2511The Racist, Reeking and Odious 'O.D.R.'
- Feb 27, 2007
Listed below is an essay on the history,
effects and illogical application of the
racist and reeking 'One-Drop Rule'
(O.D.R.) -- as written by Professor F.
James Davis of Illinois State University.
THE RACIST 'ONE-DROP RULE' DEFINED
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' (O.D.R.), meaning that a single-drop
of 'Black' blood makes a person "black".
It is also known as the "One 'Black 'Ancestor Rule,"
some courts have called it the "Traceable Amount
Rule," and anthropologists call it the "Hypo-Descent
Rule," meaning that Racially-Mixed persons are
assigned the status of 'the subordinate' group.
This definition emerged from the American South to
become the nation's definition, generally accepted
[Those labeled as "black"] had no other choice.
As we shall see, this American cultural-definition
of "blacks" is taken for granted as readily by
judges, affirmative action officers, and "black"
protesters as it is by Ku Klux Klansmen.
Let us not be confused by terminology
The term "black" is used [here] for persons
with 'any' [amount of] 'Black' African lineage,
--- not just for Un-Mixed members of
populations from sub-Saharan Africa .
The term "negro", which is used in certain
historical contexts, means the same thing.
Terms such as 'African-Black', 'Un-Mixed Negro',
and 'All-Black' are used here to refer to 'Un-Mixed
Blacks' -- descended from African populations.
We must also pay attention to
the terms 'Mulatto' and 'Colored'.
The term 'Mulatto' was originally used to mean the
offspring of a 'Pure African Negro' and a 'Pure White'.
Although the root meaning of 'Mulatto',
in Spanish, is "Hybrid", 'Mulatto' came to
include the children of unions between
'Whites' and so-called Mixed-"negroes".
For example, Booker T. Washington and
Frederick Douglass, with slave mothers and
'White' fathers, were referred to as 'Mulattoes' .
To whatever extent [that] their mothers
were part-'White', these men
were 'more than' half-'White'.
Douglass was evidently part
`Amerindian' as well, and he looked it.
Washington had reddish hair and gray eyes.
At the time of the American Revolution, many of the
founding fathers had some very light-[complexioned]
slaves, including some who appeared to be 'White'.
The term 'Colored' seemed for a time to refer
only to 'Mulattoes' , especially lighter ones
With widespread Racial-Mixture, "negro"
came to mean 'any' slave or descendant
of a slave, no matter how much Mixed .
Eventually in the United States, the terms 'Mulatto',
'Colored', "black", and "African-American"
all came to mean people with 'any known'
[amount of] 'Black' African ancestry.
'Mulattoes' are Racially-Mixed, to whatever degree,
and the terms "black", "African-American ",
and 'Colored' [were also used to describe
those who were 'Mulattoes' as well].
As we shall see, these terms have quite
different meanings in other countries.
Whites in the United States need some
help envisioning 'the American "black "
experience' with [it's] Ancestral-Fractions.
At the beginning of miscegenation between
two populations presumed to be racially pure,
quadroons appear in the second generation
of continuing mixing with 'Whites',
and octoroons in the third.
A quadroon is one-fourth African 'Black' and thus
easily classed as "black" in the United States , yet
three of this person's four grandparents are 'White'.
An octoroon has seven 'White' great-grandparents
out of eight and usually looks 'White' or almost so.
Most parents of [so-called] "black" American
children in recent decades have themselves
been 'Racially-Mixed', but often the fractions
get complicated because the earlier details of
the Mixing were obscured generations ago.
Like so many 'White' Americans, "black" people
are forced to speculate about some of the fractions
-- one-eighth this, three-sixteenths that, and so on.
THE UNIQUENES OF THE
RACIST 'ONE-DROP RULE'
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.
James Baldwin relates a revealing incident
that occurred in 1956 at the Conference of
Negro-African Writers and Artists held in Paris .
The head of the delegation of writers and artists
from the United States was John Davis.
The French chairperson introduced Davis and
then asked him why he considered himself
`Negro', since he certainly did not 'look like' one.
Baldwin wrote, "He is a "negro", of course,
from the remarkable `legal point of view
which obtains in the United States ',
but more importantly, as he tried
to make clear to his interlocutor,
he was a "negro" by choice and
`by depth of involvement'
-- by experience, in fact".
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
[so-called] "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 [European] 'Whites', and
therefore are 'less threatening' to 'Whites'.
However, 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.
For the physically visible groups other than
"blacks", miscegenation promotes assimilation,
despite barriers of prejudice and discrimination
during two or more generations of Racial-Mixing.
As noted above, when ancestry in one
of these racial minority groups does
not exceed one-fourth, a person is not
defined solely as a member of that group.
Masses of 'White' European immigrants have
climbed the class ladder not only through education
but also with the help of close personal relationships
in the dominant community, intermarriage, and
ultimately full cultural and social assimilation.
Young people tend to marry people they
meet in the same informal social circles.
For visibly non-Caucasoid minorities other than
[the so-called] "blacks " in the United States, this
entire route to full assimilation is slow but possible.
For all persons of 'any known' [African]
'Black' lineage, however, assimilation is
blocked and is not promoted by miscegenation.
Barriers to full opportunity and participation
for "blacks" are still formidable, and a
'fractionally' "black" person cannot escape these
obstacles without "passing" as `White' and cutting
off all ties to their "black" family and community.
The pain of this separation, and condemnation
by their "black" family and community, are
major reasons why many or most of those
who could "pass" as 'White' choose not to.
Loss of security within the minority community, and
fear and distrust of the 'White' world are also factors.
It should now be apparent that the definition
of a "black" person as one with 'any trace at all'
of 'Black' African ancestry is inextricably
woven into the history of the United States.
It incorporates beliefs once used to justify
slavery and later used to buttress the caste-
like Jim Crow system of segregation.
Developed in the South, the definition spread
and became the nation's social and legal definition.
Because [so-called] "blacks" [in the United States]
are defined according to the 'One-Drop Rule',
they are a socially-constructed category in
which there is "wide variation in racial traits"
and therefore [they are] not a
race group in the scientific sense.
However, because that category has a
definite status position in the society it
has become a self-conscious social
group with an 'Ethnic' "identity".
The `One-Drop Rule' has long been taken for
granted throughout the United States and
the federal courts have taken "judicial notice"
of it as being a matter of common knowledge.
State courts have generally upheld the 'One-Drop
Rule', but some have limited the definition to one
thirty-second or one-sixteenth or one-eighth 'Black'
ancestry, or made other limited exceptions for
persons with both 'Amerindian' and 'Black' ancestry.
Most 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 [so-called]
"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.
((F. James Davis is a retired professor
of sociology at Illinois State University.
He is the author of numerous books, including
'Who is Black? One Nation's Definition'
(1991), from which this excerpt was taken.