Monday, September 17, 2007

One Drop, Today

As my egregious neglect of this blog reflects, I have leapt into the world of BigLaw with both feet--and it's as demanding as I was warned it would be, plus some. Luckily, (at least so far), I seem to have landed in a good group of talented people, so I expect to learn a lot as well as work a lot.

Of course, BigLaw means Manhattan--and I wasn't really looking forward to returning to work in NY. From the time I was child I've loved NY--it always seemed like some distant, fantastical planet full of unique and magical people and places. Now--it's full of Starbucks and people who work at BigLaw firms (and I-Banks). They all had so much fun at their Hamptons sharehouses over the summer, and they all got such great deals on their new places in the Financial District! (or Harlem! It's much safer now, you know!)

Okay, I'm not being entirely fair, since most of the people I've met have been perfectly pleasant. But this new experience has only made me think a little more about my occasional discomfort with other "communities" of which I am a part--including the "IR community," if there is such a thing.

This thought arose in particular in response to yet another article (this one in the latest Marie Claire) where Rebecca Walker (nee Leventhal) yet again disucsses how painful she found it to be considered black as a child and what a challenge it was for her to come to terms with her biracial identity. I don't say this to dismiss whatever Ms. Walker may or may not have had to contend with in her life, or to suggest that the distinct struggles that biracial people face generally are some less important are compelling than those faced by black people. Nor am I one of those black proponents of the modern one-drop rule, who insists that anyone with any black ancestry is required to identify exclusively as black or be labelled a "sell-out" or "self-hating." I'm sure her description of shame and self-loathing resonates with many people of African descent in a white supremacist world, not just biracials.

I guess my mild irritation arises from the consistency of this theme in Ms. Walker's work and public pronouncements, almost as if she has embraced the role of professional tragic mulatto. All too often, there's a thin line in such narratives between resentment of the racism that treats blackness as a taint that pollutes those otherwise humanized by straighter hair and lighter skin--and resentment of blackness itself, as an actual pollutant, an anchor that traps the Rebecca Walkers of the world in a dark abyss that they can't escape.

Equally irritating is that, all too often, this frustration and resentment seems to be aimed exclusively at black people. Certainly, you will rarely hear white people angrily complaining that Halle Berry is a black "sell out" for screwing Billy Bob Thornton on film or Gabriel Aubrey in real life. On the other hand, you will also rarely hear white people calling Halle Berry a white anything. While black people are generally active and explicit participants in the Contemporary Cult of One-Drop, it's continued existence is not solely or even primarily a product of black insistence.

While white parents, family members and friends may be more accepting than blacks of your identity as non-black, do they accept you as white? Do they view biracial identity as genuinely distinct from blackness, or simply another form of blackness? I am truly eager to learn, as I am sure many of the other visitors to this site are as well--who may themselves be biracial, or who may one day be parents of biracial children. Please share your perspective on this issue.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone would view a biracial (black-white) as "white," since they're not. Thus I don't think it's wrong that they don't. Nor do I think they view such person as black, again because they're not. And I agree, blacks are much, much more less forgiving of Halle Berry or any other biracial person going to the "other side." Whites never considered Berry a "sell out" for being with black men, but she has brought upon herself some push back from becoming impregnated by a white man. All this being said, acceptance as white or black ultimately depends on looks, attitude, and associations. If one looks very white, associates with whites, and does not adopt an oppositional black "pose," they'll be accepted by whites and approached with a bit of trepidation by blacks, and vice-versa. In the end, though, a successful person like yourself shouldn't bother yourself with all this minor stuff. We in America, white and black, are fat and happy and get to gaze at our navels by considering whether we're considered "black" or "biracial" or "white," and get to spend time considering these subtle nuances of life instead of spending our days trying to stay alive and feed ourselves.

pioneervalleywoman said...

Glad to see you back and blogging, Aimee! Some folks have been wondering what happened!

