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"Black man, black woman, black baby /
White man, white woman, white baby /
White man, black woman, black baby /
Black man, white woman, black baby."

Public Enemy, Fear of a Black Planet

There is no doubt that the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States is historic. But does framing him as America's "first Black president" show that we have not come nearly as far as we'd like to think?

The mainstream U.S. news -- and the majority of the American public, whether for or against him -- consider Barack Obama to be the first African American President. While he is certainly a member of the Black community (and much more literally African-American due to his father being a Kenyan immigrant), he is also equally part of the white community. His mother was white. The grandmother who helped raise him (and whom he tragically lost to cancer on the eve of his election) was also white. But historically, and apparently to this day, to be Black to any degree is to be exclusively Black. Is our celebration of Barack Obama as the first Black president proof that we haven't moved very far past the "one-drop rule"?

A Drop of Black, and You Never Go Back
The one-drop rule is the perception that any amount of non-white ancestral heritage makes a person non-white. But there is more than one interpretation of the concept. For some, the distinction is based on physical traits. If you appear to have Black features, then you are Black, whether it is more or less than 50% of your ancestry. Slightly differently, some believe that if there is even the most dilute Black blood in a person's make-up, there will be a tell-tale sign of some kind that will prove the mixed heritage -- a birth mark, the shape of the crescent in the nail bed, or others.

But what we are seeing with the advent of Barack Obama as a national figure fits more within yet another third interpretation. Philosophy professor and author Naomi Zack defined it in her 1998 book, Thinking About Race. "One-drop rule: American social and legal custom of classifying anyone with one black ancestor, regardless of how far back, as black." I asked Zack for her comments about Barack Obama. She replied: "Why is someone with an African father and a white mother, who if race were real would be mixed race, considered 'Black?' Why is it not also absurd to refer to that person as 'a multi-racial African American'?"

In 1994, legal scholar Julie C. Lythcott-Haims wrote in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review that the one-drop rule "still exists today; Americans who are part-Black are socially considered Black, and only Black by most Americans. ... The one-drop rule is so ingrained in the American psyche that Blacks and Whites do not think twice about it."

In 1997, we saw Tiger Woods as a multiracial person being reduced to one facet of his identity. On Oprah Winfrey's show, he was asked if it bothered him to be referred to simply as African-American. He responded, "It does. Growing up, I came up with this name: I'm a 'Cablinasian'" (meaning Caucasian-Black-Indian-Asian).  "I'm just who I am," Woods told Winfrey, "whoever you see in front of you." Sportswriter Ralph Riley wrote about Woods' background and the one-drop rule, without naming it. "Tiger's Asian heritage defines him as thoroughly as any other aspect of his makeup, although we tend to throw everyone brown and American with nice lips into the black blender."

It isn't just white culture that follows the one-drop rule, as Tiger Woods experienced in 1997. A May 1997 article in Time magazine looked at the reaction to Woods' statement on Oprah. "Kerboom! a mini-racial fire storm erupted. Woods' remarks infuriated many African Americans who hailed his record-setting triumph at the Masters as a symbol of racial progress but see him as a traitor. To them Woods appeared to be running away from being an African American ... In their rush to judgment, the fearful apparently never stopped to consider that Woods was not turning his back on any part of his identity but instead was embracing every aspect of it."

Fast-forward to November 2006 and in a 2006 Zogby International poll, 55% of whites considered Obama as biracial after being told that Obama's mother was white and his Kenyan father was Black. Even more Hispanics --  61% --  also saw Obama as biracial. But interestingly, 66% of the Blacks polled classified Obama as Black.

The October 23, 2006, cover story in Time magazine shows that we still have a hard time letting people of mixed racial backgrounds "embrace every aspect" of being "just who I am." In the story, titled "Why Barack Obama Could Be the Next President," reporter Joe Klein compared Obama to Colin Powell, and employed the one-drop assumption: "Powell and Obama have another thing in common: they are black people who -- like Tiger Woods, Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan -- seem to have an iconic power over the American imagination because they transcend racial stereotypes." Although Obama and Woods are both multiracial, Klein referred to them solely as Black and even as "iconic" African-Americans.

