White? Black? A Murky Distinction Grows Still Murkier

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Latino Studies, Law, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Slavery, United States on 2014-12-24 17:50Z by Steven

White? Black? A Murky Distinction Grows Still Murkier

The New York Times

Carl Zimmer

In 1924, the State of Virginia attempted to define what it means to be white.

The state’s Racial Integrity Act, which barred marriages between whites and people of other races, defined whites as people “whose blood is entirely white, having no known, demonstrable or ascertainable admixture of the blood of another race.”

There was just one problem. As originally written, the law would have classified many of Virginia’s most prominent families as not white, because they claimed to be descended from Pocahontas.

So the Virginia legislature revised the act, establishing what came to be known as the “Pocahontas exception.” Virginians could be up to one-sixteenth Native American and still be white in the eyes of the law.

People who were one-sixteenth black, on the other hand, were still black.

In the United States, there is a long tradition of trying to draw sharp lines between ethnic groups, but our ancestry is a fluid and complex matter. In recent years geneticists have been uncovering new evidence about our shared heritage, and last week a team of scientists published the biggest genetic profile of the United States to date, based on a study of 160,000 people…

Read the entire article here.

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Black, White, and Indian: Race and the Unmaking of an American Family

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2010-01-09 20:05Z by Steven

Black, White, and Indian: Race and the Unmaking of an American Family

Oxford University Press
July 2006
312 pages
2 maps, 15 halftones, 1 line illus.
6-1/8 x 9-1/4
ISBN13: 978-0-19-531310-9
ISBN10: 0-19-531310-0

Claudio Saunt, Associate Professor of History and Associate Director of the Institute of Native American Studies
University of Georgia

Winner of the William P. Clements Prize, Clements Center for Southwest Studies

Deceit, compromise, and betrayal were the painful costs of becoming American for many families. For people of Indian, African, and European descent living in the newly formed United States, the most personal and emotional choices–to honor a friendship or pursue an intimate relationship–were often necessarily guided by the harsh economic realities imposed by the country’s racial hierarchy. Few families in American history embody this struggle to survive the pervasive onslaught of racism more than the Graysons.

Like many other residents of the eighteenth-century Native American South, where Black-Indian relations bore little social stigma, Katy Grayson and her brother William–both Creek Indians–had children with partners of African descent. As the plantation economy began to spread across their native land soon after the birth of the American republic, however, Katy abandoned her black partner and children to marry a Scottish-Creek man. She herself became a slaveholder, embracing slavery as a public display of her elevated place in America’s racial hierarchy. William, by contrast, refused to leave his black wife and their several children and even legally emancipated them.

Traveling separate paths, the Graysons survived the invasion of the Creek Nation by U.S. troops in 1813 and again in 1836 and endured the Trail of Tears, only to confront each other on the battlefield during the Civil War. Afterwards, they refused to recognize each other’s existence. In 1907, when Creek Indians became U.S. citizens, Oklahoma gave force of law to the family schism by defining some Graysons as white, others as black. Tracking a full five generations of the Grayson family and basing his account in part on unprecedented access to the forty-four volume diary of G. W. Grayson, the one-time principal chief of the Creek Nation, Claudio Saunt tells not only of America’s past, but of its present, shedding light on one of the most contentious issues in Indian politics, the role of “blood” in the construction of identity.

Overwhelmed by the racial hierarchy in the United States and compelled to adopt the very ideology that oppressed them, the Graysons denied their kin, enslaved their relatives, married their masters, and went to war against each other. Claudio Saunt gives us not only a remarkable saga in its own right but one that illustrates the centrality of race in the American experience.

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