White Racial Identity, Racial Mixture, and the "One Drop Rule"
by A.D. Powell
writer for Interracial Voice
Presented at Fifth Union, June 18, 2004
In the days of the Third Reich, the Nazis imposed the "Nuremberg Laws"on German citizens. Assimilated German Jews were told that they were not German. It didn't matter that their language, culture and self-image were all proudly German. They now belonged to a separate and "inferior race." Nazi propaganda pictured all Jews as racially distinct from Germans, but the reality was that Jews were forced to wear symbols of identification – yellow Stars of David – so they would not be able to "pass" as German or "Aryan." People with either one Jewish parent or grandparent found themselves reclassified as mischlings or "mixed race." The biographies of German Jews and part-Jews frequently speak of "passing for Aryan" and the desirability of having Nordic as opposed to darker or more Semitic looks because the former facilitated the ability to "pass." Are we having a feeling of deja vu yet?
While most Americans have been carefully taught that the Nazis were crazy, evil, racist, etc., for "seeing" separate "races" in Europe when they didn't exist, we are never asked to see the similarity between the Nuremberg Laws that defined Jews and mischlings and our own legal and social traditions of racial classification – especially the myth that white people with a "taint" of Jewish – excuse me – Negro blood are not truly white but secret, "light-skinned" members of the "black race" who are only "passing for white." Just as German Jews were declared unworthy of the honor of being German, American laws, films, novels, television programs, etc., encourage Americans to accept the idea that even small amounts of "black blood" destroy all right to a European-American heritage and identity. The great difference is that, while the Nazis were avowed racists, today's American society is based on laws that enforce legal and social equality between the so-called "races." Indeed, the idea that otherwise white persons can be secret, hidden members of the black race, is promoted by many of the very people who pride themselves on fighting racism in others.
Documentary Genocide and "Lynching" Reputations
In its June 16, 1996 issue, the very liberal and prestigious The New Yorker magazine published an article by Harvard University Afro-American Studies professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in which he denounced the late, highly respected New York Times book critic and author, Anatole Broyard, as a "light-skinned black man" who had "passed for white." Entitled, "White Like Me: The True Lies of Anatole Broyard," Gates' article charged Broyard, who was of Louisiana Creole parentage, with "lying" about his "race" because he did not identify with blacks. The attack by Gates and The New Yorker was aimed not just at one man but at all Americans in a similar situation. It was an attack that Adolf Hitler and Walter Plecker would have enthusiastically supported. Broyard had brought the blood of the "inferior" Negro race into the "superior" white race and "polluted" the latter. But wait! Our mainstream American media don't believe in superior and inferior races. In our society, the ideals of racial equality and opposition to racism are trumpeted from the rooftops. What's going on here?
A recent major motion picture, The Human Stain (and the novel that preceded it), also solemnly warned the nation that strange, inferior creatures it called "light-skinned blacks" had implanted themselves into the white race. Like the German Jews who looked German, acted German, etc., but were NOT truly German, these strange creatures looked and acted white but were most unworthy of that honor. It sounds almost like one of those horror movies in which aliens take over human bodies in an attempt to walk among us do us harm. Miramax, the company that produced the film, sent special instructions to movie critics to make sure that all of them knew about so-called "passing for white" and would describe the otherwise white protagonist, called "Coleman Silk," as a "light-skinned black man" who was guilty of the heinous crime of claiming the "honor" of being white when he was tainted by the blood of the inferior black race – excuse me, we don't believe in that anymore. He tainted the white race with the blood of the blacks in whose equality Miramax and all the other mainstream movie critics claim to believe. Does this make sense? If a man tells you he's Irish and you later find out that he's also part-German, do you denounce him as a lying German who only "passed" for Irish? No, because Irish and Germans are considered biological and social equals. If our Irishman is part-German, you are not getting an inferior product. If our Irishman is part-Negro, he is no longer Irish because the Negro blood means you are getting an "inferior" person and not the "superior" person you thought he was. This makes sense if you're a racist who believes in white racial purity, but all these anti-passing accusations are made by people who claim to be against racism. Why is that?
