The One-Drop Rule, Racial Classification, and Identity

15.11.08j

November 8, 2015

Remember the one-drop rule? No? Well, either did I until the use of it became common in my life. If yours is a US education, you probably heard the one-drop rule mentioned during your high school US History class. However, how much did any of retain two weeks after finishing high school history?

Many US states used the one-drop rule to racially categorize people by codifying the idea that if a person has one drop or more Black heritage/blood their classification is Black. For instance, with the ending of the Civil War in 1865 Florida people quickly amended the State constitution (Chapter 1, 468 Sec.1-3) to say,

Section 1 Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Florida in General Assembly convened, That if any white female resident hereafter within this State shall hereafter attempt to intermarry or shall live in a state of adultery or fornication with any negro, mulatto, or other person of color, she shall be deemed to be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be fined in a sum not exceeding one thousand dollars or be confined in the public jail not exceeding three months, or both, at the discretion of the jury, and shall moreover be disqualified to testify as a witness against any white person.

Section two goes on to deal with negro[s], mulatto[s], or other person[s] of color as above, except instead of jail time they are to “be made to stand in the pillory for one hour and to be whipped not exceeding thirty nine stripes, or both, at the of the jury.” It goes on to say in Section 3,

Be it further enacted, That every person who shall have one-eighth or more of negro blood and shall be deemed and held to be a person of color.

Blood quantum was not new in 1865. Rather, it was normative prior to the war. For instance, blood quantum is what allowed the enslavement of children from the rape of enslaved Black women by White men. Such classification led to the increase of a slaveholder’s holdings or assets. Though the end of the war was to lead to change, the old order found it important to begin codifying pre-war norms that might allow for some semblance of pre-war norms to return.

As an aside, the amendment speaks to the normative hierarchal understanding of humanity by White male Floridians 1865. Blood quantum clearly is not an imposition to White men. However, the same is not true for White women. Though society considered White women better than folk of color in 1865, it was only by a notch or two. Therefore, unlike White men, the moment a White woman entered a sexual relationship with a person of color they also entered a purgatory of sorts. The clause that a White woman who had sex with a Black man would no longer have standing and rights of an witness in a court of law, meant she was no longer White or of color. Her status becomes located somewhere below that of White women and people of color.

The systemic structure of the US Senate also found the one-drop rule valuable. In 1887 Congress passed the Dawes Act, also known as the General Allotment Act. Though not written into the Act, the one-drop rule became the means to shatter the land base of existing Tribal nations into small apportionments. Indian agents were to use formal tribal rolls as a guide to break reservations up into small allotments, and then assign those allotments to individual reservation Indians. While we can assume Indian agents had a list of one type of another that listed the folk living on a specific reservation, the Dawes act required a formalization of those rolls. Having no specific written guidance, but plenty of verbal guidance, Indian agents used the one-drop rule to develop those rolls.

The US government supported the blood quantum/one-drop rule construct for one simple reason: One Nation. When the Civil War ended in 1865, folk immediately started questioning what caused the war. The top two causes were those of slavery and States’ Rights. (These are also the top two reasons most US folk will give today for the war.) However, the Indian Peace Policy of the Grant administration clearly speaks to slavery and States’ Rights being background causes. The reason for war was secession. Secession meant two nations would be present where one currently existed. This military administration, clear on the reason for war, grasped that while the war consolidated the North and South, a much larger problem (from a US systemic perspective) loomed ahead. Grant’s administration recognized every treaty signed by the US or its predecessor European empire(s) with an American Indian Tribe indicated and gave that Tribe Nation status. The 1870 administration quickly grasped the problem lying before the US government westward expansionist efforts was not one of two nations, but of hundreds. The question before the Grant administration and it successors was how to eliminate those nations.

Having Indian agents use blood quantum as the means to construct formal Tribal rolls allowed the Grover Cleveland administration to begin a process of eliminating Tribal nations. Unlike its use with Black folk during slavery, the government used the one-drop rule in reverse to decrease the number of Tribal members. The jest of the rule was that if an Indian had one drop of White blood they were on their way to becoming White. Thus, the more White blood an Indian has, the Whiter, the more rational, and the more capable they are.

This blood quantum construct allowed the government to construct Dawes Act Tribal rolls based on the White blood percentages. Which in turn led to who would receive an allotment of reservation land and who would not. The “full-blood” Indian would receive land, but because of no White blood, they were considered inept and unable to maintain their own affairs, thus the government placed restrictions on the land and held the land “In Trust” until such time they could prove their competency. “Mixed-blood”—White and Indian blood—folk were held competent and received their land in simple fee patents (Deeded land). Section 6 of the Dawes act allows that,

…every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States who has voluntarily taken up, within said limits, his residence separate and apart from any tribe of Indians therein, and has adopted the habits of civilized life, is hereby declared to be a citizen of the United States.

