The One Drop Rule




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The One Drop Rule



In the South it became known as the

" One drop Rule "

meaning that a single drop of "black blood" makes a person black.


It is also known as the "one black ancestor rule," some courts have called it the "traceable amount rule," and anthropologists call it the "hypo-descent rule," meaning that racially mixed persons are assigned the status of the subordinate group.




The term "Negro," which is used in certain historical contexts, means the same thing. Terms such as "African black, unmixed Negro," and "all black" are used here to refer to unmixed blacks descended from African populations.

The term "mulatto" was originally used to mean the offspring of a "pure African Negro" and a "pure white." Although the root meaning of mulatto, in Spanish, is "hybrid," "mulatto" came to include the children of unions between whites and so-called "mixed Negroes."




Black Family has White Baby




In the United States, the terms mulatto, colored, Negro, black, and African American all came to mean people with any known black African ancestry.

Mulattoes are racially mixed, to whatever degree, while the terms black, Negro, African American, and colored include both mulattoes and unmixed blacks. As we shall see, these terms have quite different meanings in other countries.

The Mixing of the Races


Many of the nation's black leaders have been of predominantly white ancestry

. James Augustine Healy was born in 1830 to a mulatto slave and an Irish planter and taken north to a Quaker school on Long Island in 1837. He graduated from Holy Cross College in 1849, and in 1854 was ordained a priest at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. He became the first black bishop in the United States, serving in the capacity in Portland, Maine.

Plessy v. Ferguson (163 U.S. 537). This case challenged the Jim Crow statute that required racially segregated seating on trains in interstate commerce in the state of Louisiana.

The U. S. Supreme Court quickly dispensed with Plessy's contention that because he was only one-eighth Negro and could pass as white he was entitled to ride in the seats reserved for whites. Without ruling directly on the definition of a Negro, the Supreme Court briefly took what is called "judicial notice" of what it assumed to be common knowledge: that a Negro or black is any person with any black ancestry. (Judges often take explicit "judicial notice" not only of scientific of scholarly conclusions but also rof opinion surveys.




The Census Bureau counts what the nation wants counted. The definition of black used by the Census Bureau has been the nation's cultural and legal definition: all persons with any known black ancestry

. Other nations define and count blacks differently, so international comparisons of census data on blacks can be extremely misleading. For example, Latin American countries generally count as black only unmixed African blacks, those only slightly mixed, and the very poorest mulattoes.

If they used the U.S. Definition, they would count far more blacks than they do, and if Americans used their definition, millions in the black community in the United States would be counted either as white or as "colored" of different descriptions, not as black.


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In 1870 and 1880, mulattoes were officially defined to include "quadroons, octoroons, and all persons having any perceptible trace of African blood."

In 1980 enumerators were told to record the exact proportion of the "African blood," again relying on visibility.

In 1900 the Census Bureau specified that "pure Negroes" be counted separately from mulattoes, the latter to mean "all persons' with some trace of black blood." In 1920 the mulatto category was dropped, and black was defined to mean any person with any black ancestry, as it has been ever since.

No other ethnic population in the nation, including those with visibility non-Caucasoid features, is defined and counted according to a one-drop rule.

For example, persons whose ancestry is one-fourth or less American Indian are not generally defined as Indian unless they want to be, and they are considered assimilating Americans who may even be proud of having some Indian ancestry.

The same implicit rule appears to apply to Japanese Americans, Filipinos, or other peoples from East Asian nations and also to Mexican Americans who have Central American Indian ancestry, as a large majority do.



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