Tackling the oppressive, anti-miscegenation one-drop rule in an article on CNN.com, Dr. Yaba Blay (pictured above), the brilliant author of “(1) Drop: Shifting the Lens On Race,” opines that Blackness is not something that can be limited to genetics; it must also be defined by lived experiences and individual choice.
When avowed White supremacist Craig Cobb, who was arrested Saturday on terrorism charges, submitted to DNA testing last week on “The Trisha Show,” and discovered that he was fourteen percent Black, his reaction went viral: shock, disgust and ultimate dismissal of the blood coursing through his racist veins.
Blay did not take offense to his reaction nor his bloodline; instead using it to show the fallacy of the one-drop rule:
“…Until 1967, when it was ruled unconstitutional, the “one-drop rule” provided the legal and quantitative definition of blackness, and whiteness.
So while Cobb might “look white” today, in 1813 or 1913, his 14% African ancestry would have been more than enough to render him black by law. In 2013, however, the irony of his heritage shows just how nuanced racial identity is beyond skin color.
During the period of American slavery, 1619 to 1865, freedom was predicated on skin color. If you were white, you were free; if you were black, you were enslaved.
But this simple social order soon became complicated by miscegenation; and with the rampant increase in racial mixing, the lines between white and black, free and enslaved, became more and more blurred.
The rhetoric of white supremacy not only argued that the races were distinctly different, but also that the black race specifically was inferior, therefore justifying enslavement. Mixing, then, lowered human quality.”
While it is clear that the one-drop rule is an invention of White supremacy, its inverse is often employed within the Black community. When a person’s Whiteness is phenotypically dominant, the one-drop rule is often used as an inclusionary tactic. (Oh, her great grandmother’s Black? She’s a sister, then.”) However, when a person’s Blackness exists outside the realms of Americanness, or the commonly-held stereotypes of what Blackness looks like, how Blackness sounds, a watered down version of the one-drop rule — often fueled by colorism — is often used against them.
This has been the case with Rosa Clemente, Hip-Hop activist and 2008 Green Party vice-presidential nominee, who wrote about her experience in an essay titled, “Who Is Black?”
I am so tired of having to prove to others that I am Black, that my peoples are from the Motherland, that Puerto Rico, along with Cuba, Panama and the Dominican Republic, are part of the African Diaspora. Did we forget that the slave ships dropped off our people all over the world, hence the word Diaspora?
The Atlantic slave trade brought Africans to Puerto Rico in the early 1500s. Some of the first slave rebellions took place on the island of Puerto Rico. Until 1846, Africanos on the island had to carry a libreta to move around the island, like the passbook system in apartheid South Africa. In Puerto Rico, you will find large communities of descendants of the Yoruba, Bambara, Wolof and Mandingo people. Puerto Rican culture is inherently African culture.
Being Latino is not a cultural identity but rather a political one. Being Puerto Rican is not a racial identity, but rather a cultural and national one. Being Black is my racial identity.
Listen people: Being Black is not just skin color, nor is it synonymous with Black Americans. To assert who I am is the most liberating and revolutionary thing I can ever do. Being a Black Puerto Rican encompasses me racially, ethically and most importantly, gives me a homeland to refer to.
So I have come to this conclusion: I am whatever I say I am!
The discussions surrounding Blackness are often rife with pain, confusion and defensiveness. They are also full of love, self-awareness and global solidarity. They aren’t monochromatic, but alive with nuances continually revealing themselves. At the root of it all is the gnawing fear of erasure promulgated by White supremacy, the inability to define Blackness on our own terms — and our determination not to let that happen.
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