19 June 2013

One Drop Rule & Ancestry

"One drop rule". Have you heard this term? I have, but vaguely. "To be considered black in the United States not even half of one's ancestry must be African black. But will one-fourth do, or one-eighth, or less? The nation's answer to the question 'Who is black?' has long been that a black is any person with any known African black ancestry. This definition reflects the long experience with slavery and later with Jim Crow segregation. In the South it became known as the 'one-drop rule,' meaning that a single drop of  'black blood' makes a person a black." -pbs.org

I grew up in the South but only vaguely remember hearing this term. I imagine that's because I am not black. The person who brought this term to my attention, and therefore inspired me to post about it, is a African-American young lady who was born and raised in Texas. I imagine she heard the term growing up.

"Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a highly regarded African-American educator and scholar. He directs of the W. E. B. DuBois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard. He received a MacArthur Foundation grant in 1981 to support his research for the Black Periodical Literary Project." -biography.com

"Henry Louis Gates, Jr. publicized... genetic studies on his two series African American Lives, shown on PBS. The specialists summarized United States population figures this way:

-58 percent of African Americans have at least 12.5% European ancestry (equivalent of one great-grandparent);
-19.6 percent of African Americans have at least 25% European ancestry (equivalent of one grandparent);
-1 percent of African Americans have at least 50% European ancestry (equivalent of one parent) (Gates is one of those, he discovered);and
-5 percent of African Americans have at least 12.5% Native American ancestry (equivalent to one great-grandparent)."
-wikipedia {Henry Louis Gates, Jr., In Search of Our Roots: How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Past (New York: Crown Publishing, 2009), pp. 20–21}

"Not only does the one-drop rule apply to no other group than American blacks, but apparently the rule is unique in that it is found only in the United States and not in any other nation in the world. In fact, definitions of who is black vary quite sharply from country to country, and for this reason people in other countries often express consternation about our definition...

"The phenomenon known as "passing as white" is difficult to explain in other countries or to foreign students. Typical questions are: "Shouldn't Americans say that a person who is passing as white is white, or nearly all white, and has previously been passing as black?" or "To be consistent, shouldn't you say that someone who is one-eighth white is passing as black?" or "Why is there so much concern, since the so-called blacks who pass take so little negroid ancestry with them?" Those who ask such questions need to realize that "passing" is much more a social phenomenon than a biological one, reflecting the nation's unique definition of what makes a person black. The concept of "passing" rests on the one-drop rule and on folk beliefs about race and miscegenation, not on biological or historical fact...

"The black experience with passing as white in the United States contrasts with the experience of other ethnic minorities that have features that are clearly non-caucasoid. The concept of passing applies only to blacks--consistent with the nation's unique definition of the group. A person who is one-fourth or less American Indian or Korean or Filipino is not regarded as passing if he or she intermarries and joins fully the life of the dominant community, so the minority ancestry need not be hidden. It is often suggested that the key reason for this is that the physical differences between these other groups and whites are less pronounced than the physical differences between African blacks and whites, and therefore are less threatening to whitesHowever, keep in mind that the one-drop rule and anxiety about passing originated during slavery and later received powerful reinforcement under the Jim Crow system...

"...Americans seem unaware that this definition of blacks is extremely unusual in other countries, perhaps even unique to the United States, and that Americans define no other minority group in a similar way. . .

"We must first distinguish racial traits from cultural traits, since they are so often confused with each other. As defined in physical anthropology and biology,races are categories of human beings based on average differences in physical traits that are transmitted by the genes not by blood. Culture is a shared pattern of behavior and beliefs that are learned and transmitted through social communication. An ethnic group is a group with a sense of cultural identity, such as Czech or Jewish Americans, but it may also be a racially distinctive group. A group that is racially distinctive in society may be an ethnic group as well, but not necessarily. Although racially mixed, most blacks in the United States are physically distinguishable from whites, but they are also an ethnic group because of the distinctive culture they have developed within the general American framework. -To view the article in entirety please visit pbs.org

Please, watch this video clip of Mr. Gates' African American Lives 2 and see if it moves you to tears the way it did for me.

Two quotes from this clip stood out to me:

"I think that heritage is so complex, that we have to consider ourselves global, and no human being can be more human than another." -Maya Angelou

"If I'd 'ave known this, it would have taken away the inevitability that I was gonna be nuthin'." -Chris Rock

I want my daughters to know. I want the mystery to be taken away so they can know who they are, where they came from, and be okay with themselves. How I'm going to do that is beyond me. It prompted me to google "ancestry genetic testing". Apparently it costs $99. We have a semi-closed relationship with our daughter's birthmother. She is tough to get in touch with, and requested pictures and no letters. I wonder if she'd be willing to provide a bit more information. Can't hurt to ask.

Some adoptive parents seem to be threatened by their adopted child's birthfamily and/or ancestry. I wish this was never a concern. Words cannot express how beneficial it is for a child to know where they came from. I hope to one day be able to tell my daughters.

Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments are moderated. Thank you for your comment!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...