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”

Elk Parts

15.10.04

October 4, 2015

Elk parts. They come once a year. Archery season opened a few weeks ago and rifle season follows it up. My bow hunting friends are saying this is a season unlike any other. The elk are not traveling normal trails or hanging in their normal high country valleys. Maybe there will be few elk parts this year.

I never imagined elk parts growing up in the rural canyons of southern California. Our deer are small in stature and when it comes to meat, they are little more than a big rabbit compared to an elk. Though small is size, being of a landscape of canyon sage, the flavor of their meat rivaled any Cascade elk. The black-tailed deer of sage country may not be the biggest of deer, but they are right up there with the smartest of deer—and a hair coat the blends beautifully with the sage landscape. The cageyness of these deer meant many hunters spent their time enjoying the landscape and returning home to eat beef. That might be why I never saw another hunter in the ridges and canyons around home, and why “I’m going up north to hunt, these deer are to small and not worth the time,” was often heard leading up to hunting season.

I knew I was not in the landscape of my youth when hunting season rolled around my first fall in White Swan. Growing up rural, forty minutes from town is one thing, living in a rural town is something different. The proximity of folk to one another in town (even a town of 500) leads to a different way of thinking than the open country. The old adage that everyone knows everyone in a small town carries a bit of truth. One of those truths is folk have a very good idea of which neighbor struggles economically and who does not—including their dogs.

When the first elk came out of the hills, that first fall, and after they were quartered and cut into steaks, roasts, and jerky, many hunters went about town giving their meat to the elderly and families who struggled. The knowledge being, the hunter is capable of hunting again and many others are not.

Two events made me notice how this new place was different from back home. One, two hunters showed up at the parsonage and offered us meat for no other reason than placing value on the community’s spiritual leaders. Place matters. When two elk roasts were lifted out of the back of the pickup, there was more meat than any one deer I hunted as a youth. My place was no longer the landscape of canyons and sage. Continue reading “Elk Parts”

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”

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?”

Ending Racial Disparity Calls for Non-Traditional Congregations

15.08.16

August 12, 2015

This last week Sojourners magazine gave us Jenna Barnett’s interview—A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Faith in Ferguson—with Leah Gunning Francis, a professor at Eden Theological Seminary professor. The article centered on professor Francis’ thoughts on racial disparities and the real “Ferguson Effect.”

When asked, What role should the church play in current racial justice movements?, Professor Francis said,

In my observation there are congregations that are taking seriously their roles in seeking to be agents of change in the movements for racial justice, but the church writ-large, is not. At some point we need to move beyond statements and posture to actually engaging in these matters in life-transforming ways. One good first step toward this is to open the constructive conversation about race in congregations.

Important in this statement is recognizing some congregations are serious about systemic change in favor of racial justice. However, this desire to engage and to act for racial justice is absent for most Christian congregations (“church writ-large”).

Barnett goes on to ask, What church did racial justice well this year? Professor Frances responded saying,

Compton Heights Christian Church is a modest size Disciples of Christ church in St. Louis. Maybe 25 percent of the church are people of color… They reimagined what it means to be a safe sanctuary…[by opening] their sanctuary doors as places of training, gathering, cooking—and equally important—as places of prayer.

The article gives gristle for a number of conversations. Two come to mind. First is the consideration of how inadequate the church is in conversing the issue of racial justice. One example of this struggle is the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who in 1998 approved an Anti-Racism/Pro-Reconciliation initiative. This initiative called the church to practice faithfulness with regard to the elimination of racism, which exists in all manifestations of the church, to discern the presence and nature of racism as sin, to develop strategies to eradicate it, and to work toward racial reconciliation. Good stuff, but as a whole not the stuff Disciple congregations want to jump in the middle of. As a result, the office of Reconciliation Ministry (whose ministry is to implement a conversation on racial justice) has struggled since it conception due to a lack of financial resources. Continue reading “Ending Racial Disparity Calls for Non-Traditional Congregations”

Reestablishing Heritage Languages: Sustainable Thinking

15.03.01

March 15, 2015

At the Winter Talk conference in Tulsa in few weeks ago, I found myself listening to Dr. Richard Grounds, founder of the Euchee Language Project. He spoke about how the Doctrine of Discovery encouraged the loss of indigenous languages. This loss, he noted, is more than the loss of words and phrases, it is the loss of culture and ways of being. Furthermore, because the loss of language (and in turn culture) in the America’s is intentional (and historically supported) by non-indigenous governments, it is one of many cogs in a wheel of indigenous genocide. A point of Grounds is language is more than words; it is the way a people think and live.

When I heard language is the way a people think, I wandered from Grounds talk for a moment. The wandering took me to a time when a Spanish instructor of mine said, “you’re getting a handle on the language the moment you quit translating (in your head) from English to Spanish.” Because languages do not translate word for word, idea for idea, exactly, then Dr. Grounds comment about language being the way a people think has me thinking language is an important consideration for those who engage in the work of anti-racism and the dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery (DOD).

The way a people think holds great implications for US people. Let’s say a Spanish speaker is learning US English (Fair to accept US English is unlike English spoken elsewhere in the world?). The speaker is middle-age and has spent their life speaking only Spanish. They have always expressed their thoughts, values, morals through the Spanish language. Continue reading “Reestablishing Heritage Languages: Sustainable Thinking”

The Warming Fire

14.11.23

November 19, 2014 (Updated)

Each year American Indian Heritage Month arrives and each year I find the writing I make public, hard. When temperatures just outside the farmhouse window linger in the single digits, I prefer to write of warm ideas, considerations, actions, and seasons. I believe it is my good fortune is to live on the reservation. From land to people to wind, community stories give warmth in the days of cold.

Yet, as a white guy on the reservation, I also find I have a responsibility to speak to the injustices non-white skin folk experience in my adopted landscape. Thus, when American Indian Heritage comes along and many of my American Indian sisters and brothers are paying attention to and writing about American Indian accomplishments, I question the white structure whose very makeup requires society to create American Indian Heritage in the first place. In questioning that structure, I step on toes, mostly white toes, but some toes of color and Indian toes too. Little question stepped on toes hurt and being one whose theology is a call for hurt to end, makes writing this time of year hard. Realistically there are only a handful of folk who read what I say and I know I could let the writing go and few would know the difference. However, I believe it irresponsible and disrespectful to live in my landscape, enjoy its created gifts and not question or comment about the denigration American Indians experience from non-Indians, past and current—that it seems is more hurtful than stepped on toes. Continue reading “The Warming Fire”