What Race Is, and Isn't
Historically, race has been treated as a natural category for classifying human beings. The assumption that people can be grouped into distinct races has political overtones and motives. Activities such as slavery, domination, and oppression have been justified in large part by claims that those who dominate are inherently different (and superior) to those they dominate. Modern science, however, has shown that this system for classifying people has little if any basis in biology or genetics.

According to the current position on race of the American Anthropological Association, drafted in 1998, "The concept of race is a social and cultural construction... Race simply cannot be tested or proven scientifically ... It is clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. The concept of 'race' has no validity ... in the human species." According to the U.S. Census Bureau, race is "self-identification by people according to the race or races with which they most closely identify. These categories are sociopolitical constructs and should not be interpreted as being scientific or anthropological in nature. Furthermore, the race categories include both racial and national-origin groups." When speaking of human genetic variations, scientists today study "populations" rather than "races," a more precise term that avoids the misleading assumption that superficial characteristics such as skin color group automatically with other characteristics such as intelligence or character. In everyday life, however, "race" is still the most commonly used term and the most widely accepted concept.

Barack Obama's life experience makes him a particularly interesting case study in the problems inherent in trying to classify people by race. Obama is the son of a Kenyan man who came to study in the U.S. He was born and raised by his white maternal family in multiracial, multiethnic Hawai'i, and spent a portion of his young life living in Indonesia. He is "Black" in the sense that he has an African father, but his experience growing up is quite different from that of a "typical" African American. Of course, the idea that there is a "typical" African American experience is itself rather suspect. Generations have passed since the first Africans arrived on American shores, and many African Americans have a variety of non-African ancestors with Native American, Caucasian or other roots. Ironically, therefore, Obama's mixed ancestry may be the most "typical" characteristic he shares with other African Americans.

We're Not There Yet
Even when Obama's mixed racial background is mentioned, the one-drop assumptions and default terms come into play. In a November 8, 2008 article titled "'Mutts Like Me' -- Obama Shows Ease Discussing Race," writer Alan Fram focuses on a comment that the president-elect made about what type of puppy his girls would bring to the White House with them. "Obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me," Obama said. Fram seems to be getting to the heart of the matter, saying "The message seemed clear -- here is a president who will be quite at ease discussing race, a complex issue as unresolved as it is uncomfortable for many to talk about openly. And at a time when whites in the country are not many years from becoming the minority." However, old habits die hard. Fram also says, "By now, almost everyone knows that Obama's mother was white and father was black, putting him on track to become the nation's first African-American president."

Should embracing the multiracial background of people like Barack Obama or Tiger Woods take away from the pride and sense of accomplishment that different communities take in his achievements? Is it really less of a victory for Blacks if Obama's mixed race is acknowledged and celebrated? In a November 10, 2008, article for titled "Our Biracial President," James Hannaham wrote, "Obama's biracial. ... This is not to say that he hasn't received some of the same treatment as black Americans, or that he is not welcome among them, or that people should denigrate his need to make his background understandable to people who think that 'biracial' means a type of airplane. It suggests something far less divisive. It means that black and white people (not to mention other ethnicities chained to the binary idiocy of American race relations) can share his victory equally."

In 1967, there were still sixteen U.S. states that had laws on the books banning interracial marriage. That isn't a typo -- 1967. It was in that year that the US. Supreme Court unanimously struck down laws banning interracial marriages with these words: "The freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides within the individual and cannot be infringed on by the State." Barack Obama's parents met, married, and gave birth to him in Hawai'i in the early 1960s. It is a matter of chance that they were not in one of the states where interracial marriage and sex was illegal. In addition, the 2000 U.S. census was the first one in which respondents could choose to identify themselves as belonging to more than a single race. Given that recent history, perhaps we could all celebrate how far we have come by electing a biracial President.