This is a great post and it relates to something someone posted recently on Halima's blog, that white women who marry interracially are the "new black women" because they are working to build the "black family."

Illogical non-argument, indeed. White women who marry interracially see themselves as white and never black. Women raise their children with what they know, and for white women, that is whiteness, so they are not necessarily building up "the black community" when they marry black. Instead, it can result in white women raising their children without any sense of themselves as biracial or even black. Again, it can depend upon the looks.

I can share an example from two different women I know who are raising biracial (b/w) children. One is being raised primarily by her white mother and her family. Her children have little connection to their father's side of the family. The older of her two girls, I have heard from the grandmothers, said once, when seeing black people on tv: "I don't like black people." This little girl is very light-skinned with wavy hair, resembling her mother more than her little sister, who resembles their dad. She too, experiences the white aspects of her heritage more, through her mom.

So these little girls are being connected primarily to the white aspects of their background. How will the younger one experience race? She is only 3, while the older is 6.

On the other hand, a black woman I know raising a biracial child who is very light skinned, with blond hair and blue eyes, 8 years old. This girl is surrounded primarily by her mom and her mom's family. She lives and breathes blackness every day, even though her dad is white.

She knows she is African-American, although she doesn't look like many. She doesn't say things like she doesn't like black people, because the people who are raising her are black. But she definitely seems "color struck," to have bought into the hierarchy of her looks being valuable, because people make such a big deal of it.

In the future, who knows what her experience will be like. At first glance, she might just blend in with other white children she goes to school with. But when she is with her mom, it is quite obvious she is mixed.

Does that mean greater acceptance? Perhaps. Does it mean she is seen as white? It might not even matter, because many see her as looking close to a white ideal. Will she identify with other black children in school? Perhaps the black children will be suspicious. Perhaps she might seem more like the Rebecca Walker phenomenon you speak of.

Anonymous said...

Interesting observations on one drop - I participated in the Genographic project and find Dr. Spencer Wells fascinating but I think he and this one drop subject just freaks people the heck out in light of deep ancestry projects.

Speaking as a parent of a biracial child and the perception of white people - I would say...it depends. It depends on how diverse an environment is. My nephew clearly looks biracial to us but with his fair skin and blue eyes white people observe that he "looks like his father". Of course, he looks exactly like my sister but the complexion and/or eye color defines for some white people that he is white.

I am not sure that this is a race thing but people's inability to "see'. People will say my husband looks like his father as his coloring is his fathers and not his mothers however he looks exactly like his mothers family. My other nephew is a clone of his father but his skin is darker so he "looks like" my sister.


Speaking as a biracial child, when I grew up we were raised that we had a rich diverse background, and our community was diverse. However my mother always cautioned us despite all that - people would only see us as black. We thought that was odd but you never questioned external peoples perception -there was no choice. It just was.

Anyway it is curious for me to observe that when my daughter is with her father or his family she is white. He took her into school most of the time and when I took her in one day it was amusing. She does look just like him and suddenly she no longer looks like him (which he heard all of the time) but ahh she looks just like her mother doesn't she. LOL. It also seems to depend on the race of the mother with some and the complexion of the child as the deciding tie-breaker which is clearly very different than when I grew up.

Bizarre true story. I remember going to the hospital for outpatient testing with my mother and her race was marked as white on her chart etc when I came to get her the admissions clerk said "one moment" went back to her computer and on the new appt form she had changed her race to black. hello?! That was random.

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Aimee said...

Anonymous said...

We in America, white and black, are fat and happy and get to gaze at our navels by considering whether we're considered "black" or "biracial" or "white," and get to spend time considering these subtle nuances of life instead of spending our days trying to stay alive and feed ourselves.

In America, as in the rest of the world, racial phenotype is one of many factors that greatly effect one's chance's of being fat and free to gaze at one's navel or consigned solely to the struggle to stay alive and feed oneself. I would consider it's impact far from minor; but I nonetheless appreciate you sharing your insights on the subject.

