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.)