Judith Siers-Poisson is the Associate Director of the Center for Media and Democracy (, where this article was first published.

Originally posted to Judith Siers Poisson on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 07:27 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  great diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kate mckinnon, grasshopper, carver

    I have been asking myself that same question.  But look at someone like Mariah Carey, she looks more Caucasian than black, but she is referred to as black.  That one drop rule is dated.

  •  The President-Elect self-identifies as Black... (4+ / 0-)

    ...that's good enough for me.

    Great diary, though.

    •  Yes and no (0+ / 0-)

      He was identified by society as black. So, he chose to accept that definition, for whatever reason. It's a bit simplistic to suggest that this is a choice on his part, rather than a definition of self that was forced on him.

      Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you:

      by FischFry on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 07:54:07 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  nah, he self identifies (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kate mckinnon, sherijr, Jane Lew

        as a "mutt". !

        No, seriously, he is fully aware himself of the complexities here, socially, culturally, any other way, and he made his decisions about how he would live his life... being himself.

        Whatever you do, or dream, begin it now.. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now. ~Goethe

        by Lady Libertine on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 07:58:08 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I gasped when I heard that in the press confernce (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kate mckinnon

          Imagine if he had said that during the election--just imagine the crowd shouting it at Palin rallies.

          •  heh (0+ / 0-)

            there was a bit of conversation about it around here, I was mildly surprised at how many people didnt "get it". I forget sometimes. Im as white as casper milktoast, but I worked with a group of youngish "multi-cultural" multi-ethnic etc adults (a while back) and they all... it was quite common, an Insider Joke type of thing. "Heinz 57" was the other one.

            But yeah, they'd say it, then they would kind of look at me askance, not sure yet about me. It didnt take 'em long.

            man I loved that job.

            Barack, theres just no self doubt there, especially in that arena.

            Whatever you do, or dream, begin it now.. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now. ~Goethe

            by Lady Libertine on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 08:08:01 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  I agree with that (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Lady Libertine

          It's really about context. Raised in a lily-white family, he must see himself as a "mutt" -- but, he also wrote about how he was forced to self-identify as black when he came east for college.

          Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you:

          by FischFry on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 08:17:10 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Intresting thoughts... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kate mckinnon
  •  A friend of mine insists (0+ / 0-)

    to call Obama a mixed or biracial president.  She's dead serious about it, to a point of I wonder if there's something deeper behind her passion (her boyfriend is mixed).  She considers him neither black or white but both, which is true.

    •  A good ol' American mutt. (0+ / 0-)

      Though, as per my posting below, I'd stick with describing another person using the language that they themselves prefer.

      This on the same principle that it's rude to call someone by a name other than their own.  

      As in, "My name is Bob, stop calling me Jason!"  

  •  my 10-year old sez: (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TrueBlueMajority, slangist, G2geek, Demena

    But Barack Obama isn't "black", he's integrated.

    I think there's a self-fulfilling element to the one-drop rule. As long as it retains some currency, anyone in our society who is "black" must deal with being so construed--and thus that person must inevitably identify, at least sometimes, as "black"--and the cycle continues.

    "I made the wrong mistakes" --Thelonious Monk

    by theloniously on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 07:46:58 PM PST

  •  That is something that has puzzled me... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mvr, lordcopper

    ...for years.  Race is, in fact, a useless term genetically speaking.  IIRC, .016% of our collective gene pool accounts for all differences amoung human beings.  If "race" were determined solely on genetic differences there would be 3 races found in Africa and one in the rest of the world.

    Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what's right...... Isaac Asimov ---- {-8.25 / -5.64}

    by carver on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 07:49:18 PM PST

  •  Law of the land? (0+ / 0-)

    A diary that looks at this in a similar vein The Glass Half Black ....

  •  As you say (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lady Libertine

    He's not "black" in the sense of sub-Saharan black Africans, who typically have a genetic identity that doesn't include European ancestry.

