How do you define being Black in America? CNN takes a look on what it means by getting the perspective of different folks of color, specifically the “One-Droppers.”
What is black? Race. Culture. Consciousness. History. Heritage. A shade darker than brown? The opposite of white? Who is black? In America, being black has meant having African ancestry. But not everyone fits neatly into a prototypical model of “blackness.”
Scholar Yaba Blay explores the nuances of racial identity and the influences of skin color in a project called (1)ne Drop, named after a rule in the United States that once mandated that any person with “one drop of Negro blood” was black. Based on assumptions of white purity, it reflects a history of slavery and Jim Crow segregation.
In its colloquial definition, the rule meant that a person with a black relative from five generations ago was also considered black. One drop was codified in the 1920 Census and became pervasive as courts ruled on it as a principle of law. It was not deemed unconstitutional until 1967.
Blay, a dark-skinned daughter of Ghanian immigrants, had always been able to clearly communicate her racial identity. But she was intrigued by those whose identity was not always apparent. Her project focuses on a diverse group of people – many of whom are mixed race – who claim blackness as their identity. That identity is expanding in America every day. Blay’s intent was to spark dialogue and see the idea of being black through a whole new lens.
“What’s interesting is that for so long, the need to define blackness has originated from people who were not themselves black, and their need to define it stemmed from their need to control it,” says Blay. Blackness, she says, isn’t so easily defined by words. What is blackness for one person may not necessarily be that for another.
“And that’s fine,” Blay says. “Personally, my blackness is reflective of my ancestry, my culture and my inheritance.”
“Black,” in reference to people and identity, she says, is worthy of capitalization. Otherwise, black is just another color in the box of crayons. (CNN, like other news organizations, does not capitalize black or white.)
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