The one-drop rule is a historical colloquial term in the United States for the social classification as black of individuals with any African ancestry; meaning any person with "one drop of black blood" was considered as black. The principle was an example of hypodescent, the automatic assignment of children of a mixed union between different socioeconomic or ethnic groups to the group with the lower status. The one-drop rule was not adopted as law until the twentieth century: first in Tennessee in 1910 and in Virginia under the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 (following the passage of similar laws in numerous other states).
Despite the strictures of slavery, in the antebellum years, free people of mixed race could have up to one-eighth or one-quarter African ancestry (depending on the state) and be considered legally white. More were absorbed into the majority culture based simply on appearance, associations and carrying out community responsibilities. These and community acceptance were more important factors if a person's racial status were questioned, not his or her documented ancestry. The mobility of the society meant that many people did not have documentation about their ancestors. Thomas Jefferson's four surviving "natural" children by his mixed-race slave Sally Hemings were seven-eighths European in ancestry and thus legally white although they were born into slavery. Three of the four entered white society as adults, two married white persons, and all their descendants identified as white. Many of later generations of his mixed-race descendants also entered white society, according to their appearance.
In the United States, European Americans usually classified people of partial Native American descent as Native American, in a similar example of hypodescent. In the early years of these types of unions and marriages, the fathers were usually European and the mothers Native American. Many Native American tribes had matrilineal descent systems, so within those communities, the children were considered by tradition to belong to the mother's clan. It was tradition for the mother's eldest brother to play a major role in the life of all her children, more important than that of the father within the tribe, as the uncle looked out for the children within his clan, the father belonging to a different clan. Among such tribes, mixed-race children could be absorbed into the culture, as had been the case traditionally with captives of any race who were adopted.
Among other tribes, such as the Omaha, which was patrilineal, the full-bloods considered a half-breed a "white man" if he had a white father, which was their application of hypodescent. Half-breeds could belong officially to the Omaha tribe only if they were adopted into it.
In the United States, the concept of the one-drop rule has been chiefly applied by European Americans to those of sub-Saharan black African ancestry in the aftermath of slavery, as they were trying to impose white supremacy. The poet Langston Hughes wrote in his 1940 memoir:
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.
Legislation and practice
Both before and after the American Civil War, many people of mixed ancestry who "looked white" and were of mostly white ancestry were legally absorbed into the white majority. State laws established differing standards. For instance, in 1822 Virginia law stated that to be defined as "mulatto" (that is, multi-racial), a person had to have at least one-quarter (equivalent to one grandparent) African ancestry. This was a looser definition than the state's twentieth-century "one-drop rule" under the 1924 Racial Integrity Act. This defined a person as legally "colored" (black) for classification and legal purposes if the individual had any African ancestry.
The Melungeons are a group of multiracial families of mostly European and African ancestry whose ancestors were free in colonial Virginia. They migrated to the frontier in Kentucky and Tennessee. Their descendants have been documented over the decades as having tended to marry persons classified as "white". Their descendants became assimilated into the majority culture from the nineteenth into the twentieth centuries.
The one-drop rule was made law, chiefly in the U.S. South but also in other states, in the twentieth century – decades after the Civil War, emancipation and Reconstruction, but following the restoration of white supremacy in the South and the passage of Jim Crow racial segregation laws. In the 20th century, it was also associated with the rise of eugenics and ideas of racial purity. From the late 1870s on, white Democrats regained political power in the former Confederate states and passed racial segregation laws controlling public facilities, and laws and constitutions from 1890–1910 to achieve disfranchisement of most blacks. Many poor whites were also disfranchised in these years, by changes to voter registration rules that worked against them, such as literacy tests, longer residency requirements and poll taxes.
The first challenges to such state laws were overruled by US Supreme Court decisions that upheld state constitutions that effectively disfranchised many. White Democratic-dominated legislatures proceeded with passing Jim Crow laws that instituted racial segregation in public places and accommodations, and passed other restrictive voting legislation. In Plessy v. Ferguson, the US Supreme Court allowed racial segregation of public facilities, under its "separate but equal" doctrine.
