The One-Drop Rule and Its Discrimination Problem

You won’t have to talk too long about race today before you hear the “One-Drop Rule.” This rule, as we’ll get into below, is purely discriminatory and was designed to keep slaves from getting any emancipation whatsoever at the time, yet so many individuals still propagate the rule today. I talked with a cousin of mine who is at least 95% European yet still considers herself to be only POC (Person of Color), not Caucasian as well, on the basis of the One-Drop Rule.

Most individuals propagating this view and adhering to it are living by it without recognizing its origin and its purpose. And the worst part of all is that African-Americans are still using it to deny their European roots and ancestry, which is truly unfortunate. Any law that forces a racial group to deny their racial complexity for the sake of a theoretical “racial purity” is racist itself and should be tossed.

So in today’s post, we’ll get into what the One-Drop Rule is and the trouble with it.

What is the One-Drop rule?

The One-Drop Rule, according to PBS, developed in the South during slavery times (and reinforced during the Jim Crow era) said that “a single drop of ‘black blood’ makes a person a black.” By “black” here, we are referring to someone who is of African descent and hails from Africa. While we use the terms “black” and “white,” and I will do so out of accommodation, these terms are pigment colors and not proper racial designations.

Take someone who is 75% black and 25% white. According to the One-Drop Rule, that person is of African descent and “only” African. Take another person who is 95% white and 5% black; in slavery days, this person would still be black because any drop of black blood makes a person black. It doesn’t matter how large or small the blood quantum is; if there’s any there, the person is black, regardless of how “Caucasian” such a person may look. The person could be 99% white and 1% black. That 1% somehow cancels out the 99% European ancestry the individual has.

Now, PBS notes something interesting about the One-Drop Rule: it was only developed in America, only endorsed here. No other country in the world promotes the same idea. And why is this significant? Because it shows that much of the African-American community promotes something today that only exists here. It’s the fact that nothing in history supports this view except what Americans think on the matter. It would be the same as discussing how DNA can be contaminated. One person comes up with a theory on how DNA can be altered or forged. And when someone says, “Hey, there’s this view about DNA contamination,” someone asks, “how can we know this view is true?” The response? “Oh, well everyone in the same science lab believes what this one scientist does, though no one in any other science lab in the world believes it.” When America creates definitions of race based on its own view, especially one to keep blacks enslaved, it’s a bad sign for the view itself. The view has very little merit in such a case.

Aside from the fact that the One-Drop Rule was created in America and only supported here, there’s another blatant problem with the One-Drop Rule: it only applies to being black.

Why Was the One-Drop Rule Created?

The One-Drop Rule was created for the purpose of not allowing blacks to escape slavery. There was a woman during slavery times named Elizabeth Key who sued for her freedom and won because her father was English, and, according to the law of the land, a child born of an Englishman is free. Her father was white, her mother black and enslaved.

And of course, this was troubling to the establishment that held slavery in place. They couldn’t (nor did they want) blacks getting free because they were born half-white. Remember, white privilege existed in slavery times as well, and it was everything. Whiteness could get you freedom, property (you could become land-owning), certain prestigious jobs, and a luxurious lifestyle that blacks could only dream of. For a black person such as Elizabeth Key to inherit all that by her white blood and be granted it by any court in the land was an affront to whiteness and the institution of slavery. Whites were taking blacks by force and having children with them for their own pleasure, but they didn’t want blacks to be able to use their mixed ancestry (created through such terrible acts) to legally escape slavery.

The One-Drop Rule eventually came to replace laws allowing blacks born half-English to escape their plight. The One-Drop Rule did away with any whiteness and said, in effect, “We don’t care how white you are. One drop of black makes you black, even if your father is white.” And at this time, the test of whiteness was changed from the father to the mother. Now, if your mother was black, you were forever enslaved, even if you did have a white father. The reason? Elizabeth Key got her freedom. She was one black that got away — and in the minds of the white South, that was one slave too many.

the One-Drop Rule Implies That Blacks “Don’t Belong In This Country”

We’ve talked about Raven Symone here at The Essential Church, and with good reason: Raven said some years ago that “I’m not African-American” in an Oprah interview that went viral. The African-American community took to YouTube and social media to voice their disbelief that one of the voices of the African-American community in such an elevated place as television would deny her racial roots. But Raven said something in an interview after Oprah that makes sense. She asked the question, “Why is it that whites aren’t called European-Americans?” To her, they are called “Caucasians,” so she questions why blacks are called “African-Americans”. And that’s a fair point. It makes sense that if we’re going to use a designation, it applies to everyone.

