Historical Origins of the One-Drop Racial Rule in the United States

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, United States on 2014-10-27 20:48Z by Steven

Historical Origins of the One-Drop Racial Rule in the United States

Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies
Volume 1, Issue 1 (2014)
pages 98-132

Winthrop D. Jordan (1931-2007), Emeritus Professor of History and African-American Studies
University of Mississippi

Edited by:

Paul Spickard, Professor of History; Professor of Asian American Studies
University of California, Santa Barbara

Issue cover

Winthrop Jordan, one of the most honored of US historians, wrote about racial mixing a generation before there was a field of mixed race studies. At the time of his death, he left an unfinished manuscript: “Historical Origins of the One-Drop Racial Rule in the United States.” For this inaugural issue of the JCMRS, Jordan’s former student Paul Spickard, himself a foundational scholar of multiracial studies from the first wave of scholarship in the late 1980s and early 1990s, has edited Jordan’s final article.

The One-Drop Rule: The US Anomaly and Its Fateful Consequences

Historians and scholars in other disciplines have generated a huge corpus of studies about the concept of race while ignoring, for the most part, one of the most important features of race relations in the United States. In this country, the social standard for individuals is superficially simple: if a person of whatever age or gender is believed to have any African ancestry, that person is regarded as black. Basically, by this social rule, a person was, and is, either black or not. Any person of racially or ethnically mixed descent who has some “Negro blood” has been or still is regarded as “colored,” or “African,” or “Negro,” or “black,” or “Afro-American,” or “African American”—whatever designation has prevailed by convention at the time. This social rule has been easy to overlook because it is so close to home, often in a personal way, and because it involves self-identification as well as identification of others. Almost all people in the United States tend to operate perceptually and conceptually according to this simple social rule concerning race without stopping to question its logic. Why question the way the world works when that way is so obvious? And far from questioning the rule, many Americans seem almost resistant to acknowledging its existence, and some of those who have thought about the rule angrily assign blame to some nefarious group for promoting it.

When it comes to race, Americans see themselves, and many overseas people as well, in a bicolored fashion—either/or—black or white. Surely this is an interesting chromometric assessment of skin complexion. We should ask ourselves why nearly all the people playing on basketball courts are said to be one of the same two colors as piano keys. For one thing, no human being has a complexion that is fully black or completely white. And all these players, whether white or black, have a light and dark side of their hands. In addition, bifurcating these or any people subtly negates the underlying unity of humankind and its common genetic and historical roots.

In the United States some medical geneticists have blithely ignored the one-drop rule while urging genetic profiles of different races as they relate to susceptibility to different diseases. These proposals have been strongly denounced by some geneticists and by scholars in other disciplines who point to the obvious fact that a great many socially defined African Americans have a genetic background that is far less than even fifty percent African. Historians have been less prone to disagreement among themselves, but they have simply been neglectful about asking how and why this social rule developed. The focus in this inquiry is on the social aspects of the rule, and thus the definition of the rule used here is somewhat broader than is necessary when discussing the genetics of its operation.

The term “one-drop rule” has its own rather curious history. It was used repeatedly in scholarly works on race relations more than a generation ago. Today, it can be found in a wide variety of publications that deal with race relations in the United States. Yet the lexical community has been either negligent or resistant about the term, for as of a very few years ago, all the purportedly unabridged dictionaries of the English language and their updated collegiate versions did not include it. These dictionaries have begun to catch up as dictionaries and facsimiles like Wikipedia have become ubiquitous online. Even the venerable Oxford English Dictionary, which is supposedly based on historical principles, has an online version that now includes the term. The phrase currently appears in many books, magazines, and on the Internet, firmly supported by its conciseness in referring to a powerful social rule…

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The Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies inaugural issue is now available

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, Communications/Media Studies, History, Latino Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Mexico, My Articles/Point of View/Activities, Philosophy, Social Science, United States on 2014-03-11 22:18Z by Steven

The Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies inaugural issue is now available

Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies
Volume 1, Number 1 (2014-01-30)
ISSN: 2325-4521

Laura Kina, Associate Professor Art, Media and Design and Director Asian American Studies
DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois

G. Reginald Daniel, Professor of Sociology
University of California at Santa Barbaral

Saya Woolfalk, video still from “The Emphathics,” 2012.

The Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies inaugural issue is now available. Volume 1, No. 1, 2014 “Emerging Paradigms in Critical Mixed Race Studies” It has been a long journey from the publication of Maria Root’s groundbreaking and award-winning anthology Mixed People in America (1992) to the inauguration of the Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies. We would like to thank all of our contributors, volunteers, and editorial review board for their hard work and patience. We hope you enjoy this issue of the journal and find it an informative resource on the topic of mixed race identities and experiences.

G. Reginald Daniel, Editor in Chief

Laura Kina, Managing Editor

The Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies (JCMRS) is a peer-reviewed online journal dedicated to Critical Mixed Race Studies (CMRS). Launched in 2011, it is the first academic journal explicitly focused on Critical Mixed Race Studies. Sponsored by UC Santa Barbara’s Sociology Department, JCMRS is hosted on the eScholarship Repository, which is part of the eScholarship initiative of the California Digital Library.