Therefore, an Indian agent had the ability to determine a level of White blood by which an individual is no longer Indian, but civilized and “White” enough (capable of rational thought) to be considered fully human, thus losing their Indian classification. This loss of Indian identity through marriage with White folk meant fewer and fewer Indians and more and more White folk (US citizens) would live on reservations. Thus slowly (generationally), American Indians would disappear and with their disappearance Indian Nations would fade out.

Identity matters to most of us. Where we come from, where we have been, what my ancient culture is, what is my recent culture, who is my family, what makes up my ethnicity-my heritage-my race, are questions that matter. Blood quantum is an ancient marker of identity, but hardly adequate, and surely not worth a damn in the hands of government. While folk may have once thought of identity as simple and straight forward, there is little support for such thinking today.

A new and complex conversation on identity has begun. Straight lines and constructs of This thus That are no longer meaningful or possible in this conversation. Rather, the freedom of complexity allows lines and thought to swirl and fold over themselves, which listened to and considered, might lead to relationships that establish richer, grounded identities. Such a conversation is worth the having.

 

White Culture and the Hard Conversation of Racism

15.10.18(council.seattle.gov)

October 18, 2015

US racism—the oppression of American Indians and People of Color—is one of the hardest conversations a US person will ever have. For while most folk born in the US learn (from people) and develop a mindset that resists racist values, they also live in a systemic culture that invites them to maintain and practice these same values.

I use the term White culture for this systemic culture that has all folk, White, People of Color (POC), and American Indians, taking problematic stances that support systemic racism (while hating it). Some may use the term American culture, but this does not work for me for two reasons. One, the systemic culture I speak of benefits White people, not American people, and White culture speaks to this privilege, up front. Second, this systemic culture is not American but US. This distinction matters for it calls people to soil based honesty.

For example, when Columbus Day rolls around each year it has become acceptable to say Christopher Columbus did not land in America. What folk really mean is he did not land in the landscape now known as the United States. However, he did land on South and Central American soil. It takes a mindset of US exceptionalism to think an arbitrary boundary between the US and Mexico is continental separation. Taking exceptionalism off the table recognizes the soil of the Americas intimately ties all American landscapes together, so, sure enough Columbus landed in America(s). Therefore, I argue that rather than using language like “American culture” to describe a US system of White privilege, we are better off using the term “White culture.”

Thinking in this way is helpful for it not only recognizes there is an arbitrary culture in the US that benefits White folk, but that the supporters of this culture are both White and non-White folk. To acknowledge such is very hard, for acknowledgement admits all US people (White and non-White) live out at least two cultures: the culture of heritage and White culture.

An article that came my way after last weeks End Government Days of False Honor and Reclaim Soil’s Family entry gives an example or two of White Culture normalization in the mindset(s) of US folk.

On the 13th, Crosscut.com ran Jennifer Karami’s article Local indigenous peoples gather to reconcile history on Columbus Day. Continue reading “White Culture and the Hard Conversation of Racism”

End Government Days of False Honor and Reclaim Soil’s Family

15.10.11

October 11, 2015

Funny (in a non-funny way) how many people and State governments have learned a flag (Confederate) has the ability to destroy justice and people and that there is integrity of removing it from the public life, but continue to hold on to and honor a day ruin—Columbus Day. Some are going to talk about this day of history that honors humanities quest of exploration and adventure. I would not be surprised to see the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria compared to Friendship 11, Apollo 11, and Space Shuttle Columbia. Others will speak of the day as a day of conquest, subjugation, and genocide. While others will move for a governmental name switch to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, like the City of Seattle did in 2014.

Columbus Day, Indigenous People’s Day, I am not a fan of either. I find governmental days of recognition little more than fluff when it comes to justice. Few folk give them serious thought. After all, there is already Native American Day—just a few weeks ago (September 25). What special events or education opportunities were in your community on that day? What did you attend? (Really, feel free to post!) Alongside, Native American Heritage Month is all next month! What might your congregation, non-profit, or business have planned? What event do you plan to attend? (I’ll give two suggestions found in the Northwest: JustLiving Farm is screening of who are my people a film Emmy Award winning filmmaker Robert Lundahl on November 05. And Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon is offering the Collins Lecture in Portland on the Doctrine of Discovery with Robert J. Miller, George “Tink” Tinker and Kim Recalma-Clutesi on November 19.)

Changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Day is but a symbolic move. Does it matter? Well of course it does, but it benefits the government much more than people. Does anyone believe the City of Seattle is going to make substantial change that would have governance structure become accountable to American Indians? Or fund better education for American Indian children? Or fund better American Indian health, mental care, spiritual care, or care for family structure? What I am getting at is while Indigenous People’s Day sounds good, it is a day of governmental structure, which allows governments like Seattle sound and look good while maintaining oppressive policies against American Indians. Meaningful insight is not going to come from the government, but from the people. I’ll take Idle No More or #BlackLivesMatter any day over one more government holiday (that does not honor a person of resistance). Continue reading “End Government Days of False Honor and Reclaim Soil’s Family”

Why Anti in Anti-Racism and The All in #BlackLives Matter

15.09.27
Artist Renda Writer. Photo: Huffington Post

September 27, 2015

September and October are months of anti-racism workshops. That is not the case every year, but this year they have been months of engaging, wondering, and thoughtful conversation. I find facilitating these workshops has changed over the last fifteen years. Years ago, folk showed up to engage in this wok because this is something I am supposed to do (and in some cases, they were required to by their organization). Today more folks show up because this work really matters to me and the wellbeing of my neighbors of color and my children.

Some of that change is due to the visceral gut—somethings got to change—that has permeated much of US society since Ferguson and the shooting of Michael Brown. Events over the course of this last year have led many folks to conclude the civil rights movement simply ended in the late seventies with the work of racial justice far from completed. The rise of young people in groups like #BlackLivesMatter and Idle No More, are calling for US society to renew themselves to the work of racial justice, and son-of-a-gun, folk are noticing that People Of Color (POC) and American Indians continue to struggle and die because of unjust perceptions, laws, and regulations. More so, the reason this work really matters to folk seems to come from understanding the repeated injustices they have seen this year (from phone videos to police cameras) are modern equivalents of Selma hoses and dogs. (In other words, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Antonio Zambrano-Montes are our Emmett Till’s and the evil this generation has to own.) What is coming into focus in 2015 is our government, systems, and institutions continue to maintain rules and laws that promote a normalcy not only where POC and American Indians are treated differently than White people, but where that normalcy is right, correct, and moral.

All of which has me thinking of two questions, one old and one new, that come up in anti-racism workshops. Old one first.

“I wish we would come up with a more positive word than ‘Anti’ when talking about racism.” is a comment I have heard from White folk since I first began facilitating anti-racism workshops. One would think linking the word anti to racism would be thought of in the positive. That is not the case. I first experienced the perceived negativity of anti in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). When first renewing a commitment to anti-racism work in 1998, the Office of Reconciliation called this work Anti-Racism/Pro-Reconciliation. Continue reading “Why Anti in Anti-Racism and The All in #BlackLives Matter”

Making Right What Never Changed for the Landscape and Her People

D10

August 13, 2015

I first met Denali when Belinda, Katherine, Rebecca, and I hiked her backcountry. The backcountry is a wide and open landscape without trails. Denali Park is similar with only one road in and the same road out. Buses provide all transportation within the park. Thus, day hikers, backpackers, and folk who want to see the park inside from the bus all ride together. When hikers reach a portion of the park they want to hike, they yell out, the driver stops, and they jump off and watch the bus head on down the gravel road. If they are not alongside the road when the last bus heads back out of the park, well, they get a free night out.

One rule of backpacking the park is to not camp within sight of the road. With that in mind we jumped off the last step of the bus our first of six mornings in Denali, crossed the road and dropped into a drainage. Giving the caribou wide berth we headed across the rising plain. After fourteen hours of hiking drainages, tundra (which is like hiking across a carpet with basketballs below), moving through heavy brush, crossing glacier water creeks that left your feet numb, we topped a slight rise bordering a wide brushed drainage to the east. We looked behind us. We could still see the road. Well, it is a wide and open country. We turned back to south and had little doubt we had another four or five hours of hiking before we reached topography hiding us from the road. We looked at each other and silently thought, “Can anyone see us from the road?” Enough was enough and we made camp.

That evening we cooked and ate supper. Afterwards we placed our food about a football field away from where we cooked. Then we set up the tents another stone’s throw from our cooking area and the food—in triangle fashion. A long day behind us, the road in sight some ten to twelve miles away, the sun still hours from setting, we bedded down.

