What You White Folks Don’t Know
by Susane M.J. Heine
December 2004/January 2005
Since the ’60s and Martin Luther King’s crusade to free all Americans from the stigma of racial hatred, racial favoritism and racial bullying, a great deal has changed. Among other things, the self-appointed black leadership-claiming its legitimacy from the Civil Rights Movement and its line of descent from MLK himself-has metamorphosed from an underdog position to the one it enjoys today, namely as the supreme arbiter of all questions that deal with race in the United States. These leaders, who include representatives of government and government-sponsored agencies, academics at prestigious universities, high-level civil servants and politicians, media spokesmen, free-lance intellectuals and opinion-makers, generally lean to the left in their thinking, which greatly endears them to the white, left-oriented media marshals, who seem determined to expiate their own guilt about past racial injustices by embracing as Holy Writ any kind of politically correct twaddle regarding “race” that their black colleagues put forth.
At the moment, the University of California is turning over an item, RE-42, proposed by Regent Ward Connerly, regarding adding a new “race” checkbox to its applications forms. This checkbox would be labeled “multi-racial” in response to the wishes of millions of Americans who identify and describe themselves as such. However, this idea is being actively (not to say tooth and claw) opposed by-among other groups-the NAACP and the ACLU, who sternly warn that the addition of a multi-racial checkbox “would obfuscate racial data collection because someone who checked ‘multi-racial’ could have ancestors from any combination of races and it wouldn’t be clear which ones”.
The first question I want to ask you, the non-black reader, is: What difference would this make to you? If the person in question had “ancestors from any combination of races”, would that be a problem for you in dealing with that individual? If you were in a position to do so, would you deny him a job for which he was qualified, or a loan that he obviously could handle financially? Would you be upset if he joined your church, or if his son or daughter went to the same daycare center as your own kids? Would you move out of your comfortable home if he moved in next door?
Somehow, I think not. I believe that America has come a long, arduous and honorable way since MLK’s time, in particular as far as interpersonal race relations go. We no longer view one another with the same mistrust, fear and ignorance that once made us uncomfortable in one another’s presence; we no longer assume that a lot of old wives’ tales apply, a priori, to a person who is of another color. We’ve grown up, simply, and all of us are the better and the wiser for it.
But again I address the non-black reader: Do you know what the One-Drop Rule is? Well, if you don’t, allow me to enlighten you.
The One-Drop Rule, which says that anyone with any known sub-Saharan “blood” is “a negro”, has old origins. It is based on theories of taxonomy developed by scientists (see Linneus, Blumenbach et al.) in the 16- and 1700s, according to which the black man is a subspecies of mankind, an animal-like throwback whose genes, by virtue of their brute dominance, override those of any other human family with which they may become mixed-in other words, a kind of dominant missing link between human and ape. These theories were made widespread in the wake of colonial conquest and slavery, serving as a moral justification for what were purely commercial and imperialistic pursuits.
During slavery, the One-Drop Rule was also used to liven up commerce on the slave block. A person who was, say, 15/16s white, could be sold as a slave and would definitely fetch a far better price-especially if she was a female-than a black person. This is entirely consistent with the idea that one drop of negro blood made one a negro, while any admixture of white blood was a clear asset in terms of good looks, intelligence, etc.
Finally, in the 1890s, the One-Drop Rule was effectively used to wipe out the French- and Spanish-descended Créole communities that had flourished in and around Louisiana and Florida, with offshoots in Savannah and Charleston, for three-hundred years. The French culture in these regions is probably the only example of a successful multi-racial culture ever to thrive on American soil. But the Jim Crow laws-which nullified the Créoles’ status as multi-racials (“gens du couleur libres” or “free people of color”) and forced them to choose between being classed as negroes or as whites-split families in two, effectively obliterating their cultural coherence and depriving them of what they had perceived for generations as their birthright as a mixed-race, French-speaking people.
As time passed, the One-Drop Rule almost fell out of use at the public level-except when it could be trotted out for dramatic exploitation (as in, for example, films like “Pinky”, “Showboat”, “Imitation of Life” and most recently “The Human Stain”), or to pillory people who “passed” for white, like the late New York Times writer Anatole Broyard. Anyone who ever knew or heard Mr. Broyard can testify to the fact that he was indeed a “white man”, pretty much as “white” as they make ’em. However, the tiny portion of African ancestry that he possessed was enough to set black writer Henry Louis Gates Jr’s teeth on edge, so Gates made it his business upon Broyard’s death to “out” him as a “negro passing for white”.