    Of course, as you move towards North Africa, it's harder to distinguish that difference, as there is a closer relationship in genetic heritage.

    However, Barack Obama, as you say, has a "racial" heritage" akin to most African-Americans -- in that he has both African and European ancestors. So, in that sense, he's fully African-American, and it's perfectly appropriate to note that he is the first person elected President who has African ancestry. Maybe, he's not fully "African", but he is African-American, which is a term that can apply to anyone with African ancestry. Just as anyone with Italian parentage would qualify as Italian-American, even if they also had an English ancestor.

    Call it race if you want, or call it ethnicity, but there is something different about him, as compared with past Presidents. It's not totally ridiculous to say he's the first African-American President. His African-American heritage may not fully define his parentage, but it's hardly the same as talking about the one-drop rule. He does have African roots -- and that's a first here. Given this nation's complex relationship with its history of racism, his election is not an inconsiderable event.

    I take your point -- and it's true that this country has marginalized anyone with any African heritage. So, one can also wonder whether there is something diabolical in celebrating this "racial" milestone. I just think the answer is "no". I think it's ridiculous that the country basically ignores his European heritage in trying to define him. It's wrong if that's being done to marginalize him, but I have no problem with it when it's being done to celebrate this milestone in American history.

    Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you:

    by FischFry on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 07:52:07 PM PST

    •  You lost me... (0+ / 0-)

      You said that

      he has both African and European ancestors. So, in that sense, he's fully African-American, and it's perfectly appropriate to note that he is the first person elected President who has African ancestry.

      And then you said...

      Just as anyone with Italian parentage would qualify as Italian-American, even if they also had an English ancestor.

      You can't really compare the two.  His father was from Kenya.  So then wouldn't you with your "Italian-American" example call him a Kenyan-American?  With your example of the whole African-American, you lumped all Africans together; however, with Italian-American, you specified the exact origin.  As a person whose parents came from Ethiopia and was born in the United States, I choose to call myself an Ethiopian-American instead of an African-American...not sure if this really made much sense, because my wording might be

      •  You could narrow it (0+ / 0-)

        You could call him a Kenyan-American -- but you clearly protest too much. It's quite obvious why most blacks in this country have accepted the generic African-American, since their national heritage is largely unknown to them. You have an advantage that other blacks in this country do not, in that regard. Certainly, I know many Ethiopians here -- and their children are clear on their Ethiopian heritage and culture, in ways that the descendants of slaves here are not. I also know Kenyans that have the same sense of connection to their homeland.

        However, most African-Americans do not. Obama shares their African ancestry -- and that's readily apparent, just as those of purely European ancestry are readily identified. And, I might note that being African is different in this regard -- much of Africa took pride in Obama's election, not just Kenyans. If a Kennedy or Reagan is elected here, the Irish may feel pride, but the rest of Europe does not. Africa's relationship to the rest of the world is different than Europe' the context of African-Americans is different than white Americans.

        Anyone raised in this country knows all this, so you're just being too cute in pretending that I'm making some arbitrary distinction. You know exactly why we speak of a national origin for most whites in this country, but not for most blacks...and it's not just because there were no African nations at the time of immigration.

        Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you:

        by FischFry on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 10:45:47 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Are you joking? (0+ / 0-)

          You said I'm being "too cute" when I was just being honest with you.  There are many, many whites in this country that have no clue where their ancestors came from in's not just black people!  And you know why Africa took pride in Obama winning?  It's because he still identifies with Africa...he's been there and praises Africa.  I can almost guarantee you that if this were a black person that didn't know where their ancestors came from in Africa, then Africa wouldn't have gone as crazy as they did for Obama.  

          I felt a lot of pride as a person that knows where my family came from in Africa knowing that Obama had the same fortune as myself.  All my life I've had blacks that didn't know where their ancestors came from tell me that I'm not "black" because my ancestors weren't slaves.  So yeah, there comes some pride with identifying with Obama.  His ancestors weren't slaves here either, so I feel a connection there with him.  

