteness in Brazil and some other Latin American countries. "I didn't realize I was black until I came here," she explained.[10] "'Where are you from?' they ask me. I say I'm from Brazil. They say, 'No, you are from Africa.' They make me feel like I am denying who I am."

The same racial culture shock has come to hundreds of thousands of dark-skinned immigrants to the United States from Brazil, Colombia, Panama and other Latin American nations. Although most lack the degree of African ancestry required to be considered black in Brazil, they have enough to be seen as black the second they set foot on U.S. soil. According to the Washington Post, their refusal to embrace the United States' definition of black has left many feeling attacked from all directions. Many African Americans believe the Afro-Latino immigrants are denying their blackness; white Americans discriminate against them for their black skin; and lighter-skinned Latinos dominate Spanish-language television and media even though a majority of Latin Americans possess some African or Native American ancestry. Many of these immigrants feel it is hard enough to accept a new language and culture without the additional burden of transforming from white to black. Yvette Modestin, a dark-skinned native of Panama who worked in Boston, said the situation was overwhelming: "There's not a day that I don't have to explain myself."[10]

Currently the Brazilian government has attemped to implant the One Drop Law in the country, through the Special Secretariat of Policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality managed by the Brazilian Black movement. This has generated attrition with the Brazilian mixed race movement, which accuses the government of not respecting the identity of the mixed descendants of Natives, Aficans, and Europeans or the so-called Mestizos, mulattos, and caboclos. The mixed race movement obtained the institution of the Mixed Race Day, as a symbol of resistance against the One Drop Rule.

Rice and Powell (on the left) are considered black in the US, Bush and Rumsfeld (on the right) are considered white.

Professor J.B. Bird has said that Latin America is not alone in rejecting the United States' notion than any visible African ancestry is enough to make one black: " In most countries of the Caribbean, Colin Powell would be described as a Creole, reflecting his mixed heritage. In Belize, he might further be described as a 'High Creole', because of his extremely light complexion."[11]

Many Americans reject the one drop rule

Many people in the United States are increasingly rejecting the one drop rule, and are questioning whether even as much as 50% black ancestry should be considered black. Although politician Barack Obama self-identifies as black, 55 percent of whites and 61 percent of Hispanics classified him as biracial instead of black after being told that his mother is white. Blacks were less likely to acknowledge a mulitiracial category, with 66% labelling Obama as black.[12] However when it came to Tiger Woods, only 42% of African-Americans described him as black, as did only 7% of White Americans.[13]

Some consequences of the one-drop rule

Mainly because of the one-drop rule there are many pale-skinned people that are considered black. In many of these instances the person can actually have more white ancestry than black. There are examples of how this could happen through the generations. During slavery, there could have been a mulatto person, who because of the one-drop rule, was considered black. If they then had a child with a white person, the child would have been considered one-quarter black, but still considered black. There are plenty of people through American history that have been more Caucasian than sub-Saharan (Black) but have been generally, or often, considered black. Examples of this would include Sally Hemings and G.K. Butterfield. However these people are the exception, not the rule. The average person who self-identifies as black in America has 53% of their ancestors from sub-Saharan Africa. Only 10% of Americans who self-identify as black are less than 50% sub-Saharan in ancestry.[14]

One-drop rule in popular culture

  • Someone having literally one drop of black blood in him is a plot point in Show Boat.
  • In the Family Guy episode Peter Griffin: Husband, Peter discovers that he has a black ancestor from slave days. Despite being no more than one-sixteenth black, probably even less, he describes himself as black throughout the episode and attends events with a primarily African American audience making fun of the fact that people will classify you as black even if you have one ancestor and disregard any other heritage you may have.

One-drop of racial majority

The Caucasian Achievement and Recognition Scholarship required applicants to be only 25% Caucasian, mirroring "partial-bloodedness" requirements for minority scholarships.

Alternatives

Preponderance of ancestry

Increasingly, the one-drop rule and the reverse one-drop rule are being replaced by another methodology of deciding who is black and white. In this definition, a persons race is in terms of where most of their ancestors come from.

