Alice Mason and the “one drop” myth
March 1, 1999

The surprising background of one of New York’s most celebrated party-givers is revealed in Lawrence Otis Graham’s new book, Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class. Graham reports that Alice Mason, the exclusive real-estate broker whose fund-raising helped put Jimmy Carter in the White House, was born into a prominent black family in Philadelphia. “Her father, Dr. Lawrence Christmas, was a successful dentist and one of the founders of the Philadelphia chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, the oldest and most prestigious black college fraternity in the country,” writes Graham. Mason has been at least as successful in the world of high-end Manhattan real estate, tossing famous black-tie dinner parties with the likes of Barbara Walters, Dominick Dunne, Mike Wallace, and Woody Allen. Although she’s always been in touch with her sister, who lives on Manhattan’s West Side, she hasn’t kept up with her sister’s daughter, Elektra Records president Sylvia Rhone. “I just met her about three weeks ago,” says Mason. “I had actually seen her when she was 4 or 5 years old, and I haven’t seen her since. But she’s a great success, and I’m proud of her.” The real-estate doyenne explains, “There are many people with family members who live on both sides. I’ve led this life for over 45 years, and it’s all a state of mind.”

Alice Mason, of course, is not from a “black” family but from a whiter “mulatto elite” family. Most of the burden for keeping this charade must lie with the “mulatto elite” themselves for accepting the myth that they are all one “race” with blacks because they are too gutless to say otherwise (and have often made political and professional careers for themselves by trading on “black” political power). The result is that the public does not have a vocabulary to describe them. The “black blood” in Hispanics, Arabs, Melungeons, etc. can be ignored precisely because they have a separate name and emphasize that they are not the same people as “blacks.” The “mulatto elite” thus legitimize the ODR with the “gentlemen’s agreement” that those groups with a name can avoid the stigma. This is one of the main reasons that black and black-identified elites fear the “multiracial” option.


  1. Most of the burden for keeping this charade must lie with the “mulatto elite” themselves for accepting the myth that they are all one “race” with blacks because they are too gutless to say otherwise.
    To say otherwise is to abandon the Black American concept of cultural identity in America. A mulatto elite or not would find herself further alienated and powerless. Aside from the pragmatic reasons for remaining within the larger Black american community, the omnibus Multiracial category is simply not appealing for many mixed people. There has not been enough scholarship or debate to adequately address the nuance of this debate.

    I have more in common with blacks than those mixed with the potpurri of ethnicities that are subsumed to the general category of multiracial. The latter option of ‘multiracial’ which the multiracial activist and the new scholarship on the matter proposes is no more accurate or beneficial to the ethnically mixed Black American. Whether the ODR is imposed or embraced, it is true that all Black Americans are of mixed ethnic heritage. Those educated enough to enter this debate should know that there are so few blacks mixed or not within the same arenas of education and professional occupations that there is genuine social and political utility to remaining within the larger black community. The benefit of creating a multiracial category is dubious at best, at worst it has potential for political calamity and social alienation. Most importantly for me and others of black and non-white ethnicities multiracial or mulatto[mixed mule…Willie Lynch Manifesto]is omnibus, unspecific, and less accurate than Black.

    9/29/2004 12:35:42 AM

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