Jim Crow laws reached their greatest influence during the decades from 1910–1930. Among them were hypodescent laws, defining as black anyone with any black ancestry, or with a very small portion of black ancestry. Tennessee adopted such 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.
Before 1930, individuals of visible mixed European and African ancestry were usually classed as mulattoes, or sometimes as black and sometimes as white, depending on appearance. Previously, most states had limited trying to define ancestry before "the fourth degree" (great-great-grandparents). In 1930, the Census Bureau stopped using the classification of mulatto, so evidence of the long existence of mixed-race people was lost.
Not only did the one-drop rule disregard the self-identification of people of mostly European ancestry who grew up in white communities, but Virginia's application of the 1924 law under Walter Plecker, the state's registrar, who destroyed the records and documented historical continuity of mixed-race people who identified as Native American. Over the centuries, many Native American tribes in Virginia had absorbed people of other ethnicities through marriage or adoption, but maintained their cultures. Suspecting blacks of trying to "pass" as Indians, Plecker ordered records changed to classify people only as black or white, and ordered offices to reclassify certain family surnames as black. Since the late twentieth century, Virginia has officially recognized eight American Indian tribes; they are trying to gain federal recognition. They have had difficulty because decades of birth, marriage and death records were misclassified under Plecker's application of the law. No one was classified as Indian, although many individuals and families identified that way and were preserving their cultures.
In the case of mixed-race Native American and European descendants, the one-drop rule in Virginia was extended only so far as those with more than one-sixteenth Indian blood. This was due to what was known as the "Pocahontas exception." Since many influential First Families of Virginia (FFV) claimed descent from the American Indian Pocahontas and her husband John Rolfe of the colonial era, the Virginia General Assembly declared that an individual could be considered white if having no more than one-sixteenth Indian "blood" (the equivalent of one great-great-grandparent).
The eugenicist Madison Grant of New York wrote in his book, The Passing of the Great Race (1916): "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." As noted above, Native American tribes such as the Omaha, that had patrilineal descent and inheritance, classified the children of white men and Native American as white in the same way.
Through the 1940s, Walter Plecker of Virginia and Naomi Drake of Louisiana had an outsize influence. As the Registrar of Statistics, Plecker insisted on labeling mixed-race families of European-African 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 was the assumption that Blacks were somehow "improved" through White admixture. In the 1930s and 1940s, Plecker directed offices under his authority to change vital records and reclassify certain families as colored (without notifying them) after Virginia established a binary system under its Racial Integrity Act of 1924. He also classified people who had formerly self-identified as Indian, as black. When the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed Virginia's ban on inter-racial marriage in Loving v. Virginia (1967), it also declared Plecker's Virginia Racial Integrity Act and the one-drop rule unconstitutional.
Many people in the US, among various ethnic groups, continue to have their own concepts related to the one-drop ideas. They may still consider multiracial individuals with any African ancestry to be black, or at least non-white (if the person has other minority ancestry), unless the person explicitly identifies as white. Today's ideas have also been influenced by the Black Power Movement and leaders within the black community, who have claimed as black those persons with any African ancestry, regardless of how they self-identified. In the late 20th and early 21st century, writers such as A.D. Powell, who is multiracial, considers such "claiming" to be another kind of one-drop rule, which ignores people's life experiences, their community, and how they choose to identify themselves.
Other countries of the Americas
Among the colonial slave societies, the United States was nearly unique in developing the one-drop rule; it derived both from the Southern slave culture (shared by other societies) and the aftermath of the American Civil War, emancipation of slaves, and Reconstruction. In the late nineteenth century, Southern whites regained political power and restored white supremacy, passing Jim Crow laws and establishing racial segregation by law. By constitutional amendments and voter registration rules, they disfranchised most of the blacks, maintaining white political power in most Southern states, even those that were majority black, into the 1960s.
In the twentieth century, during the Black Power Movement, leaders claimed all people of any African ancestry as black in a reverse way, to establish political power. People in many other countries have tended to treat race less rigidly, both in their self-identification and how they regard others. 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, even if mixed race.