The Human Stain was only the latest in a string of warnings about the white race being infiltrated by these alien, genetic freaks called "light-skinned blacks." While those Americans who lived through the pre-Civil Rights era when racism (not anti-racism) was politically correct are aware of the so-called "anti-miscegenation" laws that supposedly prevented Negro blood from entering the white race, most Americans probably learn this lesson from Hollywood. Constant television reruns of films such as the two versions of Imitation of Life, Pinky and various television programs present the horror movie scenario- the inferior, genetic freaks look like us but are not us.
American journalists who write about so-called "passing for white" solemnly inform the public that "one drop" of "black blood" makes you "black" in the United States of America. They admit that this idea is rooted in the presumed inferiority of the race in whose equality they claim to believe. However, unlike other racist practices from the pre-Civil Rights era, we are told that the "one drop rule" is something we should embrace rather than scorn. We are told that those who reject the racism of the "one drop rule" are worthy of our contempt. Why the contradiction? Why is the "one drop" myth the only racist rule that self-described anti-racists in the media and academia are fighting to preserve? Why id the only credible and powerful opposition to the proposed "multiracial option" for the U.S. Census, for example, come from NAACP, the National Council of La Raza and other so-called civil rights organizations? Why are certain questions and matter of fact never presented to the public when the topic of so-called "passing for white" comes up? Consider the following:
- Hispanics and Arabs within the U.S. population show obvious signs of the supposedly dreaded "black blood." Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic are essentially mulatto nations. Nearly all Mexicans have some black ancestry from the African slaves who were brought to colonial Mexico and then assimilated into the Indian and mestizo populations. Why is there an "escape hatch" for Hispanics and Arabs when their Anglo and Creole counterparts are condemned as "light-skinned blacks"? Whites who are told by family members to consider themselves "black" are told that "society" or "whites" in general hate and despise the dreaded "black blood." But what racist worth his salt says that the "inferior" Negro blood is more than welcome into the white race as long as it comes speaking Spanish or Arabic?
- Since it is acknowledged that the "one drop rule" is racist, why are we told to preserve it instead of eliminating it? Why aren't the people accused of "passing for white" hailed as heroes who defied racism instead of being subjected to character assassination and the kind of condemnation usually reserved for child molesters and serial killers?
- Why are black American elites and black-identified mulattoes usually the most fanatical and enthusiastic supporters of the "one drop rule"? Indeed, could this racist myth even continue to exist in polite society if blacks turned against it?
- Why is evidence against the "one drop rule" ignored? Why is the public never told that the antebellum Southern states legally permitted persons with one-fourth to one-eighth "Negro blood" into the white race, and could be even more lenient when the person or family was accepted by the local white community? Why are we not told that the "one drop rule" is not related to slavery but accompanied the rise of Jim Crow segregation and the eugenics movement? Why is the audience not told that no American is legally obligated to call himself "black" and the "one drop rule" depends almost totally on self-policing? Why are they lying to us?
While the Jews of Europe were punished with physical genocide for supposedly "polluting the "pure blood" of the "Aryan race," Anglo and Creole Americans of partial black ancestry are subjected to documentary genocide and the lynching of reputations. People are declared "black" because some paper or ancestral document has the telltale words "black," "Negro," "Colored," or "mulatto." Or, like Anatole Broyard, their reputations are blackened after they are dead and can't defend themselves.
The web sites Interracial Voice and The Multiracial Activist have spent several years challenging the idea of hypodescent. This is the doctrine that the offspring of mixed race unions should always identify with the ancestral group with the lowest social status and never with the higher status ancestry. In those years we have learned many things about "race" in the United States.
American Indian Ancestry and White Racial Identity
All white supremacists hold that white racial purity is essential for the survival of the white race. The support of so-called anti-racists for the "one drop rule" complements this idea perfectly. If a drop of black blood can truly make a white person black, who can blame whites who are opposed to interracial marriage? Bigotry becomes self-defense. Yet, even here there are contradictions. American Indian blood is considered harmless and compatible with white ancestry in a way that black blood is not. We started to ask why an American can say, "My grandmother is an Indian but I am white," when he cannot say "My grandmother is black but I am white" without his right to a white identity being challenged.
