Mixing It Up

by Rachel on February 7, 2011

Everyone knows that February is Black History Month, but that doesn’t really do much for me. I’ve realized that instead of trying to pay homage to both my black heritage and my white heritage, I’d rather just celebrate my half-black heritage. I mean, I think that half-black people have a culture all their own, and we have every right to celebrate that. Therefore, I’m declaring a new time of celebration.

(Since we are half, we only need two weeks.)

Here’s the thing: my dog Lola is half-poodle and half-Maltese, but she looks like a Bichon, because Bichons were bred from Maltese and poodles, until they eventually came their own breed. So sometimes, it seems, that half-breeds can just become their own pure breed. That’s what I’m going for here.

Let’s start mixin’ it up!

Anti-miscegenation laws, which made marriage and sometimes just sex between black people and white people illegal, were in place from the days of the thirteen original colonies in many US states until late in the 20th century.

In 1881, Tony Pace (a black man) and Mary Cox (a white woman) were arrested for “living together in a state of adultery or fornication” and were sentenced to two years in prison. They took their case to the Alabama Supreme Court, arguing that their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment had been violated, but their conviction was upheld. The court determined that being forbidden from banging interracially was not discriminatory. It was simply necessary to keep from having half-black children running around.

The evil tendency of the crime [of adultery or fornication] is greater when committed between persons of the two races…Its result may be the amalgamation of the two races, producing a mongrel population and a degraded civilization, the prevention of which is dictated by a sound policy affecting the highest interests of society and government.

So we started off as a “mongrel population” in Alabama — coincidentally, the state where my (white) grandma is from!

In 1963, Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, went after the state of Virginia’s law that kept them from living as a couple. They had married in Washington D.C., but when they returned to Virgina, they were arrested in their own bedroom for living as a couple. Their case went to the U.S. Supreme Court who ruled unanimously to overturn Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law. The SC said:

Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not to marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

At the time of the ruling, 17 states still had anti-miscegenation laws on the books, and even though the Supreme Court’s ruling took them out of effect, they still remained in the state constitutions until 1998 in South Carolina and 2000 in Alabama.

  • In 1662, the colony of Virginia enacted the “one-drop rule” which meant that one drop of black ancestry was all it took for you to have to check “black” as your race.
  • The “blood-fractions laws” of 1705 ruled that anyone who was at least one-eighth black (one black great-grandparent) could not be labeled as white.
  • The 1890 census included categories for racial mixtures such as quadroon (one-fourth black) and octoroon (one-eighth black).
  • The “one-drop rule” came back into effect on the census by the 1930s, so Americans could only check one box.
  • A 1970 Louisiana law defined as black anyone who had at least 1/32 African-American blood, and this law was upheld in state court in 1985.
  • In the 1970s-1990s, Americans could still only check one box, but some were told to check the box of their mother’s race. (This means I was counted as white in the years of census past.)
  • Despite the census rules, many one-droppers could “pass” as white, and often did so in an effort to get jobs and education that would not have been available to them otherwise.
  • Starting with the 2000 census, Americans were allowed to check more than one race. Seven million people — about 2.4 percent of the population — reported being more than one race that year.
  • A recent study showed that many biracial Americans identify as only black, and may even take steps to “pass” as black, such as tanning, modifying their hair, or using cultural markers like language, clothing, and food to seem more black.
  • In 2010, President Obama identified only as black on the census, taking away the half-black population’s right to claim him as our own.

That’s all for today’s lesson! But get excited for more fun lessons over the next two weeks including famous half-black people throughout history, half-black contributions to American culture, common races/ethnicities half-black people are mistakenly assigned, and what to do if you think the person you’re talking to is half-black. (Hint: It’s not blurting out, “What color are you?” despite what some people would have you believe.)

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rosa February 7, 2011 at 9:55 am

Great post. My husband and I are both half-black. Our children are very fair. My oldest is having a hard time finding a place to fit in. She says that the african american girls don’t want to be her friend because she is not “black”. One day she took a picture of me to school to “prove” that she was black. For the moment she “fit” in, but every year she has to justify her existence. I worry a bit because I never had such a problem growing up in Harlem, but Wisconsin is a horse of another color.


2 Lexi February 7, 2011 at 10:23 am

You’re going to think I’m lying, but I work at a middle school in VA, and their grandson is in my class. I implement an anti-tobacco grant here. He was just telling me the other day that his grandparents were “famous”, and he explained the whole trial to me. It is to odd that just a week later you are posting about it here! I’ve noticed that there are a lot of interracial kids at my school compared to where I grew up (in MS).


3 Tenecia February 7, 2011 at 11:26 am

My daughter is half-black and half-white….when it was time to register her for school, I had to designate her race and I literally sat there stressing over which box to mark for her because I could only choose one race! I decided since I carried her for 9 months, gained 60 lbs during my pregnancy, and was in labor with her for 27 hours (most of that time without an epidural – no, I wasn’t trying to have a “natural” birth – long story!) – she would have to claim my race so I marked “Black” ;)


P.S. “Since we are half, we only need two weeks.” made me almost pee my pants!


4 Summer February 7, 2011 at 11:42 am

Can I apologize for my state (Alabama)? Coincidentally, what part of Alabama is your grandma from?