In colonial Spanish America, many soldiers and explorers took indigenous women as wives, and although in time men were able to bring Spanish women to the colonies, these were always a minority. The colonists developed an elaborate classification and caste system that identified the combinations of black, Amerindian and white by different names, related to appearance and known ancestry. Racial caste not only depended on ancestry or skin color, but also could be raised or lowered by the person's financial status or class.
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."
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."
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. "'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 many are not 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 darker 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."
Professor J.B. Bird has said that Latin America is not alone in rejecting the historical 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." This shows that the perception of race, particularly concerning people of African heritage, is relative to different societies and individuals.
An interesting anecdote to consider was that during this whole period, Puerto Rico had laws like the Regla del Sacar or Gracias al Sacar where a person of black ancestry could be considered legally white so long as they could prove that at least one person per generation in the last four generations had also been legally white. Therefore people of black ancestry with known white lineage were classified as white, the opposite of the "one-drop rule" in the United States.
Racial mixtures of blacks and whites in modern America
Given the intense interest in ethnicity, genetic genealogists and other scientists have studied population groups. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. publicized such genetic studies on his two series African American Lives, shown on PBS. The specialists summarized United States population figures this way:
- 58 percent of African Americans have at least 12.5 percent European ancestry (equivalent of one great-grandparent);
- 19.6 percent of African Americans have at least 25 percent European ancestry (equivalent of one grandparent);
- 1 percent of African Americans have at least 50 percent European ancestry (equivalent of one parent) (Gates is one of those, he discovered); and
- 5 percent of African Americans have at least 12.5 percent Native American ancestry (equivalent to one great-grandparent).
Mark D. Shriver, a molecular anthropologist at Penn State University, has studied population with a team of researchers. In 2002 they published results of a study regarding the racial admixture of Americans who identified as white or black. They recorded the individual's self-identification and analyzed the genetic make-up of their chromosomes. Their results are estimates and might not be completely accurate. Other researchers have also done population studies.
Shriver surveyed a 3,000-person sample from 25 locations in the United States and tested subjects for genetic make-up. Among those who self-identified as white, the black racial admixture was about 0.7%; which is the equivalent of having 1 black and 127 white ancestors among one's 128 5xgreat-grandparents. Nationwide, Shriver estimates that 70% of white Americans have no African ancestors (in part because of the greatly increased immigration from Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries). Among the 30% who do have African ancestry, Shriver estimates their black racial admixture is 2.3%; the equivalent of having had 3 black ancestors among their 128 5xgreat-grandparents.
Blacks are more racially mixed than whites, reflecting historical experience in the United States, including the close living and working conditions among colonial indentured servants, both black and white, and slaves, when many married or formed unions. Most of the free African-American families in Virginia in colonial years were the descendants of white women and African men. After the American Revolutionary War, their descendants migrated to nearby states along with other Virginia pioneers. The admixture also reflects conditions under slavery, when white planters or their sons, or overseers, often took sexual advantage of African women. There were also freely chosen relationships among individuals of different or mixed races.
Shriver's study is not complete. In his study, of those persons who identified as black, their total ancestry reveals 18% white ancestry, the equivalent of having 22 white ancestors among the 128 5xgreat-grandparents. About 10% of blacks have more than 50% white ancestors. Population studies by researchers other than Shriver have found that in general, blacks had an average white ancestry of 25–30%.
Shriver points out that his survey found different admixture rates by region, which would also reflect historic patterns of settlement and change, both in terms of populations who migrated and their descendants' marriages. For example, the black populations with the highest average white ancestry lived in California and Seattle, both destinations during the Great Migration of 1940-1970. Blacks sampled in those two locations had more than 25% white European ancestry on average.
Charles W. Chesnutt, who was of mixed race and grew up in the North, wrote stories and novels about the issues of mixed-race people in southern society in the aftermath of the Civil War.
The one-drop rule and its consequences have been the subject of numerous works of popular culture. In the musical Show Boat, Steve, a white man who is married to a mixed-race woman (considered black), is pursued by a Southern 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.
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 reflects genetic ancestry and patterns of human migration, an individual's race cannot be determined by analysis of their DNA. They develop a sense of identity by their family and the community with which they identify. If an individual grows up in an African-American community, he or she is likely to identify with that; and similarly for European-American or Native American cultures. Therefore, while the concept of race exists as a social construct, 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.
