In a country where the face of the future
is becoming ever more ethnically ambiguous, Blackness must be
recognized as something other than just skin color and specific physical
attributes. (1)ne Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race, a book published last year by Dr. Yaba Blay, explores the complexities of racial classifications, and the different ways that people live and experience Blackness.
In antebellum America, the one-drop rule
was used to define a person with any Black ancestry, no matter how
remote, as Black. By 1910, this rule had become law in most Southern
states "to protect and preserve White racial purity," Blay writes in her
book. "One hundred years later, however, the social and political
landscape has changed. Or has it?"
Blay examines this issue
through the narratives and photographs of contributors. She asks them
questions like "How do you identify? Racially? Culturally? Upon meeting
you for the first time, what do people usually assume about your
identity? Do people question your Blackness?"
Tigist Selam, "Ethiopian and German"
"I personally identify as Black racially, Ethiopian and German/American
culturally. I never say I'm Black except for in political context,
because I don't even know what that means ... To me, culture is very
specific, and I'm multicultural. So, when I identify as Black, I'm
making a political statement; I'm not trying to simplify my own cultural
"I identify as Black. And when I say 'Black,' it’s not just based on
race or color; it's about what feels most comfortable in terms of a
sense of home."
Sembene McFarland, "Black/African-American"
"A lot of people just look and see skin color. Your skin is White,
therefore you're White. Or are you? One girl said to me, 'I've been
wanting to ask you this question but I didn't feel comfortable asking
you because I thought that you might be offended, but are you Black or
are you White?' And I told her, 'Well, I'm always Black.'"
Deborah Thomas, "Mixed/Jamerican"
"Though in certain contexts, people will see me as White, I've never
tried to pass. I don't know why one would. I mean, obviously
sociologically I know why one would, but it's just never been an option
Nuala Cabral, "Black/Mixed/Cape Verdean"
"I may identify as a Biracial person -- I'm Black and White -- but if
people see me as a Black woman, that's how I'm treated. So I identify as
a Black woman because I move through the world as a Black woman."
Kaneesha Parsard, "Black/Multiracial"
"I tend to believe that being Black -- like choosing to identify as
Multiracial -- is not about phenotype as much as it's about feelings of
belonging and identification. I'm Black because I feel the memory of the
Middle Passage and slavery most strongly. I'm Black because when I look
in the mirror I see my mother, her mother, and my aunts."
Sean Gethers, "Black/African-American"
"A lot of Caucasians think I'm White because they've never run into
somebody that has albinism ... At the same time, I don't feel like I’m
passing. I can't hide being Black. My nose, my eyes, my lips, my
cheekbones. Come on, ain't no white part of me except my skin. You can't
judge a book by its cover."
Destiny Birdsong, "African-American/Black"
"I've always had a fear of being mistaken for White because you have to
deal with people's ignorance ... It's a way that someone can use
language to really erase who you are and your own past."
Angelina Griggs, "Colored"
"My father's father was White, and his mother was dark ... My father
never laid on us about no 'yella' or no light skin or no White or no
passing or none of it. He told us we were Negroes. He would tell us
about how the White people took advantage of his mother and how we
needed to respect her."
Brett Russell, "Yu'i Korsou (a child of Curaçao)" Photographed by Richard Terborg
"At one point it seemed like every day, a couple of times a day, someone
would ask me, 'Where are you from?' And when I would tell them, they'd
say something like, 'You're from Curaçao? How can that be?' or 'You
Sosena Solomon, "Ethiopian"
"When you say 'Black' in Ethiopia it just means 'dark,' it doesn't say
anything about your identity. It's just a color. Just a description. But
growing up here, I've learned how Black really is an identity."
James Scott, "Appalachian African-American"
"Somebody might look at me and question my Blackness or feel like I
don't have the right to speak for African Americans because I don't look
Black. They might even assume that I don't experience racism because of
how I look."
Johanne Stewart, "African-American"
"Vitiligo is not something that changes you as a person. I may not be
the color I used to be, but I am the same person. I don't try to pass
myself off as somebody that I'm not. I'm still who I've always been -- a
strong Black woman who is very proud to be a part of a race of people
that have endured a lot."
Koko Zauditu-Selass, "African"
"'You keep saying 'African.' Don't you mean 'African Americans'? I had
to come up with a general definition: When I say 'African people,' I
mean all people who have their heritage primarily situated in West
Africa. And that's including the Diaspora."
Kristina Robinson, "Black from Louisiana"
"Most people would call that Creole, but I identify as a Black person first."
Biany Pérez, "Afro-Dominican"
"Most times when people ask me, 'What are you?' I say I'm Black.
Although I do identify as Afro-Latina, I'm very careful about saying it
because I want you to understand that I'm Black first. Yes, I'm Latina,
but I know that my lived experience is not as a Latina. I'm treated as a
Black American first. I'm Black first, and it is because of my
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