          The reason why African-Americans came about is to give blacks whose ancestors were slaves an ethnicity to claim.  Being an African-American isn't a's an ethnicity...a general ethnicity term.  Being black is a race.  Just like European-American is a general term for whites' ethnicity.  

          You know exactly why we speak of a national origin for most whites in this country, but not for most blacks...and it's not just because there were no African nations at the time of immigration

          What? Half of his national origin is known!  The term African-American is used for those that DO NOT KNOW!  This is not a matter of "protesting" as you like to put's just that you can't say oh he's just an African-American.  If the man didn't care about his Kenyan heritage, he would have never gone there to see his family.  He would have been like, "Forget that!"  But he does want to identify with the Kenyan culture.  So give him that much.  He does know his national heritage...and I do feel bad for blacks that don't know theirs.  But that's why they can identify themselves as the generic term African-American.

        •  One more thing... (0+ / 0-)

          The general ethnic term for Obama: African-American
          The specific ethnic term for Obama: Kenyan-American

          That's it!  He can call himself either one.

    •  The way this gets complex is... (0+ / 0-)
      On one hand it should be perfectly OK for people to describe themselves any way they see fit.

      We don't have a problem when someone describes themselves as smart, strong, athletic, gifted in math, artistic, tall, short, thin, plump, or whatever.  We don't have a problem when someone describes themselves as a carpenter, doctor, laborer, farmer, engineer, warrior, or whatever.  

      Where it becomes a problem is where society at-large uses descriptors in a manner as to diminish someone's humanity.  For example, "Oh he's Jewish, you know what he's going to say about Israel," as if knowing one thing about a person gives anyone the right to predict something else about them.

      In a free society, people rightly object to being predicted and controlled because doing so diminishes their free will and reduces them to mere mechanism.  We legitimately prefer the actual mechanisms around us (our cars, our computers, etc.) to be predictable and under our control, but to reduce humans to mechanism violates the nature of humans at the most basic level.  

      As for the meta discussion about determinism vs. free will, free will is winning that one.  See also Penrose & Hameroff's theory of consciousness, and Maye et. al. on voluntary behavior in fruit flies: free will is hard-wired into the operation of nerve cells in the brain, and it does not take a particularly complex brain to reach this threshold.  BTW, determinism as a philosophical position, is psuedoscience, since it is unfalsifyable.  

      So the solution here is to recognize that each person has the right to define themselves as they see fit, but no person has a right to define another against the latter's will.  

      This also neatly wraps up the entire issue about who has a right to say what about someone's race/ethnicity and culture.  

      If someone whose entire ancestry is Northern European wants to identify themselves with what is conventionally seen as the black community, that's between themselves and the community.  If someone whose ancestry is entirely African wants to identify themselves with what is conventionally seen as a Northern European community (e.g. move into an Irish neighborhood and live within Irish cultural institutions in that neighborhood), that's between them and the community.  The former could legitimately describe himself as African American, and the latter could legitimately describe himself as Irish American.  

      Personally I'll go with being a mongrel.  "Woof!"

  •  Obsessing About Skin, We're Missing One Forest (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    G2geek, Lady Libertine, HylasBrook

    We have two parallel prejudices.

    Only one is racial. The other is cultural.

    The cultural aspect includes accent, language usage, and many other elements that include communication habits, probably body language, who knows what else.

    There is a sizeable prejudiced nonblack population that regards the cultural elements as personal failing. People "should" know how to "talk right." Etc.

    I think we really need to spend less time obsessing about shades of skin color and deal with this under-addressed cultural problem. This is where the true complexity of race relations comes in, because after all, if it were solely skin color, a few months of familiariation would solve it for any number of people.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 08:00:08 PM PST

  •  nice article (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    G2geek, HylasBrook

    Unfortunately, race is all too often defined by the people around you. I am half-Korean, half-Cherokee/Irish. I self-identify as multi-racial. I don't speak Korean, and while I spent two years in my mother's country at the expense of Uncle Sam and the 2nd ID, I know just enough of her culture to realize I have no desire to live there. So while I have my dad's size, build, cheekbones, and hirsuteness, I also have my mother's eyes and coloring.