Debra Dickerson writes that "easily one-third of blacks have white DNA" she wonders why, in light of this, so much of the focus on tracing ancestry in the black community has focused on finding a link back to a region in Africa. She holds that in ignoring their white ancestors African Americans are denying their fully articulated multi-racial identities.[15]

According to J. Phillipe Rushton who holds that gaps in IQ scores between races represent genetic differences between these races.:

Yes, to a certain extent all the races blend into each other. That is true in any biological classification system. However, most people can be clearly identified with one race or another. In both everyday life and evolutionary biology, a "Black" is anyone most of whose ancestors were born in sub-Saharan Africa. A "White" is anyone most of whose ancestors were born in Europe. And an "Oriental" is anyone most of whose ancestors were born in East Asia. Modern DNA studies give rather much the same results.
[16]

According to Michael Levin:

Hybrid populations with multiple lines of descent are to be characterized in just those terms: as of multiple descent. Thus, American Negroids are individuals most of whose ancestors from 15 to 5000 generations ago were sub- Saharan African. Specifying 'most' more precisely in a way that captures ordinary usage may not be possible. '> 50%' seems too low a threshold; my sense is that ordinary attributions of race begin to stabilize at 75%.[17]

Meanwhile the company DNAPrint Genomics analyzes DNA to determine the exact percentage of Indo-European, sub-Saharan, East Asian, and Native American heritage someone has and assigns the person to the category White, Black, East Asian, Native American, or mixed race accordingly. According to U.S. sociologist Troy Duster and ethicist Pilar Ossorio:

Some percentage of people who look white will possess genetic markers indicating that a significant majority of their recent ancestors were African. Some percentage of people who look black will possess genetic markers indicating the majority of their recent ancestors were European.
[18]

The Pencil test

During the system of apartheid in South Africa, one drop of sub-Saharan blood was nowhere near enough to be black. South African law maintained a major distinction between those who were black and those who were coloured. When it was unclear from a person's physical appearance which racial classification he/she belonged to, the pencil test was employed. This involved inserting a pencil in a person's hair to determine if the hair was kinky enough for the pencil to get stuck.[19]

Footnotes

  1. ^ http://www.webcom.com/~intvoice/liam5.html
  2. ^ Langston Hughes, The Big Sea, an Autobiography (New York: Knopf, 1940).
  3. ^ (1981) "Civil Rights", in ed. W. Augustus Low, Virgil A. Clift: Encyclopedia of Black America. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 243-244. ISBN 0-306-80221-X. 
  4. ^ Pauli Murray, ed. States’ Laws on Race and Color (Athens, 1997), 428, 173, 443, 37, 237, 330, 463, 22, 39, 358, 77, 150, 164, 207, 254, 263, 459.
  5. ^ For the Plecker story, see J. Douglas Smith, “The Campaign for Racial Purity and the Erosion of Paternalism in Virginia, 1922-1930: 'Nominally White, Biologically Mixed, and Legally Negro',” Journal of Southern History 68, no. 1 (2002): 65-106
  6. ^ For Drake, see Virginia R. Dominguez, White by Definition: Social Classification in Creole Louisiana (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University, 1986)
  7. ^ Madison Grant, The Passing of The Great Race, 1916
  8. ^ For detailed sources and citations for this paragraph and the three following paragraphs, see "Chapter 14. Features of Today's One-Drop Rule" of the book, Legal History of the Color Line: The Rise and Triumph of the One-Drop Rule by Frank W. Sweet, ISBN 0-939479-23-0. A summary of this chapter, with endnotes, is also available online at Features of Today’s One-Drop Rule.
  9. ^ Patterson, Orlando (2007-02-19), "The New Black Nativism", Time: 44 
  10. ^ a b c d http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A38089-2002Dec25?language=printer
  11. ^ http://www.johnhorse.com/black-seminoles/faq-black-seminoles.htm
  12. ^ http://bbsnews.net/article.php/20061222014017231
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ http://www.isteve.com/2002_How_White_Are_Blacks.htm
  15. ^ The End of Blackness by Debra Dickerson.
  16. ^ Rushton J. P. (2000) Race, Evolution, and Behavior: A Life History Perspective, Charles Darwin Research Inst. Pr; 3rd edition (ISBN 0965683613). Abstract available here
  17. ^ Levin M. The Race Concept: A Defense, Behavior and Philosophy, 30, 21-42 (2002)
  18. ^ http://www.racesci.org/in_media/canadian_police.htm
  19. ^ [2]

See also

Further reading

  • Davis, James F., Who is Black?: One Nation's Definition. University Park PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-271-02172-1
  • Guterl, Matthew Press, The Color of Race in America, 1900-1940. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-674-01012-4
  • Moran, Rachel F., Interracial Intimacy: The Regulation of Race & Romance, Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press, 2003. ISBN 0-226-53663-7
  • Romano, Renee Christine, Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Post-War America. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-674-01033-7
  • Yancey, George, Just Don't Marry One: Interracial Dating, Marriage & Parenting. Judson Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8170-1439-X
  • Daniel, G. Reginald. More Than Black? Multiracial Identity and the New Racial Order. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 2002. ISBN 1-56639-909-2
  • Daniel, G. Reginald. Race and Multiraciality in Brazil and the United States: Converging Paths?. University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press. 2006. ISBN 0-271-02883-1

External links


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