A light mist gave the morning air a grayish tinge. Animals, mostly caribou, were on the plain grazing. It was quiet. After a while we gathered the food and cooking gear, made oatmeal and coffee, and watched caribou move toward the hollows. As backpacks settled on shoulders as sore that morning as they were the evening before, we headed off toward hills rising in the south. Maybe this evening we sleep out of sight of the road. Continue reading “Making Right What Never Changed for the Landscape and Her People”

Committing To End Racism and A Button Best Suited for the Back Drawer

15.09.06

August 06, 2015

A few days ago I mentioned today is dedicated as “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism” by the African American Methodist (AME) community. I figure confession and repentance does not amount to a hill of beans if commitment does not equate to action.

To end racism folk must gather a diverse community together and think action through clearly. Done well, misses still occur. One reason is while the people who live and work within racist institutions (think all US institutions) may want to end racism, the institution does not. Instead, institutions prefer diversity work to anti-racism work. For no matter how diverse, an institution becomes, as long as the people hold the historical mindset of the institution, structural change does not occur and the institution remains as it is. Therefore, while many US institutions have become diverse their engagement in anti-racist work is at a minimum.

This is why “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism” is too likely to be a moment in time, at worst, and a day of supporting diversity at best. A hard pill to swallow, but playing diversity off as anti-racism is what the institutional church does well. A “for instance” of how anti-racist work gets the institutional backseat might be helpful at this juncture.

My attention has been drawn to the “Ask Me Why You Matter to Me” campaign of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). As I looked over their website I found aspects of this movement I believe helpful. What gets in the way of taking it seriously though is the slogan chosen for the campaign reeks of institutional diversity rather than anti-racism.

Ask Me Why You Matter to Me sounds like an institutional “All Lives Matter” response to “#BlackLivesMatter.” One problem is the slogan does not give due to the harshness of the lives lived in a systemically racist society—For the mass number of racialized incarcerated people, Why You Matter to Me does not mean freedom. Another is the work and action is not mine but yours. You, people of color, American Indians, and indigenous people are to ask me why you matter. In the meantime, I can join my people (who very well may be diverse) for a book study or to watch a film.

What I can’t get over with this slogan is the idea of me wearing a Ask Me Why You Matter to Me button. Imagine me, white, straight, and male walking up to most any non-white male person with this button on my lapel. And let’s make this easy. Continue reading “Committing To End Racism and A Button Best Suited for the Back Drawer”

Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism?

15.09.04

August 04, 2015

The folk of the African American Methodist (AME) community are dedicating this Sunday “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism.” Others (congregations, pastors, and Sunday morning preachers/speakers), are being asked to speak up, write up, and liturgy up alongside.

If 1960’s civil rights and power movements prove anything it is a country cannot legislate racism away. While housing, schools, health, and jobs are better for some, much is not and for many there is little discernable change. Though legislation can put a dent in systemic racism, real change comes about by putting an end to traits racism has embedded in the way people think, live, and act. The end of racism comes with the embodying of anti-oppression values—values which are yet to become normal in US schools, churches, businesses, and politics. This systemic reality is what makes the AME call so hard. Being raised in the US means all US people embody the roots of racism: white, black, brown, young, middle-aged, old. Moving toward an identity of anti-oppression and working to end racism is to know I am the hurt, I am the problem, and I am the solution.

This Sunday’s call is Wisdom shouting at the gates of the city; it is a call to all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, heritage, or sexual orientation. It is a call to know I, you, we, the people, have one aspect or another of racism embedded in our being and it is tearing at our health, our wellbeing, and our relationship. For the hope of a day when our children’s children will know health, wellbeing, and good relationship we are called to confess racism.

There has been a fair amount of talking on the Doctrine of Discovery (DoD) in this space. If the DoD speaks anything, it speaks to the subjugation of landscapes. The base of this subjugation is the extraction of landscapes resources. These resources are the landscapes soul, water, minerals, timber, wind, soil, and people. US Chattel slavery of 1830, farmworker slavery of 2015, Oak Flat copper, Ferguson, Canadian Tar Sands, coal removal, and Surinam mining are historical and current instances of US people, all US people, benefiting from one aspect or another of racism. The people are called to know the benefits they accrue from racist copper, natural gas, coal, gold, and food, and to repent.

Sunday is more than a call to recognize the racist reality folk live and benefit from, it is more than a time of regret and sorrowfulness, it is a call to change. Moving beyond confession and repentance is about engaging, acting where we can, and supporting the actions of our neighbor. Continue reading “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism?”

Pope Francis’ Bolivian Apology: A Call to Conversation or A Religious Appeasement?