    Whenever I am asked where I come from (the polite, southern way to find out one's race) I always reply "Where do you think I'm from?", the answer from most people I meet, black or white, is invariably that I am...wait for it...Chinese.

    If I can't even have people try to correctly guess what part of Asia I hail from, how am I going to get them to see anything but that part of me? And can we honestly expect people to see beyond their sight? I think we have many years to go before that is a real possibility. People are comfortable with labels, regardless of how meaningless, and the shorter the better.

  •  We have discussed this issue in our family (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kate mckinnon

    My sister-in-law is white. Her ex-husband is black.

    She raised the kids as black and gets rather upset at any discussion that they should appreciate their non-black heritage as well.

    And there is a lot to appreciate: They have Native American ancestry on their father's side. They date back to the time of the Salem witch trials and to German 19th century immigrants on different branches of their mother's side.

    The kids, to my knowledge, know none of this - despite the fact that they are now in their 20's. They simply accept their mother's identification of them as "black".

    It worries me that our society has this attitude. It seems essential to eliminate if we are ever to get beyond race as an issue in our society. We should all appreciate the multifaceted nature of our country and our families. There is something to learn from all cultures.

    (I'm also curious as to thoughts here about the use of "black" vs. "African-American". I've found that my African friends (as in "people who actually were born and raised in Africa") tend to find the later term offensive. Has anyone else encountered this?)

    •  mongrels... (0+ / 0-)

      Agreed, kids should be told where all their ancestors came from, by way of making the connections all over the globe.

      First time I learned that one of my grandparents was South American, I remember looking at my hands with a sense of amazement, that there was an entire part of the world in my background that I didn't know about before.  

      I wonder about this though:  little kids take everything in stride as matter-of-fact.  But if you tell someone a bunch of stuff about themselves when they're older, it might be more meaningful.  So, it occurs to me, make it a kind of "rite of passage" or something, to tell kids all about their ancestry at some defined point.  But what should that point be for any given family?  Perhaps at a specific age, perhaps when explaining to them about sex, perhaps when explaining to them about culture, or whenever they ask...?

  •  Hell, 50% or more of black people fall in the (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kate mckinnon, G2geek

    category of "mixed race".  I've met AAs with two "black" parents that would be mistaken as white by someone unfamiliar with AA culture.  If you ever visit Louisiana or Mississippi you'll realize they have been practicing "integration" long before Pres. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.  As carver alludes to further upthread, the concept of race is primarily a social construct in America.

    "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come." Victor Hugo

    by lordcopper on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 08:41:40 PM PST

    •  They practiced "integration" down in (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Louisiana and Mississippi but there were strict social codes that were followed similar to the Latin American casta system.

      Also in the south the slave owner would have sex with the female slaves at times and the offspring would be considered black and also a slave (from what I understand).

      Obama considers himself black and also married a black woman. His children are 75 percent black and I think that he wants them to have an identity and a culture to feel at home in and to save them the identity crisis that he had when he was younger.

      The "One-Drop Rule" isn't just a US phenomena, Latin America has somthing similar but not as stringent or absolute. But the fact still remains that in Hispanic countries someone could generaly be considered white if they had some Amerindian blood in them but not if they had any African blood.

      Here in the US I know lots of Hispanic Americans and half Hispanic/half anglo Americans that consider themselves and are accepted as white as they also have some Amerindian blood. I also know white Americans that have Native American blood and are considered white.

      •  I'm a native southerner and very aware of the (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        social history and customs, which is why I was pointing out that you probably see more "mixed race" AAs in the "old confederacy" than any other part of the country.  The importance of the "one drop rule", as you implied, was to maintain the social order.  Therefore, the more populous the minority group, the less forgiving the  white power structure would be.  For instance, the "one drop rule" was applied against AAs in the south.  In the southwest, mixed race Hispanics were not viewed as "white", as were those with Native American ancestry in the Plains States.  The primary concern was always to maintain the existing power structure with "whites" at the top.

