In April 2021, we learned of yet another tragic incident involving a White police officer and a Black man. However, this one was markedly different from all the rest. The police officer appeared traumatized and expressed remorse after she shot and killed the man she allegedly intended to tase. She claimed that, in the heat of the moment, she accidentally drew her gun instead of her taser.
For months, most of the debates surrounding the case involved whether the incident was truly an accident. However, something else entirely caught my attention a few weeks ago when a New York Times article notification popped up on my phone. It involved the testimony of Daunte Wright’s mother, who I immediately noticed was White.
Why, then, was her son described as a Black man? Meanwhile, her race was graciously skirted over. Am I implying that Daunte is not Black or is less Black because his mother is White? No, I’m amused by how willingly White Americans have allowed the one-drop rule to erase them from the ancestry of their children and grandchildren.
What Is the One-Drop Rule?
Harvard delicately describes the one-drop rule as a tendency to assign minority status to people of Mixed race or Mixed heritage. In the case of Daunte Wright and millions of other Mixed-race children in America—including Barack Obama—despite having a White and Black parent, only the Black heritage is recognized.
One might argue that White Americans invented this way of thinking. In fact, it has been a part of the White American identity vs everyone else since the dawn of European civilization in America. Children born of unions between Indigenous People and White Europeans, for example, were never considered White and often suffered ostracization.
Then, along came slavery. Despite the dehumanizing of Black people—or perhaps, especially because of it—the Mixed-race population grew. Southern planters worried that these individuals would have the opportunity to climb in status and compete fairly with themselves and their children, so they created the one-drop rule.
At its core, the one-drop rule asserts that it takes just one drop of Black blood to mar the pristine Whiteness that early settlers and Southern planters wanted to preserve. The only good comparison to this was Nazi Germany—centuries later.
In Jamaica, this doesn’t exist. We are free to identify as whatever we look like and whatever our ancestral roots are.
How Has This Backfired?
What started as a way to preserve Whiteness has now effectively begun to erase it. In fact, most social scientists report that America’s White population is declining at a much faster rate than experts at first predicted it would. The results of the 2020 census confirmed a decline in the White American population for the first time. This was swiftly followed by predictions that America will be a “minority white” country by 2045 from several reputable sources.
Many factors have contributed to this racial shift. For starters, interracial relationships and families are now more common than ever. To add to this, America’s policies overseas have contributed to the historic and continued destabilization of foreign countries around the world. Coupled with its PR campaign as the biggest, best, and baddest, it becomes the simultaneous bully and beacon of hope for people from poorer countries.
These countries are predominantly populated by People of Colour, who are themselves the result of European exploitation, American interference—or both. As these people flee to America and grow their families, the population experiences a shift in demographics.
But, considering that the census requires self-identification, it begs the question of whether the one-drop rule has worked better than White Americans originally hoped it would.
How many children are there from Mixed-race households who chose to tick only the boxes for Black, Indigenous or Asian people because American culture and social norms have rarely—if ever—treated them as anything else?
18 thoughts on “How White Americans Are Erasing Themselves With the One-Drop Rule”
Race in America is quite strange. In Jamaica, I never think of the colour of my skin and it has little to no effect on my life. We don’t call our minorities out in the news by race unless it matters. Sadly, in America, it often does matter. When White people gun down Black people in the streets, race is usually behind that decision. Remember that guy who shot up the Black church? Or the three Georgians who just got sentenced for shooting a guy just going on a morning run? It’s crazy here. Truly.
I do agree with you that Britain has recently taken some steps backward. However, until now, they were at least respectful and apologetic and gave their former colonies preferential treatment in quite a few areas, such as exports. I really do hope that Britain and other countries under right wing governance go back to progressing instead of regressing, soon.
I’m really glad you sent me that BBC article. You’ve sparked my interest for sure! I’m not surprised that it was a Jamaican who helped dig up the dirt, haha.
Thanks again for reading and taking the time to comment and share that article. I really appreciate it.