Aimee said...

pioneervalleywoman said...

She knows she is African-American, although she doesn't look like many. She doesn't say things like she doesn't like black people, because the people who are raising her are black. But she definitely seems "color struck," to have bought into the hierarchy of her looks being valuable, because people make such a big deal of it.

Glad to be back, PVW!

The scenario you describe is interesting, because it implicates the role played by black people in perpetuating the color hierarchy. Very often the same black people who claim to have too much "black pride" to date IR will be the first to rhapsodize over a biracial child's silky hair or green eyes. Here is a biracial child being raised in an almost wholly black environment, and she has gotten the message loud and clear that "light is better."

Additionally, if she grows up to (understandably) "think she's better" as a result of being sent a consistent message that she is better, the same people who sent her that message will then resent her for believing it. What else can she believe? All parents have to tread a careful path in rearing their children--I certainly don't even them their challenges. But I think the challenges faced by the parents of biracial children are indeed unique, and have to be considered long before they contemplate parenthood.

Aimee said...

Anonymous said...

I am not sure that this is a race thing but people's inability to "see'. People will say my husband looks like his father as his coloring is his fathers and not his mothers however he looks exactly like his mothers family. My other nephew is a clone of his father but his skin is darker so he "looks like" my sister . . .

Anyway it is curious for me to observe that when my daughter is with her father or his family she is white. He took her into school most of the time and when I took her in one day it was amusing. She does look just like him and suddenly she no longer looks like him (which he heard all of the time) but ahh she looks just like her mother doesn't she. LOL. It also seems to depend on the race of the mother with some and the complexion of the child as the deciding tie-breaker which is clearly very different than when I grew up.


This is a very powerful insight. I've so often heard black people say that biracial people are considered "black" because they tend to "look black"--but what does that really mean? Why do we assume that only a very restricted set of features can comprise "whiteness," but blackness can = just about anything?

I always think of this when black people insist that they could always tell that Mariah Carey or Jennifer Beals are "black"--two women who may have discernable black ancestry, but who do not look "black." And since we claim to always be able to "tell," can we "tell" about Ava Gardner? Dinah Shore? J. Edgar Hoover? Or any of the other "white" celebrities alleged to have "passed"?

pioneervalleywoman said...

Best of luck with the new job, Aimee!

Aimee said:

The scenario you describe is interesting, because it implicates the role played by black people in perpetuating the color hierarchy. Very often the same black peoplewho claim to have too much "black pride" to date IR will be the first to rhapsodize over a biracial child's silky hair or green eyes. Here is a biracial child being raised in an almost wholly black environment, and she has gotten the message loud and clear that "light is better."

Additionally, if she grows up to (understandably) "think she's better" as a result of being sent a consistent message that she is better, the same people who sent her that message will then resent her for believing it. What else can she believe? All parents have to tread a careful path in rearing their children--I certainly don't even them their challenges. But I think the challenges faced by the parents of biracial children are indeed unique, and have to be considered long before they contemplate parenthood.

So true, Aimee, so true! Blacks admire her for being light, and whites see her as pretty and exotic.

Something else another person mentioned, about whites being seen as blacks when they are known to have connections to blacks, ie., through intermarriage.

An observation: this was particularly important under slavery and the Jim Crow South, and obviously can still matter today...Whites losing their "privileges of whiteness" when it is known that they are married to blacks, or that they are parentinc children who "look black."

Mel said...

Basically in the USA, people treat you how you look, that is, until they find out that you have a drop of black blood (or more)...then you are black. So, if you look black, you are black -- until you insist that you are "cablinasian" and then people call you "black" anyway... . LOL

Good luck with your BIGLAW journey!

Mel

gatamala said...

she has brought upon herself some push back from becoming impregnated by a white man.

It's 2007. Halle didn't bring anything other than joy upon herself. It is others, specifically bm, who brought push back to her. Next.


aimee...you've brought up some good points.