        "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come." Victor Hugo

        by lordcopper on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 09:46:11 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  really interesting diary, thank you. (0+ / 0-)

    President Barack Obama!

    by kate mckinnon on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 08:51:43 PM PST

  •  Anthony Appiah has made the point that (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    race is not a biological category at all, though we act as though it is.  It is a social category.  

    To put it differently, people think there is a biological way of dividing people up into races and this belief then is used as a rationalization for a set of social practices.  People get put into different groups by various things that make them seem to us like members of those groups.  And it has real effects on their life prospects, income, social interactions, etc.

    But it is based on a false belief.  We just have various more or less closely related bunches of people and no sharp lines between them, nor do these in fact correlate all that well with the things we use to classify people into races.

    At the same time we can't ignore it because a huge number of our fellow citizens have been very badly treated because of this way of dividing people up based on false "scientific" beliefs.  Being classified as black (usually) puts people in a position of disadvantage.  It would be foolish to ignore that.  But we can recognize that without thinking that there are some real underlying facts about who is a member of which race.  For the important facts, all it takes is to be treated as a member.

    So, while the "one drop" rule is worth thinking about for its social significance, it would be a mistake to think that there are facts about who has one drop and who does not.  If there is no biological kind underlying a given racial categorization then there is no fact of the matter as to who has one or more drops of this or that sort of blood.

    At least I think it is important to realize that racial categories are social categories which get reproduced partly because people take them to have underlying biological significance.  But they don't have that basis.  And yet the social categories matter given the widespread nature of the belief.

    •  same case for GENDER. (1+ / 0-)
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      Judith Siers Poisson

      Anyone here care to try to offer a categorical definition of "man" or "woman"...?

      If it's genetic, what do you do with people born with chromosome combinations such as XXY and XXYY...?

      If it's genital, what do you do about someone who is born with "both"?, or who is grievously injured, for example comes back from combat minus a leg and their sex organs?  

      If it's about cultural mannerisms, what do you do about the differences in cultures around the world, that combine to make up our nation of wonderful mongrels?

      For any of these attempts at definition, the exceptions are sufficiently prevalent that the definition becomes scientifically useless or meaningless, and therefore useless or meaningless in the law.  

      "One man and one woman" is as useful as distinctions based on peoples' astrological signs.  Prop 8 may as well have said "One Libra and one Taurus," or "One Pisces and one Virgo," or "One person born under a full moon, and one born under a new moon."  

  •  Great diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Judith Siers Poisson

    As a fellow black/white biracial person, I have plenty of personal experience with the "one-drop rule". It's interesting that you point out that blacks are actually more wedded to it than whites at this point in history. In a way, that has probably worked to Obama's advantage as blacks have rallied around him as one of their own, while whites may at least subconsciously see him as something other than just black.

    I think the days are numbered for the one-drop rule though. It's last practical effect was in the context of affirmative action, and as that is being phased out, it will be left as nothing more than a impotent cultural artifact belied by actual experience and practice. Younger people today are far more likely to acknowledge "both sides" of their heritage than they were even twenty years ago.

  •  The fact that skin color matters... (0+ / 0-) a clear indication we will never "get there."

  •  I am lighter then (2+ / 0-)
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    tethys, Maori

    Barack, one parent white one black. Cabs pass me up. I am followed around the stores. Stopped many time, while driving for absolutely nothing (DWB). Called the N word many many times, etc etc etc. Not once in my 60 years of life, has anybody wanted to claim the white part of me, as their own.

    One of the times i was arrested, for absolutely nothing, i was brought into the police station, (2005). I failed to put my race on the paper. One of the white cops called me back, looked at me and said, "that alright, he's black".  

    If i am black when the situations are bad ones. I am black when the situations are good. Like president elect Obama.

    The cab drivers will let you know what color you are. They are good at it.