But Raven is pointing out something without going into full detail — and that tends to offend people. You can’t just make statements in the public eye without explaining them. And she didn’t fully explain why she’s made the statements she’s made. But, to explain her point, calling blacks “African-Americans” is a way to say that they “don’t really belong here.” I mean, look at the way Trump has behaved toward black women in Congress who disagree with him. The minute they say something against him, he responds with the words, “Go back to your country,” as if these congresswomen don’t belong in the US. In truth, only one of those 4 congresswomen Trump told to “Go back” was born outside the US; the other 3 were born on American soil. And just think: this is the highest political leader in the highest political office in one of the most powerful countries on earth.

So perhaps the hyphenated designation of “African-American” is designed to remind blacks that, no matter what they achieve, how far they’ve come, or their contributions to this great country, they’ll “never be one of us.” And maybe that’s the reason for the South-developed One-Drop Rule that blacks and whites still use to this day.

The One-Drop Rule Still Lives

The One-Drop Rule still lives, believe it or not. The designation in slavery and Jim Crow still exists today in the minds of most Americans. Lawmakers assume the One-Drop rule by default, with some who are white by skin pigmentation claiming their “black” status because they’ve got 5-15% African ancestry. Aside from that, average Americans still believe this rule is true. Growing up all my life, I heard my grandmother say, “Well, it’s as they said in slavery times, if you’ve got one drop of black, you’re black. One drop of black makes you black,” she’d always say when talking about race. And usually, she’d say it when referring to someone’s race. And normally, it was over a person who was mixed, of African and European ancestry.

I talked with a cousin of mine recently who, though clearly of European skin pigmentation with a smidgen of African ancestry, still considers herself to be a “Person Of Color” (POC). And when she made the statement she said, “Well, I only have a little black, but the One-Drop Rule applies.” Now, I don’t have a problem with her embracing her African descent. I think that if you’re biracial, you should embrace both races that make you who you are, not the one you like the best or the one your parent(s) wants you to own. But this otherwise “Caucasian” cousin is denying her whiteness because she believes being black runs counter to it. And she’s over 60 and was likely born on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement.

Her statement was the inspiration behind this post.

Applying The One-Drop Rule In General

When I was a math student in school years ago, I remember teachers reminding me in a math equation that, “what you do to one side you must do to the other side.” So if you’re going to find out what “x” is in the equation “2x – 3 = 6,” you have to first add 3 to both sides. Then you get 2x = 9. At this point, you can divide by 2, and x then equals 9 divided by 2, which is 4.5.

This same mathematical rule applies to the One-Drop Rule, which has unfavorably been used only to refer to blacks. What you do for African descent you must do for all other descents. That is, if one drop of black makes you black, then one drop of white makes you white. By this thought, blacks with no more than 15% European ancestry would be biracial — both black and white. If one drop of black makes you black, then one drop of Italian makes you Italian. One drop of French makes you French. One drop of Irish makes you Irish. One drop of Swedish makes you Swedish. One drop of Scandinavian/Viking makes you Scandinavian.

This is how it should be. If you’re a person that’s multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, then you should celebrate all those ethnicities and cultures that make you who you are, not merely one or two of them. But why is it that we don’t see this in the world? Why is it that no matter how German, Swedish, or Irish you are, if you have dark pigmentation you’re just “black”? Why is it that no matter how European your skin tone, if your mother or father is black, you’re “just black”? And why is it that when I see DNA reveals on YouTube, I see so many biracials denying their European ancestry and embracing their African ancestry, even when their European ancestry is 30% or more?

Things are the way they are because we’re still adhering to the One-Drop Rule, created centuries ago to oppress the black community and keep them enslaved. And today, when blacks use the One-Drop Rule (as my grandmother always did) to support why they deny their white ancestry, it just shows that we as a country may have freed the slaves, but we’re still shackled in the chains of racism. Racism was the wheel that kept the institution of slavery rolling along, anyway.