Black folks in general go ape[bleep] over bi-racial children. I have noted that when the kids do accept their "superiority" as they have been treated by blacks, they get resentment. The other extreme is constant "authenticity" tests.

My concern in having a bi-racial child is striking the right balance b/t loving my child and ensuring the colorism does not warp his/her head. What does one do?

Aimee said...

Thanks for the luck, Mel--I'm pretty sure it'll come in handy!

Increasingly, I think you are right that white Americans are joining the rest of the world in accepting appearance as the ultimate arbiter of "race." Only hard-core white racists tend to care much about distant black or Jewish ancestry that isn't reflected in current physiognomy-- which is one reason why formal white supremacist movements in this country face constant crises in the form of revelations that one or another presumably "pure" leader is actually in some way "tainted."

On the other hand, I think it's clear that this doesn't mean that most whites no longer care about race. It just means that they would feel more comfortable with a Rashida Jones type moving next door or even marrying their son than a Halle Berry type, even if they share similar parentage. In this way, the U.S. may be "progressing" to a Latin American-style racial hierarchy, with degrees of whiteness and blackness, and a great deal in between. I'm not sure if that's something to look forward to or not.

Aimee said...

gatamala said...

My concern in having a bi-racial child is striking the right balance b/t loving my child and ensuring the colorism does not warp his/her head. What does one do?

I think this is such a strong concern for parents of children of black ancestry, wherever they may land along the color spectrum. Can a mother of a biracial child not tell her daughter that she's beautiful or her son that he's handsome? Is she allowed to teach them to appreciate their features, including their non-black features?

On an objective level, to suggest they do otherwise seems absurd. But we don't live on an "objective level" or in a vacuum--we live in the context of a society with very warped and distorted attitudes about skin color and hair, and raising a healthy, psychologically whole child in such a world is like sprinting through a minefield.

As a non-parent, I feel presumptuous doing anything other than raising the questions. But I can't help feeling your child is lucky. You love him, you love yourself, and you're thoughtful enough to consider the questions. That has to make a difference.

White Male said...

I think it's primarily blacks that are concerned over the while "shading" deal. I've never fully understood it, a child/person has no more control over their shading than they do over being born black or white in the first place. To whites it's much more 'black is black.' Now I'll immediately prove myself a hypocrite and say I don't generally find very very dark women attractive, but I think that's not so much color as other associated genotype traits.

Now while I waited over a year for someone to ask, "You're dating a black girl?" so I could reply, "Nah, she's more of a medium brown." if someone is very very high I'll miss it. We hung with a girl that I'd assumed was slightly hispanic or just generically ethnic until I was told she was black. She definitely had a self identity as black. And I may have said this before, but I flat out didn't believe it when my girl pointed out the black people on the daytime soaps. She had to insist, "you can tell by the hair", but come on.

gatamala said...

"As a non-parent, I feel presumptuous doing anything other than raising the questions. But I can't help feeling your child is lucky. You love him, you love yourself, and you're thoughtful enough to consider the questions. That has to make a difference."


I'm not a parent...yet. But as someone who will likely end up in an IR. I'm worried. I guess I'm concerned as I was NOT that girl who was coveted, but not that other girl who was completely ignored. I'm just thinking about how I will react to having a daughter (or son), whom everyone will flock to solely b/c of her apperance. I wouldn't want her to get a "big head", nor do I want her to feel that she is only a skin color & hair texture (which she would be to too, too many).

gatamala said...

"I think it's primarily blacks that are concerned over the while "shading" deal. I've never fully understood it, a child/person has no more control over their shading than they do over being born black or white in the first place. To whites it's much more 'black is black.' Now I'll immediately prove myself a hypocrite and say I don't generally find very very dark women attractive, but I think that's not so much color as other associated genotype traits."