Table of Contents

  • Front Matter
  • Cover Art
  • Table of Contents
  • Editor’s Note / Daniel, G. Reginald
  • Emerging Paradigms in Critical Mixed Race Studies / Daniel, G. Reginald; Kina, Laura; Dariotis, Wei Ming; Fojas, Camilla
  • Appendix A: Publications from 1989 to 2004 / Riley, Steven F.
  • Appendix B: Publications from 2005 to 2013 / Riley, Steven F.


  • “Historical Origins of the One-Drop Racial Rule in the United States” / Jordan, Winthrop D. (Edited by Spickard, Paul)
  • “Reconsidering the Relationship Between New Mestizaje and New Multiraciality as Mixed-Race Identity Models / Turner, Jessie D.
  • “Critical Mixed Race Studies: New Directions in the Politics of Race and Representation / Jolivétte, Andrew J.
  • “‘Only the News They Want to Print’: Mainstream Media and Critical Mixed-Race Studies” / Spencer, Rainier
  • “The Current State of Multiracial Discourse” / McKibbin, Molly Littlewood
  • “Slimy Subjects and Neoliberal Goods: Obama and the Children of Fanon” / McNeil, Daniel

Book Reviews

  • Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, When Half Is Whole: Multiethnic Asian Americans Identities / Crawford, Miki Ward
  • Ralina Joseph, Transcending Blackness: From the New Millennium Mulatta to the Exceptional Multiracial / Elam, Michele
  • Greg Carter, The United States of the United Races: A Utopian History of Racial Mixing / Mount, Guy Emerson
  • Rudy P. Guevarra, Jr., Becoming Mexipino: Multiethnic Identities and Communities in San Diego / Schlund-Vials, Cathy J.

About the Contributors

  • About the Contributors
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American Chiaroscuro: The Status and Definition of Mulattoes in the British Colonies

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Law, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2012-02-10 01:03Z by Steven

American Chiaroscuro: The Status and Definition of Mulattoes in the British Colonies

The William and Mary Quarterly
Third Series, Volume 19, Number 2 (April, 1962)
pages 183-200

Winthrop D. Jordan (1931-2007)

The word mulatto is not frequently used in the United States. Americans generally reserve it for biological contexts, because for social purposes a mulatto is termed a Negro. Americans lump together both socially and legally all persons with perceptible admixture of Negro ancestry, thus making social definition without reference to genetic logic; white blood becomes socially advantageous only in overwhelming proportion. The dynamic underlying the peculiar bifurcation of American society into only two color groups can perhaps be better understood if some attempt is made to describe its origin, for the content of social definitions may remain long after the impulses to their formation have gone.

After only one generation of European experience in America, colonists faced the problem of dealing with racially mixed offspring, a problem handled rather differently by the several nations involved. It is well known that the Latin countries, especially Portugal and Spain, rapidly developed a social hierarchy structured according to degrees of intermixture of Negro and European blood, complete with a complicated system of terminology to facilitate definition. The English in Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas, on the other hand, seem to have created no such system of ranking. To explain this difference merely by comparing the different cultural backgrounds involved is to risk extending generalizations far beyond possible factual support. Study is still needed of the specific factors affecting each nation’s colonies, for there is evidence with some nations that the same cultural heritage was spent in different ways by the colonial heirs,..

Purchase the article here.

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Neither White Nor Black: The Mulatto Character in American Fiction

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United Kingdom on 2011-09-18 04:40Z by Steven

Neither White Nor Black: The Mulatto Character in American Fiction

New York University Press
280 pages
ISBN-10: 0814709966; ISBN-13: 978-0814709962
9 x 6 x 1 inches

This book is out of print.

Judith R. Berzon

The mulatto character has captured the imagination of American novelist in every period of our literature.  For American writers, the mulatto has long signified a “marginal man,” caught between two cultures and between the boundaries of the American caste system. As such, the mulatto’s biological and psychological responses to his status—attraction and repulsion to both the white an non-white castes—have frequently been fictionalized.

Neither White Nor Black is the first comprehensive study of the mulatto character in American fiction.  It is interdisciplinary in approach, drawing from literature, history, sociology, psychology and biology, and assessing the influence of racist ideology, social mythology and historical reality upon the portrayal of the mulatto character.  Dr. Berzon examines how the self-concepts of mixed-blood characters are affected by black-white mythology and explores the roles mulattoes have played in American culture.  Among the 19th an 20th-century black and white authors examined here are Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren and John A. Williams.