All our lives we have seen people such as the late Johnny Cash, Burt Reynolds, Loretta Lynn, Cher, etc., proudly proclaim their American Indian ancestry without this acknowledgment being taken as a repudiation of their white ancestry or right to a white identity. One of Johnny Cash's records, called Bitter Tears, is devoted to denouncing the wrongs done to American Indians by that favorite villain of politically correct American history, "The White Man." But somehow Johnny's whiteness was not compromised by this. According to the letter of Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924, most part-Indian whites would not be white, yet few Americans realize this. Why can't "black blood" be treated like American Indian blood? Why are Interracial Voice and The Multiracial Activist the only ones asking that question?
Have you noticed that, while Bell Curve type studies purporting to show the genetic inferiority of blacks appear with some regularity, no one produces studies purporting to show that American Indians are racially inferior to whites? Could this be because the wide acknowledgment of American Indian ancestry in whites protects American Indians from this kind of racial attack? There is no political profit in it. In the two version of the American movie, The Squawman, the American Indian wife of a British aristocrat is clearly presented as racially inferior, but their son is not. The son is even considered a worthy heir to his father's title and estates in England. Change the wife's race to "black" and try to imagine that ending.
White Honor, Dishonor, and the Severing of Interracial Family Ties
Sociologist Orlando Patterson, in his cross-cultural study of slavery, Slavery and Social Death, describes a slave as a person with no ancestors. Biologically, of course, everyone has ancestors. But the slave has no official family and no family rights and obligations within society. He is socially dead. In American history, describing a physically white person as nonwhite, especially Negro or black, was a perfect way for white elites to send a message to the white masses: Don't get too close to or friendly with blacks or mulattoes. Otherwise, you will lose your race, your honor, your whiteness, your very ancestry. You will become socially dead to other whites.
The producers of the 1934 version of Imitation of Life worried about how they were going to present the "passing for white" girl without evoking the specter of miscegenation. Clearly, some "pure white" had to mate with a Negro for the girl to exist. How could they avoid reminding the audience of that? It is no accident that, in Pinky, Imitation of Life, The Human Stain and other anti-passing melodramas, you almost never see any parents or ancestors who look like the accused passer. We are told that the absent father of the "passing" girl of Imitation of Life fame was a "real light-skinned colored man" since her docile black mammy would never be so bold and uppity as to mate with a real white man. The point is that we are meant to see the girl as a genetic freak. Whites did not produce her, we are told, and therefore have no family responsibility to her. We are also told that her spiritual descendant, Anatole Broyard, had no white ancestors since there were no "pure" whites among his immediate ancestors. The same could be said for most Latinos, but somehow their lack of white racial purity doesn't count.
What is a family. What is an ethnic group? What are the obligations of a family? The "one drop rule" and the anti-passing drama tell us that the "passer" has sacred obligations to his socially inferior black-identified relatives which should prevent his upward mobility, but his "pure" white relatives have no obligation to him. Officially, he doesn't have any white relatives or ancestors. The very term "light-skinned," which has been used to describe anyone from brown-skinned people to Nordic blonds, is used as a euphemism to avoid saying "white." We are taught that the "passer" is "light-skinned" but not "white." Why? Because the word "white" implies a connection to and family relationships with white people – something anti-miscegenation laws and racial classification statutes were designed to destroy.
As previously mentioned, black elites and black-identified mulattoes have internalized many of these racist beliefs that "whites" and "blacks" can never be part of the same family. Yet, the Southern mulatto elite, which traditionally considered themselves the "superior" members of the "inferior" race, have families that are very racially mixed. The "one drop rule" or myth allows them the emotional luxury of hating whites in general while prizing the physical characteristics that white ancestry bestows. Most of the anti-passing hysteria in the post Civil Rights era seems to come from this group. Their fanatical devotion to the "one drop rule" is also used as a moral shield by others who want to promote the "one drop" or hypodescent ideology that proclaimed blacks and mulattoes inferior in the first place.
Hating Whites and Loving White Genes: Black Support of the "One Drop Myth" and White Racial Purity
In 1999 The Washington Post published an emotional article by one of its so-called "black" reporters, Lonnae O'Neal Parker, in which the author described her trauma when she discovered that her first cousin, Kim, was white-identified. This shouldn't have been too surprising since Kim was born to and reared by a "pure" white mother, looks totally white, and has a "light-skinned" mulatto father who was not keen to identify with blacks.
