The Racial Line and Racial Identity

Beyond Biracial: When Blackness Is a Small, Nearly Invisible Fraction
by Jenée Desmond-Harris
from The Root

“Their racial mixture can feel too fragmented for old, no-longer-politically-correct terms like “mulatto” and even the irreverent hybrids like “blewish” and “blexican” that the “biracial boom” crowd created to rename themselves. Making things even more complicated for 2014’s cohort of people with just one black-identified grandparent is the dearth of cultural references providing a blueprint for how they might identify. As Ian Stewart, the 31-year-old son of a biracial father and white mother, puts it, “There’s a lot out there for the half-black, but a lot less out there for the quarter.”

[ . . . ]

“”What is different today than in, say, 1945 is the way in which we have a much more fluid understanding of race,” says Joseph. She’s referring to our ever loosening attachment to the strict red, yellow, brown, black and white racial categories conceived of by 18th-century German scientist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, whose now debunked idea of natural divisions provided the basis for those who would push for biology-based racism.

[ . . . ]

“An extreme example of how muddy this can get: A self-confessed white supremacist attempting to launch an all-white community in North Dakota made headlines when it was revealed that he had 14 percent sub-Saharan African ancestry. (DNA tests can reveal the geographical origins of ancestors, a piece of information that is, contrary to popular belief, not the same as race.)

[ . . . ]

“When it comes to racial identity in America, “The mix itself is one piece, but the appearance thing has always been big,” says Miletsky. In fact, scientists say that people register race in about a tenth of a second, even before they discern gender.

How Many ‘White’ People Are Passing?
by Henry Louis Gates
from The Root

Here’s how Scott Hadly reported Kasia Bryc’s findings on the 23andme website on March 4, 2014: “Bryc found that about 4 percent of whites have at least 1 percent or more of African ancestry, known as “’hidden African ancestry.’”

“Although it is a relatively small percentage,” Hadly continues, “the percentage indicates that an individual with at least 1 percent African ancestry had an African ancestor within the last six generations, or in the last 200 years [meaning since the time of American slavery]. This data also suggests that individuals with mixed parentage at some point were absorbed into the white population,” which is a very polite way of saying that they “passed.”

[ . . . ]

How many ostensibly “white” Americans walking around today would be classified as “black” under the one-drop rule? Judging by the last U.S. Census (pdf), 7,872,702. To put that in context, that number is equal to roughly 20 percent, or a fifth, of the total number of people identified as African American (pdf) in the same census count!

[ . . . ]

“Southern states with the highest African American populations tended to have the highest percentages of hidden African ancestry,” Hadly writes of Bryc’s findings. “In South Carolina at least 13 percent of self-identified whites have 1 percent or more African ancestry, while in Louisiana the number is a little more than 12 percent. In Georgia and Alabama the number is about 9 percent. The differences perhaps point to different social and cultural histories within the south.”

If we apply those percentages to the last federal census (pdf), that means 487,253, “white” people in Georgia, 385,156 “white” people in South Carolina, 328,186 in Louisiana and 288,396 in Alabama are actually “black,” according to the one-drop rule. And that is a lot of the white people in these states! (It’s also worth noting that the percentage of “hidden blacks” who self-identify as white in South Carolina—13 percent—is the same as the percentage of people nationwide who self-identified as black in the 2010 U.S. Census.)



8 thoughts on “The Racial Line and Racial Identity

  1. That last part really gets one thinking:

    “the percentage of “hidden blacks” who self-identify as white in South Carolina—13 percent—is the same as the percentage of people nationwide who self-identified as black in the 2010 U.S. Census.”

  2. by the one drop rule, I am not white myself by long shot. That said, if there is such a thing as white privilege, and I think that does describe something real, then it applies to me too.

    • I have no reason to think I’m not a pure white red-blooded Euro-American. Genealogy research hasn’t suggested the possibility of any non-European ancestors. And genetic research hasn’t given any evidence of any of the main lines of my ancestry having been in Africa for a very long time.

      I wouldn’t mind finding more diversity in my heritage, but none has shown up so far. I’m largely German/French with some Scottish, English and maybe some Scots-Irish mixed in. I don’t even have any of those racially questionable Southern European or Jewish European genetics, as far as I know. I’m a plain Anglo-Nordic American.

      If I wanted to be a white supremacist and ethnic nationalist, I have the perfect heritage for it. Most of my family lines have been here since colonial times and many of them were on the frontier. I even have some slave owners in my ancestry going back to early Cavalier Virginia. I have ancestors who have fought in every early American war, including the American Revolution and both sides of the Civil War.

      Taking white privilege as a real thing, it most definitely applies to me.

      As for the Southern angle, I find that very interesting. I have quite a bit of Southern heritage in quite a few family lines. It would be far from surprising that there could be some African-American genetics mixed in somewhere along the way, although it might be so mixed up as to not necessarily be detectable in genetics tests. I’d like to do some more thorough testing just out of curiosity.

      • My point about white privilege is subtle: I have Eastern European, Jewish, Scotch-Irish, Muskogee, and probably west African heritage. Some of that I know from genealogy, some from 23andme’s genetic profile. My whiteness is sometimes provisional and sometimes unquestioned.

        • I get the point you’re making.

          My whiteness, however, isn’t provisional and so far it has remained unquestioned. But all identities are fluid. I have only done the National Geographic’s genetics test, and it doesn’t give as much info. If I did a more detailed genetics test, I might suddenly find I have all kinds of interesting ancestry.

          That is true for everyone. Before genetics test, people just went by appearances. I wonder how many racial supremacists fear finding out that they might have some unsavory genetics in them. I’ve also wondered how many fathers and children discover secrets the mother was keeping through genetics tests. Genealogy would be so much more interesting if we could always know who the real father was.

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