Additionally, reading about this I was was reminded about this case from as recent as just two years ago: http://articles.cnn.com/2009-10-16/us/louisiana.interracial.marriage_1_interracial-marriages-keith-bardwell-marriage-license?_s=PM:US


5 Rachel's Mom February 7, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Rachel’s grandma is from Cullman.


6 Sable February 7, 2011 at 12:18 pm

I had no idea there were actually *rules* about what box you can check on the Census… ridiculous!

Like Tenecia I snorted and lost half a sip of coffee at the “we only need two weeks” line. Haha!!


7 Manon February 7, 2011 at 1:24 pm

The girl I mentor in Big Brothers Big Sisters is half black/half white and it breaks my heart to hear her talk about some of what she deals with in school. When I went to one of her school functions, I was pretty much the only white person there, so it’s not like she’s living in some podunk area of Iowa where people have never seen anyone who isn’t white. But, she says there are girls who tell her she’s a ‘wanna be black girl’, or ‘she’s not black enough to wear braids, or certain clothes, shoes, etc’ WTF? It just pisses me off. First of all, it shouldn’t matter what color, ethnicity, etc anyone is in the first place, but really? You’re going to tell someone she’s not black enough? Unreal. I’m just glad she shrugs it off for the most part, but it still breaks my heart that it bothers her even a little. :(


8 Mina February 7, 2011 at 5:52 pm

I’m half Iranian (the ORIGINAL caucasians, just sayin’), part Cherokee and part Irish & French. It’s always a clusterfuck for me because even though Iranians are technically caucasian, we aren’t “white” in the way America puts it. Kind of like White – Non Hispanic and White – Hispanic are two separate categories. White – Middle Eastern totally needs to go in there. Plus, I really AM two races because I’m part Cherokee, but I kind of feel like three. It’s strange. I always just check the “Other” box.


9 Kionda February 7, 2011 at 6:23 pm

I don’t get the “What Color Are You” as much as the “What ARE You” question. Some folks just run with their assumptions. I’ve been mistaken for being Puerto Rican many a time. Folks just come up to me and start speaking Spanish. I don’t understand a word of it. Lol. Plus, I do not have an ounce of Latin blood in me. What I AM is Italian, Black, and American Indian. All three make me so I embrace them all. As far as any paperwork is concerned I still select ‘Other’.

I’m with the other ladies. When I saw that half-breeds only got two weeks I laughed my arse off. Classic!


10 Clarice February 7, 2011 at 7:38 pm

I’m half black/half white. Normally, I check both boxes. Once during a standardized test in Michigan I had to check one box, so I checked other and wrote in twist cone. I figured if nothing else it would mess their stats up. I’ve always loved the story of the Lovings, and thought their last name was perfect for such a case.


11 Sarah February 7, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Have you seen Jezebel’s great post about the Lovings and a Kickstarter documentary to be made about them? I love hearing Mildred’s voice and seeing the affection between them both.


Here’s the documentary’s FB:



12 Melissa February 7, 2011 at 9:19 pm

I can kind of identify – though I am a mix of known and unknown races. My maternal grandfather was adopted so we know nothing about his heritage (he appeared to be white). My mother was estranged from her mother, so all I know is that there is some Cherokee on that side (no idea how much). My paternal grandfather can trace his ancestors back to England, but he is really a Texan at heart. My paternal grandmother is Japanese and my grandparents were one of the first interracial marriages allowed after the end of WWII. I look mostly caucasian, but am asked on a regular basis what I am. Growing up I was always asked if I was Native American. Now, I am mistaken as Hispanic. People come up and just start speaking Spanish to me or directly ask me. It can be strange to not fit in a specific group and most times others don’t understand.
When the new option to check more than one race came out, I was excited, but I had one person ask me why I would ever want to check something other than caucasian.


13 Kristin February 7, 2011 at 9:47 pm

This has nothing to do with race BUT it does have to do with marriage, and your quote from the US Supreme Court about the marriage ruling makes me think of what our state (Iowa) is dealing with right now in the gay rights world. Google it if you haven’t heard… Every day it’s a battle between people who support our same-sex marriage allowance and people who think it’s anti-God and not natural and doesn’t support “productive procreation,” etc. It breaks my heart and makes me so full of rage every day! Anyway, I like what the court said in that case about people of different races being able to marry, and I hope we get to keep our ruling in Iowa that says people can marry no matter their orientation. Anything else would be a step backwards, although try telling that to some of the bigots in our state…


14 Rachel February 7, 2011 at 9:52 pm

As I was researching this, I couldn’t help but see the similarities between these laws and the laws against gay marriage. I hope that eventually the fact that gay and lesbian couples cannot marry becomes as antiquated as the idea that black and white people cannot. But it’s incredibly sad and frustrating to think that it’s 2011 and civil rights still aren’t a universal right.


15 Jasmine February 8, 2011 at 10:55 am

That was an awesome post! I am white, but my children will be mixed. I am very grateful for all that has gone that will allow them to live their lives without much of a speedbump related to their race or blended race.

As for Kristin’s comment above, I feel ya. California has been battling the right for gays to marry back and forth for years. It’s utterly absurd that we live in a time where that’s not possible. Hopefully, our children will one day look back at this time and be stunned, the same way I look at my parent’s lifetimes and cannot believe that it was possible not to allow people like my husband and I to marry.


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