*Oscar-winning African American actress Halle Berry is the product of a white mother and a Black father. She has a young daughter who was conceived as a result of a now dissolved relationship with white Canadian Gabriel Aubrey. Question: What color is Berry’s daughter?
Well, Berry created somewhat of a media controversy a few days ago when she declared during an interview “My daughter is Black.” Berry explained, “I feel like she’s Black. I’m Black and I’m her mother and I believe in the one-drop theory.”
Berry was making reference to a “rule” that originated during slavery which essentially proclaimed that just one drop of Black blood made one Black. The rule was a social construct with no actual scientific basis. It was promulgated by white plantation owners and was designed to prevent the mixed race children of white plantation owners and Black slave women from claiming freedom or property rights.
A bit more history is necessary here. Currently in America, there is neither a law nor scientific definition determining to which race a person belongs. Many people erroneously think the issue was legally decided in the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson case. In addition to challenging the racist “separate but equal” doctrine, Homer Plessy did attempt to make an “I am not a Negro” argument before the U.S. Supreme Court.
His position was that his parentage was 7/8 Caucasian and 1/8 African and that his “negro blood” was barely discernible. Thus he said he should not be treated as Black under the segregationist Louisiana law he was challenging. But in its 1896 decision, the Supreme Court did not decide the issue. It told Plessy he had failed to raise the “I am not a Negro” argument on the lower court level. Thus, he could not raise it at the Supreme Court level.
The Supreme Court had another shot at legally defining the race in 1985. In this case, a woman who thought she was “white” (Susie Guillory Phipps) discovered a birth certificate which designated her as “colored.” She attempted to get Louisiana authorities to drop or change the designation. When they refused, she took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Again, the high court did not decide the issue. It simply upheld a Louisiana law which required that the race of the parents be placed on a child’s birth certificate. And research showed that although she looked in every way “white” Phipps was actually the “great, great, great, granddaughter” of a French plantation owner and a Black slave woman.
Thus, the “one drop” rule is a social construct. It has neither a legal nor biological basis. Regardless, does the one-drop rule still apply? In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau essentially said no when it added the category of “mixed race” to the ethnic designation section of the official Census form. But as a practical matter, if one looks the least bit “Black” or of African ancestry, the vast majority of Americans still consider that person Black not mixed race.
What is your view? Does the one-drop rule still apply in so-called post-racial America? Would dropping the rule be beneficial to mixed race children or would it encourage divisions among Blacks along complexion lines. Post your thoughts below and/or email your comments to [email protected].