O'Neal Parker's article became a nationwide sensation. The Seattle Times and other papers reprinted it and ABC Television's Nightline devoted an entire episode to it. O'Neal parker's highly irrational thesis was that Cousin Kim and all others in a similar situation have an obligation to repudiate their white ancestry and identify with blacks in order to make up for any wrongs done to blacks and black-identified mulattoes by whites in both the present and the distant past. In other words, the "one drop rule" is not presented to the public as a sign of black moral superiority instead of black biological inferiority. Cousin Kim supposedly chose the evil, racist whites over the innocent, pure-hearted blacks. This is also the way the "one drop" myth was justified in The Human Stain and the attacks on Anatole Broyard. O'Neal Parker, who is herself mulatto elite – not physically black but not as white as Kim – has no problem incorporating white genes into her family, but she does not want whites in it since whites are defined as the enemy Only in Interracial Voice and The Multiracial Activist could one find some suggestion that O'Neal Parker's racial views were – shall we say – not a picture of good mental health.
We find it very interesting that O'Neal Parker insists that Cousin Kim must refuse to be white because "whites" are the enemies of blacks. It was the white-owned Washington Post and other white media that promoted O-Neal Parker's venom and let it go unchallenged. They were the ones who gave her a forum. In The New York Times, black columnist Brent Staples performs a similar task ; his columns are used mainly to promote the "one drop rule" and denounce "passing for white." The "one drop" myth is promoted either through blacks or justified as a glorification of blacks.
Racial Kidnaping and Ethnic Rape
What do we mean by a glorification of blacks? At Interracial Voice we started using the terms racial kidnaping and ethnic rape to refer to the practice of claiming as "black" people who were not physically black and did not identify with blacks. Kidnaping and rape are appropriate analogies here because the victims are taken by force – clearly against their will. Anatole Broyard was such a victim. Here are some other major examples:
Michael Morris Healy, an Irish immigrant, arrived in the U.S. around 1815 and established a plantation near Macon, Georgia. He took a mulatto slave, Eliza Clark, as his common-law wife and the two produced 10 children. All of the surviving children were sent North to be educated and protected from slavery since Georgia made legal manumission almost impossible. They were baptized as Catholics and lived the rest of their lives as proud Irish Americans. James Augustine Healy became Bishop of Portland, Maine. Patrick Francis Healy became President of Georgetown University from 1873 to 1881. Michael Morris Healy, Jr. joined the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service (the forerunner of the U.S. Coast Guard) and became a celebrated sea captain, the sole representative of the U.S. Government in Alaska. Now, many decades after their deaths, these proud (and "white") Irish Americans are being widely promoted as "blacks." First "blacks" this and first "blacks" that, even though no one identified with blacks could have accomplished what they did. The U.S. Government named an ice cutter after Captain Healy, but only to honor blacks, not him. Indeed, for Captain Healy it is an insult rather than an "honor."
What is the point of this racial or ethnic kidnaping? Does it prove what blacks could accomplish? No! The Healys were biologically more white than black and, socially, they were white. What can the public conclude except that something is strangely unique, mystical and inferior about black genes? (See http://www.interracialvoice.com/powell8.html)
On November 30, 1944 Calvin Clark Davis of Bear Lake, Michigan died a hero's death in World War II as part of the U.S. Army Air Force. He was posthumously honored with several medals. However, the "honor" was tainted by the fact that Davis was described as a "black man" who "pretended to be white." Indeed, Davis' racial identity has received far more publicity than his military heroics. I wrote an article about Davis for Interracial Voice called "Pissing on the Grave of Heroes." Davis, we are told:
- passed for white
- lied about who he was
- concealed his race
- faked being white
Remember what I said about having no ancestors? Far from being honored for his military service, Davis is being publicly shamed and dishonored.
Another World War II hero "outed" for alleged "passing for white" was Pvt. Robert Brooks of Sadieville, Kentucky. He died heroically in the Philippines on December 8, 1941. His story appears in Studs Terkel's book on World War II, The Good War.
Here are other prominent examples of racial kidnaping or ethnic rape:
- Jean Toomer, whose name is taught to schoolchildren and college students as the "black" author of a book of poetry and short stories called Cane, was in fact a multiracial Caucasian who rejected a false "black" identity and wrote extensively on why the U.S. racial classification system should be eliminated in favor of a common "American" identity.
