Political Physics: I Agree with Halle, the “One Drop Rule” Does Still Apply [BEST OF FaN]

I chose this article because even looking back on it I am surprised that is spawned such a heartfelt, deep and thought-provoking discussion on race and identity both here and on Facebook.   It also made me think further about how, if at all, parents should try to shape their child’s racial identity.  I have every intention of trying to shape our children’s racial identity but the discussion threads really made me think about how careful I need to be.

Originally published 02/15/11

When I was in college there was this young biracial (half black and half white) woman.  I remember her so vividly, which is funny since she went out of her way to avoid talking to me even though we lived in the same house.  Truthfully, it was not just me – lets call her “Jessica” – avoided most black people particularly those that were extremely vocal about race and racial politics.  She did not attend BRIDGE – the pre-orientation program for women of color at Smith.  She refused to join the Black Student’s Association.  A friend of mind would often remark how “confused” she was because she was adopted and raised by white parents.  Our junior year she started an organization on campus called MISC or “Multi-Ethnic Inter-Racial Smith College.”  By that time I was dating a really awesome guy, who happened to be white, and it was becoming abundantly clear that we were headed down the aisle.  So Jessica scared the hell out of me!  All I kept thinking was what if I have a daughter like her who intentionally alienates herself from women who resemble her mother or father?

Fast forward nearly 14 years later – indeed I did marry that awesome guy, who happened to be white.  And I am the mother of two beautiful children – a boy and a girl.  And you know what, Jessica scares me even more today then she did then.

In 2000 the Census Bureau allowed Americans to select one or more races.  That year nearly 7 million people or about 2.4 percent of the population identified themselves as more than one race.  According to estimates from the Census Bureau, the mixed-race population has grown by roughly 35 percent since 2000.  According to an article in the NY Times entitled, “Black? White? Asian? More Young Americans Choose All of the Above,” “One in seven new marriages are between spouses of different races or ethnicities, according to data from 2008 and 2009 that was analyzed by the Pew Research Center. Multiracial and multiethnic Americans (usually grouped together as “mixed race”) are one of the country’s fastest-growing demographic groups.  And experts expect the racial results of the 2010 census, which will start to be released next month, to show the trend continuing or accelerating.”

And according to the NY Times, the majority of biracial Americans – particularly young Americans – identify and want to be recognized as “mixed race. “

So maybe Jessica was just ahead of the curve all those years ago.

Those same young people were probably cringing last week when Halle Berry cited the “one drop rule” as her rationale for identifying her child, two-year old Nahla, as black.  During an interview with Ebony, Berry said, “I feel she’s black. I’m black and I’m her mother, and I believe in the one-drop theory.”  Berry is currently engaged in a rather nasty custody battle with her ex-boyfriend/baby daddy, Gabriel Aubry.  The public battle and Berry’s evoking of the “one drop rule,” has sparked debate nationwide.

The “one drop rule” was often the law of the land in the early-to-mid twentieth century, most notably in Virginia under the Racial Integrity Act of 1924.  This followed the passage of similar laws in numerous other states.  Basically, the “one drop rule” said that if a person had “one drop” of black blood then they were forbidden to pass as white.

Essentially Berry believes that since she is black, her daughter is black.

As a mother of biracial children, I have found myself pondering what I would say to my son or daughter if they asked what race they were.  I believe that I would tell my children that they are biracial or mixed-race.  However, socially, politically and economically in the United States, they will more than likely be perceived as black and they need to be prepared for that.

So, they should not be surprised that President Obama is often referred to as the first black president.  They should not be surprised when Fuzzy Zoeller makes an offhand remark about Tiger Woods not selecting “fried chicken…collard greens or whatever the hell they serve” as the dinner for the Master’s celebration. When someone tries to put them in a box, I want them to be prepared for it and able to handle it.

Also, I expect them to appreciate, celebrate and never shy away from either part of their culture.  I would be very disappointed to see them refusing to play with or shying away from black children.

So I guess in some ways I agree with Halle Berry.  We do not live in a post-racial society and the “one drop rule” is still alive and well in America.  And it is often used to identify biracial or “mixed race” Americans, no matter how they choose to identify themselves.

And to be truthful I would feel hurt and disappointed if either of my children identified as “white,” but I would have no problem with them joining the Black Student’s Association.

I just hope and pray that there will be no Jessicas in my house.