Who is “Black”

Discussions of negritude are pretty commonplace in my slice of Black twitter but no discussion is a contentious as the discussion surrounding Hypodescent or as it is more popularly known, The One Drop Rule.

Hypodescent mean that in a place when one group is deemed superior and another is inferior should one from the “superior group” have a child with someone from an “inferior” group the child is deemed to be of the inferior group hence “One drop of black blood” makes you Black (as in noun form denoting a distinct group of the African Diaspora).

Historically this concept was codified into law in the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 and similar laws abounded elsewhere in this nation. White Folk were serious about protecting strict standards of who was white and who was not for the purpose of providing privilege and preserving group power structures. Authenticity was and continues to be essential.

The one drop rule is without a shadow of a doubt is rooted in a legacy of white supremacy. Thus we have to ask the question does the practice of accepting those denoted Black by the one drop rule an act of self hate.

This discussion becomes particularly relevant in the light of Fanon’s comment regarding the necessity of oppressed people defining themselves outside of the logic of their oppressor as the first step of liberation. As a practical example many religious groups or philosophies stress a name change as symbolic of locating oneself out of the logic of one’s oppressor or oppression. Also if we consider the history of Black folk so many of the folks we consider our greats have grappled with the idea of who we are due in no small part to the cultural losses we have sustained, the pieces we retained, the hostility of the society that formed around us, and our creativity in the attempt of making sense of it or least live in spite of it.

The way I was introduced into the Hypodescent discussion was through a discussion regarding confronting Colorism and light skinned privilege. Colorism being the practice of using Light skinned capital “B” Black folk or “mixed” (I put that in quotations b/c its fairly idiomatic given that most people that identify as Black have some non Black heritage and even among our African heritage we are the product of many different ethnic groups) identifying folks to represent all of the different shades that we consider to be Black people. Light skinned privilege being the favorable treatment given to those with fairer skin because of the racist top down color structure that conveys value on how to close to white you are. The problem even though we may see lighter complexioned or mixed folks as kin that darker Black folk are being erased and devalued because of the standardization and pursuit of whiteness.

Some argue that this is grounds for reorganization in who we call kin. I agree that we need to codify what it means to be us but I do not agree with the idea that the only Black (ethnic group) people are black (skin color) people. I find that the United States African Diaspora is its own ethnic group descended from the many African peoples that were brought here. As we well know those identities were stripped and in favor race terms which I find to be illegitimate and inaccurate and existing within the same logic of white supremacy that we would seek to avoid. So adhering to race identifiers doesn’t make sense to me. So that puts us in the unique position of not only choosing a new name but also trying to find a new answer to the historical question that every generation of us have had to grapple. To me benefitting from colorism doesn’t eliminate one’s negritude and after all not everybody we would identify as “light skinned” or “redbone” are mixed. And of those that are mixed what role should a person’s should a person’s identification play in whether they are a part of us are not? If that’s not a factor what are our standards of negritude? How are these standards communicated from one generation to the next? How do we even begin to implement such a thing? What happens to the folk who are left out?

The more I investigate the issue, the more questions arise that I am not prepared to deal with and yet I am not satisfied with the solutions presented thus far. This is a difficult question that members of the United States African Diaspora must begin to deal and eventually answer.