    •  Thank You (0+ / 0-)

      for this comment.
      My kids are mixed, and we consider them Black. It's not about disowning their father or his heritage, it's about giving them a cultural identity that welcomes them, for good or ill. It seems that Whites are so quick to claim the 'good' ones, which seemed a bit to me like poaching, separating the best and brightest from the Black community when convenient.
      I've seen mixed heritage children who were raised to consider themselves White, or some creative variation of 'Other', and those are the ones who are absolutely crushed when someone in the real world calls them a n***er.

      "This time must be different" - President Barack Obama

      by Maori on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 10:55:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The Iranians Have Worked Around A Story (0+ / 0-)

    that part of Obama's heritage is Iranian, I guess because of his middle name. And of course the Kenyan Obamas were exultant when he won the election. It got me wondering if the Irish, Durham, half of his heritage was just as happy and heard a glancing mention that folks in Ireland were equally as excited for him, but just that moment and never again.

  •  Can't we have this one? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Tell me this. What color does he look like? What did you called people who looks like him, before this election? Did you call people who look like him white or black? Be honest.

  •  the "one-drop" rule was never really legal (0+ / 0-)

    but I think the 1/32 rule was the law in some states: one black great great great grandparent made you black.

    Politics is like driving. To go backward, put it in R. To go forward, put it in D.
    We inaugurate President Barack Obama in 70 days!

    by TrueBlueMajority on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 10:09:21 PM PST


    It's stupid and the race chart we are using here in America came from the Nazis.

    So what does that say about us?

    How about the only time we are allowed to talk about RACE is in Medical terms only ?

    Yeah, how about that ?

    As of November 5th 2008 , President Obama now has more "Executive Experience" than all the candidates who ran against him.

    by WeBetterWinThisTime on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 10:59:28 PM PST

  •  W. E. B. DuBois said in 1903 (0+ / 0-)

    ...problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.

    I am quite happy that Barak Obama's election has eased that issue to a certain extent.

    As an African American, I see race both as it has been indentified in America and as a cultural heritage.

    Throughout the election I thought about Obama's not being raised by a black mother.   Women are the 'culture bearers' in a society so generally the cultural influence of the parent who raised a person is the strongest, followed by the community one grows up in.    That point was illustrated many times during the civil rights era by upper and middle class segregationists who would start a sentence with "I was raised by a black woman...." and then proceed to argue the inferiority of blacks.    They were raised by black women -- nannies -- but the community they grew up in regarded blacks as significantly inferior.

    I don't mean to go on forever, but one of the interesting paradoxes of the South was that blacks and whites lived in greater proximity than in the North, where blacks were relegated to separate neighborhoods.  Therefore, the discrimination and segregation in the South was more widespread and legal (until the civil rights era).  In the North, pre civil rights era  - the world I grew up in - blacks just knew not to go where they weren't wanted.

    It didn't ease the pain of discrimination, but it was a little easier to deal with since there weren't so many "white" and "colored" drinking fountains.  Instead there were white and black churces (of the same denomination) white and black neighborhoods, funeral homes, etc.

    This is part of the black experience Obama did not grow up with.  Had he been born in a black family, given his age, he would have a different experience of discrimination than blacks a generation earlier, but he would have heard about these things from his family, just as I heard hair-raising stories from my mother and uncles about their experiences during WWII in the segregated army.

    Fortunately, no matter how Obama was raised, he has been elected President.  I believe he will be a successful president, and this will allow more people who think of others in terms of race to consider the possibilities that people of non-white heritage can be successful, can be leaders, and above all, are truly Americans just like them.

    Republicans love America - they just hate half the people living in it. - Jon Stewart

    by HylasBrook on Tue Nov 11, 2008 at 06:00:48 AM PST

  •  Obama is 50% black (0+ / 0-)

    so he can call himself either black or Afro-multiracial or African-American.  But someone like Tiger Woods is not really considered black, but rather Afro-multiralc or African American.

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