I think that these racial delineations are just so weird. I guess the US is just so polarised around race that it affects so much of daily life. It’s not quite so bad in the UK but still far from perfect, especially these days with a right wing government spurring on xenophobic & racist attitudes. Which brings me to your comment re Britain:
“They did a lot of bad things to Commonwealth nations, but you will find that most of us are proud of our British connections and do not resent them. I think the key is that they don’t celebrate colonialism”
Umm, yeah, well. 10-20 years ago I’d have agreed (to an extent) but since the shit-show of Brexit the nutters on the right (a lot of whom seem to be in actual government roles) want to frame the British Empire as some kind of glory vision that they somehow want to recreate. People actually talked about creating Empire 2.0.
I’m tempted to do one of those DNA ancestry kits but I just know that it’ll be dull English-English-English all the way back rather than having anything fun & exotic in my heritage. I’d happily celebrate all elements, where-ever in the world they came from.
Finally, you might be interested in this BBC article on the heritage of former US presidents: https://www.bbc.co.uk/caribbean/news/story/2009/01/printable/090122_firstblack.shtml
There are several areas of the US that have achieved melting pot reality status, notably Dallas, but also Prince William County, Virginia, near the Capital. As noted by several news outlets and bloggers today, areas of white decline like Brevard County, Florida, are hotbeds for white violence. For me, the environment in which I grew up is long gone and I don’t miss it. Clearly, others are having trouble adjusting.
I view America and its cities as more of a buffet table than a melting pot. Many people would describe Atlanta as a melting pot, for example, but it is actually the second-most segregated city in America. The fact that diverse demographics are present doesn’t necessarily mean people are blending culturally.
I haven’t visited the places you mention, so I can only take your word for it!
I think change is coming whether people like it or not. Kudos to you for looking ahead instead of looking to the past to re-establish a sense of “greatness” based on dominance.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and share your thoughts with me. ☺️
I will frame it from the other perspective and say that I find the concept of the “one-drop rule” so strange, especially if the person doesn’t even associate themselves with that particular race/culture. It’s like how some white Americans say that they’re 1/16 Native American, but have absolutely no ties to the language and customs of whatever tribe it is. These are the same people who say that they’re “Irish” or “Norwegian,” just because their great-great grandparents were. No, you’re of “Irish descent” or “Norwegian descent,” but unless you speak the language, practice the customs, or have close ties to the country, you’re just culturally American. I never understood white Americans having this mindset, which makes the “one-drop rule” a cop-out for take accountability when it comes to being black, as you address it in your post. I.e. if you even have a drop of African blood, you’re considered black, and that means being treated unfairly because of that, even if you grew up culturally white and have no ties to the black community. Again, it’s just excuses for the dominant race to continue to put minorities down out of fear of taking their power away. As it appears that the US white population is declining now, we’ll have to see if 1) it leads to more diversity and acceptance and 2) the white minorities (when it gets to be that way) will still remain in power, or if POC will take the lead. Lots of rambling on my part, but you provided some good food for thought today!
I really love the way you framed it, Rebecca. I have also noticed the hypocrisy where that’s concerned. There’s a lot of celebrating of White heritage with just a touch of diversity from the “right” spaces when it’s convenient.
I don’t understand it all. I’ve never encountered it anywhere else and truly believe it’s an American phenomenon.
I am also curious to see how things pan out when Whites become the minority. I don’t think other cultures have the power hungry drive of White American culture, so I think they’ll continue to run the country, even as minorities.
I’ve been quoting that Frey article/book for years now. It still surprises me how people react to the news of a white minority in America. It’s telling to their core values, their initial unchecked reactions.
Personally, I’d welcome an early arrival of our minority status. Sadly, the less educated in my gene pool prop up our declining reproductive numbers…seemingly out of boredom. Adding insult to that injury is the reality that they are likely to raise more of the worst type of white people – those who are raised with ignorant views on racial equity. That last potential reality is bad news for everyone in America, except the GOP, who rely on the support of people who are susceptible to their fear mongering and vote for their overtly racist agenda.
Sorry for writing my own blog post in your comments…😬😬😬
Your own blog post comment is always welcome, haha. Thanks for taking the time to read what I had to say and leave a thoughtful comment.
I do agree with you about the reaction to potential minority status. There was an old video I saw a while back with a Black professor. Maybe from around the 80s or so.
A White lady stood up and said she feared what Black people would do if they had the same rights as Whites and earned equal status. The professor started to laugh.
He said something along the lines of, “Do you know why you fear Black people? Because you fear that if we rise to power, we will treat you exactly as White people have treated us.” It’s stuck with me ever since I saw it.