According to J. Phillipe Rushton, a modern proponent of scientific racism, who promotes the notion that gaps in IQ scores between races represent genetic differences between the 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.
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%.
Meanwhile, the company DNAPrint Genomics, while in business until 2009, analyzed 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.
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- ^ a b Conrad P. Kottak, "What is hypodescent?", Human Diversity and "Race" , Cultural Anthropology, Online Learning, McGraw Hill, accessed 21 Apr 2010
- ^ Joshua D. Rothman, Notorious in the Neighborhood: Sex and Families across the Color Line in Virginia, 1787–1861, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, 2003, p.68. Quote: "To be defined as 'mulatto' under Virginia law in 1822, a person had to have at least one-quarter African ancestry." (This is the equivalent to one grandparent.)
- ^ Melvin Randolph Gilmore, "The True Logan Fontenelle", Publications of the Nebraska State Historical Society, Vol. 19, edited by Albert Watkins, Nebraska State Historical Society, 1919, pp. 64-65, at GenNet, accessed 25 August 2011. Note: In 1855 John Bigelk, nephew of Big Elk, described a Sioux attack in which the mixed-race man Logan Fontenelle, son of an Omaha woman, was killed: "They killed the white man, the interpreter, who was with us." As the historian Melvin Randolph Gilmore noted, Bigelk called Fontenelle "a white man because he had a white father. This was a common designation of half-breeds by full-bloods, just as a mulatto might commonly be called a [black] by white people, although as much white as black by race."
- ^ Langston Hughes, The Big Sea, an Autobiography (New York: Knopf, 1940).
- ^ Joshua D. Rothman, Notorious in the Neighborhood: Sex and Families across the Color Line in Virginia, 1787–1861, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, 2003, p. 68. Quote: "To be defined as 'mulatto' under Virginia law in 1822, a person had to have at least one-quarter African ancestry."
- ^ Paul Heinegg, Free African Americans in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware, 1999–2005
- ^ 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.
- ^ Madison Grant, The Passing of The Great Race, 1916
- ^ 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
- ^ For Drake, see Virginia R. Dominguez, White by Definition: Social Classification in Creole Louisiana (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University, 1986)
- ^ A.D. Powell, Passing for Who You Really Are, Palm Coast, 2005, ISBN 0-939479-22-2
- ^ a b c d washingtonpost.com: "People of Color Who Never Felt They Were Black"
- ^ FAQ on the Black Seminoles, John Horse, and Rebellion
- ^ Jay Kinsbruner, Not of Pure Blood, Duke University Press 1996
- ^ Jay Kinsbruner, Not of Pure Blood, Duke University Press Preview
- ^ Henry Louis Gates, Jr., In Search of Our Roots: How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Past, New York: Crown Publishing, 2009, pp.20–21
- ^ a b c Steve Sailer, "Race Now": Part 2: "How White Are Blacks? How Black Are Whites?", UPI, , Steve Sailer Website
- ^ Paul Heinegg, Free African Americans in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware, 1999–2005
- ^ Show Boat (1951) Overview, Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
- ^ Make Believe – Show Boat – Synopsis, from the 1993 Canadian cast recording, Theatre-Musical.com. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
- ^ http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/elsi/minorities.shtml
- ^ Rushton J. P. (2000) Race, Evolution, and Behavior: A Life History Perspective, Charles Darwin Research Inst. Pr; 3rd edition (ISBN 0-9656836-1-3). Abstract available here
- ^ Levin M. "The Race Concept: A Defense", Behavior and Philosophy, 30, 21–42 (2002)
- ^ http://www.racesci.org/in_media/canadian_police.htm[dead link]
- 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
- New Life for the "One Drop" Rule
- PBS – Multiracial America – Who is black? One nation's definition
- PBS – Brazil in Black and White
- "Battles in Red, Black, and White: Virginia's Racial Integrity Law of 1924", University of Virginia
- Lawrence Wright, "One Drop of Blood", The New Yorker, July 24, 1994
- John Terrence A. Rosenthal, "Batson Revisited in America’s 'New Era' of Multiracial Persons", Law Review 33:1, Seton Hall University
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