- Alexander Dumas, the French author of the famed novel The Three Musketeers, is presented to American schoolchildren as "black" when he was really three-quarters white and in no way socially "black."
- Alexander Pushkin, the greatest of Russian poets and father of Russian literature, is frequently presented to schoolchildren as another famous "black" because of one African great-grandfather.
Why are all of these people described as "black" in American schools even though there are no physical or cultural standards to justify that description? Are they claimed as "black" because of a tacit fear that "black" genes cannot stand on their own? Is this a "liberal" version of the old racist canard that miscegenation "improves" the "Negro" race while "degrading" the white race?
The Lies that Sustain the Myth of "Passing for White"
When the "one drop myth" is reported in the mainstream media, no mention whatsoever is made of the evidence against it. Such evidence, if presented, never sees the light of day and is limited to a few people who take pains to study the subject. The American people are not allowed to consider the following:
- If the "one drop rule" is real and enforced by whites, why is a glaring exception made for Hispanics and Arab-Americans? It does not take a genius to see both the physical and historical evidence that Hispanics and Arabs are nearly all "tainted" with the blood of what used to be America's official "inferior race."
- Why aren't Americans told that antebellum definitions of "white" tended to be more liberal than 20th century definitions; people with one-fourth to one-eighth Negro blood were legally allowed into the white race. For example, Edison Hemings Jefferson, the former slave son of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings (and whose white descendants are the only Hemings descendants to pass a DNA test showing descent from the Jefferson line), was legally white once he was manumitted because the has at least seven-eights white. We should not be surprised that in both abolitionist and Republican Party literature, "white slaves" were frequently used to arouse the Northern white population against slavery. Why are these facts kept from the American people?
- What are the real world standards for saying that someone is "black" and not "white"? Edison Hemings Jefferson is always described in the media as "light-skinned black" who only "passed for white," but his descendants are acknowledged as white without qualification. Where is the cutoff point? The only one I can see is that dead whites with a touch of the dreaded "tarbush" are "black" and those still living are 'white."
In the magazine American Heritage, a white woman named Jillian Sim announced that she had discovered that her great-grandmother was Anita Hemmings, a white mulatto or mixed white who graduated from Vassar College in the late 19th century was almost expelled for being "colored" when a wealthy and envious classmate decided to have her background investigated. Now Vassar proudly claims that Anita, who lived as white for the rest of her life, was their first "black" graduate. Jillian Sim accepts the myth that Anita was a "black" who "passed for white" and she condemns both her paternal grandmother and great-grandparents as "blacks" who "passed for white." Sim, her father, and her son, however, are still white. The dead are "black" and the living are "white."
After Broadway star Carol Channing recent disclosure that her father was partially black but lived all his life as a white man, you'll notice that Channing is not described as "black" in the media but her father is described that way without qualification. Moreover, if you look at the Amazon.com comments on Channing's autobiography, Just Lucky, I Guess, you'll note that commentators who are black-identified insist on calling her "black" as well.
People as diverse as the actress Mae West, former U.S. President Dwight David Eisenhower and former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, etc. have been labeled "black" (usually by blacks and black-identified mulattoes) on the basis of the one-drop myth. There appear to be no standards except opportunism – the ethnic rape charge again.
It is common, we at Interracial Voice have discovered, for black-identified supporters of the "one drop" myth to announce that people don't "look white" when they've been white all or nearly all of their lives. They will shamelessly insist that Carol Channing doesn't look white and Mae West didn't look white. They could see the dreaded colored blood all along! Mixed whites who used to travel all over the Jim Crow South as white, are told by fanatical black-identified folks that they are obviously black. These rants are so similar, we swear there must be a school somewhere that teaches black-identified folks nothing but defense of the "one drop" myth.
"Passing for White" is an Honored American Tradition – for Nearly Everyone Else
"Passing" is an honored American custom – for nearly everyone except tarbrushed whites non-Hispanic, non-Arab whites and mulattoes who have the misfortune to be too American or Louisiana Creole. It is not so much your touch of the dreaded black blood that matters, but whether or not your ancestral documents (census records, birth, marriage and death certificates, etc.) bear the telltale words "mulatto" or "free person of color" or "Negro" on them.