1) It's not primarily blacks. This color/hair/texture features thing is not OUR creation. We do have to deal with/suffer from it.

2) You don't understand b/c coming from the race/gender combo of supreme privilege the negative effects are not obvious to you. You are definitely in and OF the environment.

3) It's not genotype, it's PHenotype when you are talking about physical characteristics ;)

What's considered "black" in America constitutes a wide-range (to wit, your black is black comment). & yes, like your girl, 99.99% of us can "tell".

Anonymous said...

To the last poster:

You indicated that the "negative effects" of, I guess, being taken as black, are not obvious to the prior poster because he is a "white male" and thus of the "race/gender combo of supreme privilege." Is it possible - and no one ever seems to consider the flip side of this coin - that as a black person, and not of this combo, perhaps these supposedly great positive effects are not obviousto you or are misconstrued by you, and perhaps they're not as great as an outsider such as yourself perceives them to be?? If the white male cannot fully understand the situation of the black merely because he is not black, then is it not also necessarily true that the black cannot understand the situation of the white, and thus comments on that situation should be taken with an equal grain of salt?? Personally, I think both can reasonably understand the other - humans can think beyond their own skin - but I'm just applying your logic here.

Aimee said...

White Male said...

I think it's primarily blacks that are concerned over the while "shading" deal . . . To whites it's much more 'black is black.'

I think this may be true to the extent that a person has discernably black features, though even in that case most white people share your preference for black women who are not "too" black. Black people generally share it as well--I'm just pointing out that "shade" preferences are simply part of our culture, and most Westerners, regardless of race, share it to one extent or another.

Additionally as you noted when discussing "black" soap actors, white people do perceive "blacks" who don't appear to be phenotypically black differently than they do other black people. I think this is the real source of anxiety for many mixed race black people like Rebecca Walker. Very often they express frustration at black people attempting to "hold on" to them--but I think they recognize that regardless of what black people may think or feel, white people today will pretty much accept as white anyone who "looks" sufficiently white.

I tend to suspect that the great divide that many have asserted that "race mixing" will produce in coming years won't be between black people and mixed race people per se, but between mixed race people who can "pass," and those who cannot. Ms. Walker mentioned in this latest article suddenly feeling attractive and fashionable after Flashdance was released; but the reality is that most white people are more likely to categorize Jennifer Beals as an "exotic brunette" in the Cindy Crawford mold than to class her with someone who has Ms. Walker's tightly coiled hair and light brown skin. And that's really the struggle for biracials who don't want to be considered black.

lara said...

No its not mostly blacks who have an issue with it. Every ethnicity has an issue with it, from indians, asians, to arabs and latin america. In fact white ppl have more of an issue with it than they care to admit. Whats with TANNING???? hmm. Additionally, most white ppl would feel more comfortable with a light skin black person than with a dark skin one.

Anonymous said...

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/09/20/obama-jackson-and-jena/?hp

I found this interesting given the "black" "white" conversation. Obama's mother is white but White people see him as Black. Not even a "biracial" conversation.

foreverloyal said...

As of now, my oldest knows she is considered beautiful but no one has made a point of her skin or hair.
She seems to think that most little girls are pretty as well. Where she thinks she is better is academically, because she reads on a level of children 3-4 years older than she (masha'allah). I encourage her and am proud of her, but I point out that everyone has their talents/strengths and that other children may be better at art, math, etc.
So far so good.

lara said...

Please go to zabethblog.blogspot.com

Theres a wonderful discusion going on there about a convo she over heard.

Aimee said...

Anonymous said...

Obama's mother is white but White people see him as Black. Not even a "biracial" conversation.

I think some part of this is related to the appearance issue that many of us here have highlighted--his non-white ancestry is unmistakeable. He has also identified publically and consistently as black, positioning himself in the bc community and marrying a BW. Perhaps, however, these, were strategic choices based on the reality that he probably recognized early on that he would always be perceived as black by whites, and he could either embrace a role in the black elite, or be alienated from everybody.