That quote…it’s so powerful in its simplicity, but so layered, too. It brought tears to my eyes.
I understand completely. If I ever see that video circulating again, I’ll try to find this comment, so I can send you a link. The clip was worth watching.
america has been called a “melting pot” and it is now really becoming evident many years later just how true those words are. historians, long ago, planted the seed that the white race people were far better than those of any other race. they ignored the facts of those of any other race did things (invented, discovered, etc.) and made those things theirs. it is the arrogance of white people which keeps this alive, i feel. are white people the only people who are racist? no. we base race only on what we see of the physical person. if they look “whatever” then we call them “whatever” it has only been recently that some people will identify as “mixed race” some people just dont know or dont care. why must we during a general conversation, will say “my (insert race here) friend told me yesterday….” what does their race or ethnic background have to do with the conversation? the media keeps race, sex and ethnic background in front of us as they will report that a person who is (insert race, ethnic, sex here) who maybe the (first, only, last) to do something. i think over the years white people have been made to feel bad for being white while at the same time other rac and ethnic people are praised for being that race/ethnic background. is it just human nature to do any or all of this?
i really like this post of yours. and im surprised i am the only one to make a comment. maybe they felt it was too hard to discuss your post in this type of forum? it too find this post difficult to make any comment for i feel it deserves an in person talk. it is posts like this that i follow you and call you my friend.
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. As someone who comes from an actual melting pot though, I disagree. America isn’t a melting pot. It’s a buffet table. Jamaica is a melting pot. Many ingredients, one final result. We don’t have different cultures in Jamaica that are defined by or different across races and ethnic groups. We all pull from the same pot.
America has MANY pots, but they rarely mix. And when they do, Whites scratch themselves off the label and ingredients with the one drop rule.
I do think it’s important for First Blacks etc to celebrate. It’s a reminder that what is commonplace for White people in America is not commonplace for the rest of us.
I think if White Americans culturally took responsibility for their wrongs and owned up to them, they wouldn’t feel as if people are waiting on them to feel bad. Instead, racism runs rampant in America and if it runs rampant the media is going to discuss it. Not discussing race does not make it go away.
In some ways, I have to commend Britain. They did a lot of bad things to Commonwealth nations, but you will find that most of us are proud of our British connections and do not resent them. I think the key is that they don’t celebrate colonialism in the way Americans have celebrated and continue to either celebrate or make excuses for White supremacy. From confederate flags to restricting minority voters rights, very little has changed in 200 years.
I like the “buffet” idea better.
Hahahahahaha. Maybe America will achieve the melting pot reality in a few years. But it can’t happen with the GOP carrying on as it does. Democrats have a lot to learn as well, but they, at least, mean well.
It can’t happen while Americans let the GOP carry on as it is. But then it seems that from the information that I have seen the demographics of those supporting the GOP are the type of people that perpetuate the racism and division within the United States. For all the faults and negativity people see in America, more and more people want to come here. And I don’t feel they’re coming here increase those faults and negativity for I feel those are all homegrown and have been here for decades.
Fair point. I’m not sure who controls the GOP anymore. The people who elect them into power or the people being brainwashed to follow imbeciles. You are right about the demographics.
Immigrants primarily come to America to escape the mess that colonization and exploitation created in our home countries. That’s why most immigrants coming here are people of colour, not wealthy White Europeans who can spend their money in London and Dubai instead.
I do think our presence worsens the hatred. It’s salt in the wound. These people really feel like they’re being invaded. When I listen to them describe it, my response is always the same:
So, how do you think the Natives felt when the Europeans came?
No one has answered that question, so far…
I’ve always liked the idea of the song by Blue Mink – “Melting Pot”. Whether we ever get there or not I have no idea, but I shall be long gone before then.
“What we need is a great big melting pot
Big enough enough to take the world and all its got
And keep it stirring for a hundred years or more
And turn out coffee coloured people by the score”
However, I suppose that other ways to discriminate would be swiftly found. It seems a sad human trait!
Jamaica has achieved the melting pot reality. We don’t have multiple cultures. We have one. Everyone pulls from the same pot and there are no real differences across races.
Instead, differences exist across classes. Classism itself can be problematic, but at least a person has some say in determining their class throughout their lifetime. No one chooses their race.
Thanks again for reading, Peter. I look forward to your comments. ☺️