July 12, 2015

Many hoped Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, would take a path leading to a new voice from the Church. I don’t know if we are hearing a new voice, yet, but at least the voice we are hearing calls for deeper conversations.

While visiting Bolivia this last Thursday, Pope Francis apologized to Americans whose ancient heritage is the American landscape. The apology was for the Church’s support and involvement in the colonization of the Americas. Though not a direct apology for his predecessor’s support of the genocidal Doctrine of Discovery, the apology is a first step.

The Pope’s apology calls for an interesting conversation during the coming months. For just prior to Pope Francis’ arrival in the US this fall, church structure is in place to canonize Father Junipero Serra on September 23. Pope Francis is concluding a path begun in 1988 when Pope John Paul II beatified Fr Serra.

While many folk may not know Fr Serra, most Californian’s who attended school in California do. Few born and raised Californians did not draw or construct a Mission while in school. For me it was the Mission San Fernando Rey de España located an hour south or so from my elementary school. Mission San Fernando was but one of the twenty-one missions dotting the California coast from San Diego (San Diego de Alcalá, 1769) to Sonoma (San Francisco Solano, 1823). The credit of developing a mission infrastructure where missions were located one days ride from one another goes to Fr Serra. Known for his intellect, the development of the string of missions, and the conversion of California Indians, the church and the state has held Fr Serra in good regard. California Indians, whose ancestors provided the labor to build the missions have, let’s say, a different take. Continue reading “Pope Francis’ Bolivian Apology: A Call to Conversation or A Religious Appeasement?”

From Historical Oppression to Modern Oppressor

15.06.28

June 26, 2015

I, like many others, never heard of the 2013 Dominican Constitutional Court ruling saying citizenship would no longer naturally be given to a person born in the Dominican Republic. Like others, I tripped over my own foot when I understood the people/government of the Dominican Republic (DR) approved a systemic change that could lead to the deportations of Dominicans of Haitian descent. I fell over my other foot when I understood the policy would be retroactive to 1929.

I might not know the intricacies of all that is going on, but I have two thoughts just the same. If it were my family, and my mother was four years younger, it would mean she is in danger of deportation at the age of 86. Of course, Belinda and I would be right behind her, our children right behind us, and our grandson right behind them. Imagine, four generations deported in one fell swoop. I find it hard to imagine one can argue a position of justice for this action.

Of course, DR did not come up with this throwing away of people. The US has been doing it for much longer. From throwing away of today’s south of the border generations, who came to work US farms, to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the DR did not have to look far to find a mentor.

Throwing away of people who have been on US or DR soil and worked for generations to better those countries is one example of what the Doctrine of Discovery (DoD) looks and feels like today. The DoD, from inception, has been about the extraction of resources. DoD countries have used law and power to mine mineral and people of other landscapes to benefit themselves. Then throw those people away when they no longer have monetary value. What is so very hard is the realization that landscapes who were once the victims of the DoD have often adopt DoD practices as they come into power themselves (under the guiding hand of their DoD oppressor).

Clearly much history has occurred between DR and Haiti since Christopher Columbus’ landing in 1492. Continue reading “From Historical Oppression to Modern Oppressor”

Changing A Statement of Mission: Trying to Think Better

15.06.07

June 07, 2015

After nearly fifteen years, the Yakama Christian Mission has changed its statement of mission from,

To enhance the wellbeing of children and youth through advocacy and education.
to,
To enhance the wellbeing of indigenous children and elders of North America and Canada.

There are numerous reasons for the change. At the top is admitting an emphasis on children alone is not holistic. In hindsight, the fifteen-year old statement’s singular focus on children was little different from the Mission’s previous eighty-year approach. Both approaches hold today’s children as tomorrow’s future. Nothing wrong with that. However, as commonly lived out in the US (and certainly on reservations), this approach has a tendency to separate children from their elders—except those specific elders who carry and project the correct virtues of the community. From the eighty-year stance, the correct values were most always White values, which from the historical perspective of many in the church, few Yakama elders held.

The approach over the last fifteen years is similar insofar as programing focused on children and youth and, though I wish it were not the case, because of embedded White worldviews of staff, board, and church leaders. Due to this focus, there was a natural separation of young people and elders. Granted, this model is a societal norm. After all, US parents give their children to the “correct” people for their scholastic education, and children stay home while parents go to a school board or a church board meeting—interesting, isn’t it, when folk think it is groundbreaking to have a “youth” representative on a board? Continue reading “Changing A Statement of Mission: Trying to Think Better”