The Latino Escape Hatch. Throughout most of the 20th century, Latino elites in the United States (and the government of Mexico itself) argued that all Hispanics should be classified as "white" on all official records – regardless of appearance or ancestry. So a blond person with the "tarbrush" could be labeled "Negro" in Texas while a dark-skinned Mexican with no white blood or European ancestry would be officially labeled "white" – even if he was treated more like a Negro than a white person. Now that is big time passing!
South Asians. Before the Civil Rights era and the rise of affirmative action, South Asians from India, Pakistan, etc. insisted that they were "white." They were first labeled "nonwhite" and then received the ultimate honor of being called "white." According to this myth, dark-skinned people from India were dark-skinned "Caucasians" while "tarbrushed" Americans of totally European phenotype were unworthy to call themselves "Caucasian." Now South Asians are called "Asians" and are eligible for "minority" benefits and the numerous advantages "white guilt" can bestow. Big time passing!
Mississippi Chinese. The Chinese of Mississippi started out as "colored" and many of the men married "Negro" women. The leaders of the Chinese community begged the local white elites for the right to be classified as "white" instead of "colored." The price the white elites imposed was rejection of all Chinese kin who were part-Negro or intermarried with Negroes. Big time passing and a rejection of family that you will never see condemned on television a la Imitation of Life.
Jew and "Passing for White." The Jewish immigrant moguls who founded Hollywood prided themselves on rejecting their Jewish heritage and forced Jewish actors and actresses to change their names. That is why Jews named Issur Danielovich, Bernie Schwartz and Betty Persky became Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis and Lauren Bacall, respectively. You can buy books telling you about hundreds of famous Americans who are secretly Jewish. By "secretly" I don't mean that they would deny it if you asked them. I mean that they don't announce it and carefully present a non-Jewish image to the public. This is called passing when the tarbrushed whites do it. It is big time passing!
Working Class "Passing." Hiding a working class background when one rises in class is considered morally acceptable. In an anthology of autobiographical essays from academics from the working class, This Fine Place So Far From Home: Voices of Academics from the Working Class (Temple University Press, 1995), editors C.L. Barney Dews and Carolyn Leste Law present a stream of stories in which academics from poor and working class backgrounds quickly learn to "pass" as upper middle class in origin and hide their less desirable relatives and backgrounds. In the 1930's movie, Stella Dallas, the working class mother drives her daughter away so the girl can be reared by her upper class father and have a better life. The film ends with the mother secretly looking at her daughter's high society wedding while standing outside in the rain. Imagine Imitation of Life ending like that! Big time passing!
Southern Whites in the North and "Passing for Yankee." One can also say that Southern whites who move North quickly learn to drop the accent and "pass" for Yankee. I once asked Rick Bragg, the former New York Times reporter and author, who is from Alabama, how he managed at The Times when he is so obviously Southern. He admitted that he is an exception. Many others will not deny that they were born south of the Mason-Dixon line, but hope to God that no one brings it up. Think of it! How many white Southerners do you know who are not poor and living in a community with other Southerners who retain their accents or advertise their Southern origins? Big time passing!
Finally, how can there be true equality in this country while the "one drop" myth is presented to the American people as a perverted ideal we must honor – for no reason that makes any sense? I began this presentation with a reference to racial definition laws of Nazi Germany. There is no sense in pointing out the illogic and racism of the Nuremberg Laws while simultaneously upholding the "one drop" myth and its assumptions of white racial purity.
We at Interracial Voice and The Multiracial Activist have spent years arguing with people (the vast majority of them black-identified) who claim to be devoted opponents of racism but fight like hell to retain the myth that all true whites are "pure" and "one drop" of "black blood" makes you "black." But what we call "race" is a spectrum of human colors and phenotypes that blend into each other. There are no hard and fast boundaries that divide one so-called "race" from another. Whenever we fail to challenge the "one drop" myth and argue in favor of human freedom to choose one's one own identity, we effectively deny that sacred reality.
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From Interracial Voice:
From The Multiracial Activist
From The Washington Post
Copyright © 2004 A.D. Powell. All rights reserved.