One more victory for the One-Drop Rule, and thanks to the media’s flat-on-its-back acceptance of Gates’ spurious arguments, one more victory for the enforcers of an absurd and-above all-profoundly racist concept.
Today’s black power brokers are in a very precarious position. On the one hand, they stand to lose a great deal of their power, influence and privilege even as Hispanics gain daily in numbers and political clout. Within the next five years or so, Latinos/Hispanics will become the largest and most influential minority bloc-in other words, the black leaders are going to have to take a back seat to a very formidable rival.
That’s the devil on one side. The other devil is the increasing demand from mixed-race Americans that they be called and counted as just that, “multi-racial”, which further threatens the black power brokers, wedged as they are between Scylla and Charybdis. When the NAACP successfully vetoed the inclusion of a “multi-racial” category for the census of 2000, one pundit in that organization was heard to declare “If we had put a ‘multi-racial’ box on the form, all those high-yellows would have made for the door”. Now apart from the grotesque idea that any citizens of the United States of America should be denied the right to decide for themselves what “race” they belong to, the really shocking thing is that this Good Worthy looks on his own “race” as a prison from which other people must be prevented from escaping! And he is not alone in this addled idea.
Albeit the machinations of the black power brokers are usually a tad more subtle than that. In their post-MLK position as race arbiters, for example, they have, perversely enough, taken over the role of the now-defunct Jim Crow administrators in making sure that various institutions (schools, the armed forces, etc.) meticulously take stock of the “race” of any applicants admitted. They have demanded that people identify themselves racially on all sorts of state and government forms, and of course people have responded. But have people really reflected on why? Of what use is this information ultimately? And to whom? And isn’t it true that if a form contains a bogus racial category such as “Asian”-“bogus” because Asia is home to some baker’s dozen of so-called “races”, none of whom are even vaguely related-that the people who have called for this category to be used in the first place are not really interested in what actually constitutes an “Asian”? Now look at the statement of the NAACP again: “The addition of a ‘multi-racial’ box would obfuscate racial data collection because someone who checked ‘multi-racial’ could have ancestors from any combination of races and it wouldn’t be clear which ones”. Right. But aren’t we already “obfuscating racial data collection” by classifying people according to nonexistent “races” like “Asian” or-worse yet-“Hispanic”, still another bogus “racial” category?
Thus we come full circle back to the One-Drop Rule. The people who have most stubbornly demanded collection of this information, the black leaders (don’t forget, every proposal regarding “race” and “the public” must go by them first for approval), are in fact only really concerned with the segment of the public that might be considered “black”. However, in order for this special interest of theirs to seem less macchiavellian, covert and self-serving, they call for the gathering of racial information on every conceivable group, even “groups” that aren’t “groups” (in any racial sense), such as “Asians” and “Hispanics”.
Moreover, and most importantly, how much does it cost (at the local, state and national levels) to keep track of this stuff? Paying as you are, Mr. and Mrs. America-black as well as white-out of your own pocket for the gathering of this frivolous, inaccurate, misleading and inessential data, is it not up to you to simply ask yourselves: “What is this junk worth to me?”
Suffice it to say that however silly the “race” question on forms may be, when Tiger Woods was asked to give that information, he answered truthfully. His mother is Chinese, his father is a blend of African, European and Native American; in other words, Tiger is overwhelmingly “multi-racial”. But the black power machine has consistently demanded that he be defined as “Black” so that he can be numbered among its flock. And thus the One-Drop Rule has been resurrected from its obscene and sinister Jim Crow past to serve the black power machine’s interests, to boost its constituency and-ultimately-to mock the idea of true equality of the races.
We need to dispense with “race” boxes altogether on forms, but with so much academic prestige, public funds, political influence and grass-roots traditions invested in this bad habit, it will probably live on until it is worn down by the sheer force of ordinary people’s common sense.
But we’ve got to start somewhere. My roots lie among many peoples: Cherokee, French, Irish, Seminole and West African (probably Yoruba or Wolof)-in other words, I’m multiracial and American, and I certainly don’t need the “black leaders” or anyone else to tell me what kind of American I am. Furthermore, because I truly believe in the equality of all mankind, I refuse to accept the racist One-Drop Rule, which defines “black blood” as a biological anomaly that blots out and overrides all the rest of my ancestry.
Just thought you folks should know.
Copyright © 2004 Susanne M.J. Heine and The Multiracial Activist. All rights reserved.