The white perception of Obama does make me wonder to what extent modern racial categorization in the U.S. is based to some degree on position. Perhaps white people are more willing to accept a Mariah Carey or Rashida Jones as an "exotic" not only because of their physical appearances, but because of their relatively non-threatening roles as entertainers. If they were running for president, would they suddenly become "black"? Would they get a little bit more of the Harold Ford, Jr. experience?

Aimee said...

foreverloyal said...

As of now, my oldest knows she is considered beautiful but no one has made a point of her skin or hair.
She seems to think that most little girls are pretty as well. Where she thinks she is better is academically, because she reads on a level of children 3-4 years older than she (masha'allah). I encourage her and am proud of her, but I point out that everyone has their talents/strengths and that other children may be better at art, math, etc.
So far so good.



Hey FL!

I know that you are a follower of Islam, and I wonder if you have found that the emphasis of your religion on feminine modesty (as opposed to the extreme obsession with appearance and sexual display in Western culture), has had an effect on the way that your daughter views her own physical appearance--i.e., as just another positive feature of her whole personality, rather than the crowning achievement her life, like so many young girls in our society?

Congratulations on having a gifted student on your hands already--she'll go far!

Let Love Rule said...

Aimee,

I'm glad you're back. You postings are always so well written and thought provoking.

Personally I have a great deal of sympathy for "bi-racial" people. I think they can struggle with identity in a society that is so stuck on "race". I also think that they are often the objects of hostility within the bc. SO a biracial woman with a strong euro phenotype often is bullied and picked on by bw with color issues.

But I get your point about "the tragic mulatto" trope. It's way tired.

In the end for me when I look at Americans, I tend to suspect first that their in some way multiethnic until proven otherwise. Because we've been mixing in this country for long time. And I also view race as a social construct, as opposed to some inherit or essential quality with specific distinctions. So this speaks to your point about phenotype. if you have tribes in Africa who have always been African with blond hair, blue eyes, and straight hair (which I understand is the case), what is the basis for all these distinctions. I do hope America doesn't go the Latin AMerican route and people just become more ducated on the issue and eliminate colorism altogether.

As for the Anon comment on who said
" If the white male cannot fully understand the situation of the black merely because he is not black, then is it not also necessarily true that the black cannot understand the situation of the white..."

No Anon. You can not simply flip the coin. As white people have been afforded the privileges of this society over centuries they have the luxury of never having to really consider race or group identity other than being American.

And as black people have been the objects of hostility and violence in this society because of their skin tone, they have had to know and understand the mechanisms of oppression (how the system works) just in order to survive. So blacks are very aware of white privelege, while whites are often ignorant of racial injustice and inequalities , because it doesn't affect them.

Dia said...

Wow I just wrote an entry on my blog about this very thing.I am the mother of multi ethnic children or mixed or biracial or whatever you want to call them.I too don't believe that anyone views mixed kids as white be they w/Asian,W/black,W/Hispanic ect. Frankly anything other than white on white disqualifies you from being white.However I will share that when I was pregnant with my first son my husbands aunt who happened to be married to a Hispanic man at the time, questioned whether or not I thought it was a good idea to have a mixed baby.When I told her she too would have a mixed child she seemed to be surprised because she asumed her baby would look whiter than mine and in turn be whiter than mine.She was wrong.

I think her attitude is common,if her daughter looks white enough she'll be accepted as white.Also she married a favored minority (or so she thought)unfortunately we black people are still the ones to dispise.

So what do I do with my own children?I teach them about their ancestry on all the branches of our family tree.They have a rich heritage to represent and learning about it helps them to focus on the really important things leaving the superficial to the superficial.

Anonymous said...

EVERYBODY PLEASE GO TO

http://foreverloyal.wordpress.com/

interesting IR convo

CafeLatteFuture said...

Monoracialism is such an outmoded concept in the 21st century.