In Part I of the book, Dr. Berzon provides an introduction to the historical, sociological and scientific backgrounds of the fiction; an overview of the novels; and a discussion of the most prevalent sterotype—“the tragic mulatto.”  Part II defines and illustrates the forms of adjustment to marginality.  Each chapter is organized around a specific mode of adjustment—passing for white, becoming a member of the black bourgeosie, working as leader of his/her race, and failing to achieve identification with either the white or black group.  In the Postscript, Dr. Berzon examines three novels of the 1970s by important black authors—John A. Williams, Ernest J. Gaines, and John Oliver Killens.  Her study is enriched by the recently published but crucial historical scholarship such as Roll, Jordan Roll by Eguene Genovese, White Over Black by Winthrop Jordan, an The Black Image in the White Mind by George Fredrickson, as well as the earlier work by Addison Gayle Jr., The Black Aesthetic.

In Neither White Nor Black, Dr. Berzon reveals the recurring themes in the portrayal of the mulatto character throughout several periods of the 19th and 20th-century American history.  Central to the portrayal of the mulatto during all these periods is the quest for identity, and Dr. Berzon, through her illuminating analysis, provides her readers, whether students of Black studies, American studies, Southern history, literature, or intellectual history, with an essential understanding of that quest and of the role of the mulatto in American society.

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White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812

Posted in Books, Economics, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, Social Science, United States on 2010-03-16 00:38Z by Steven

White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812

University of North Carolina Press
1968-09-25 (Republished: September 1995)
671 pages
8.9 x 6 x 1.4 inches
ISBN: 978-0-8078-4550-9
Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia

Winthrop D. Jordan (1931-2007)

  • Winner of the 1968 Francis Parkman Prize, Society of American Historians
  • Winner of the 1969 National Book Award
  • Winner of the 1969 Bancroft Prize, Columbia University
  • Winner of the 1968 Ralph Waldo Emerson Award, Phi Beta Kappa

The paperback edition of Jordan’s classic and award-winning work on the history of American race relations.

Table of Contents


Part One. GENESIS 1550-1700

I. First Impressions: Initial English Confrontation with Africans

  1. The Blackness Without
  2. The Causes of Complexion
  3. Defective Religion
  4. Savage Behavior
  5. The Apes of Africa
  6. The Blackness Within

II. Unthinking Decision: Enslavement of Negroes in America to 1700

  1. The Necessities of a New World
  2. Freedom and Bondage in the English Tradition
  3. The Concept of Slavery
  4. The Practices of Portingals and Spanyards
  5. Enslavement: The West Indies
  6. Enslavement: New England
  7. Enslavement: Virginia and Maryland
  8. Enslavement: New York and the Carolinas
  9. The Un-English: Scots, Irish, and Indians
  10. Racial Slavery: From Reasons to Rational

Part Two. PROVINCIAL DECADES 1700-1755
III. Anxious Oppressors: Freedom and Control in a Slave Society

  1. Demographic Configurations in the Colonies
  2. Slavery and the Senses of the Laws
  3. Slave Rebelliousness and the White Mastery
  4. Free Negroes and Fears of Freedom
  5. Racial Slavery in a Free Society

IV. Fruits of Passion: The Dynamics of Interracial Sex

  1. Regional Styles in Racial Intermixture
  2. Masculine and Feminine Modes in Carolina and America
  3. Negro Sexuality and Slave Insurrection
  4. Dismemberment, Physiology, and Sexual Perceptions
  5. The Secularization of Reproduction
  6. Mulatto Offspring in a Biracial Society

V. The Souls of Men: The Negro’s Spiritual Nature

  1. Christian Principles and the Failure of Conversion
  2. The Question of Negro Capacity
  3. Spiritual Equality and Temporal Subordination
  4. The Thin Edge of Antislavery
  5. Inclusion and Exclusion in the Protestant Churches
  6. Religious Revivial and the Impact of Conversion

VI. The Bodies of Men: The Negro’s Physical Nature

  1. Confusion, Order and Hierarchy
  2. Negroes, Apes, and Beasts
  3. Rational Science and Irrational Logic
  4. Indians, Africans, and the Complexion of Man
  5. The Valuation of Color
  6. Negroes Under the Skin

Part Three. THE REVOLUTIONARY ERA 1755-1783
VII. Self-Scrutiny in the Revolutionary Era

  1. Quaker Conscience and Consciousness
  2. The Discovery of Prejudice
  3. Assertions of Sameness
  4. Environmentalism and Revolutionary Ideology
  5. The Secularization of Equality
  6. The Proslavery Case of Negro Inferiority
  7. The Revolution as Turning Point

VIII. The Imperatives of Economic Interest and National Identity

  1. The Economics of Slavery
  2. Union and Sectionalism
  3. A National Forum for Debate
  4. Nationhood and Identity
  5. Non-English Englishment

IX. The Limitations of Antislavery

  1. The Pattern of Antislavry
  2. The Failings of Revolutionary Ideology
  3. The Quaker View Beyond Emancipation
  4. Religious Equalitarianism
  5. Humanitarianism and Sentimentality
  6. The Success and Failure of Antislavery

X. The Cancer of Revolution

  1. St. Domingo
  2. Non-Importation of Rebellion
  3. The Contagion of Liberty
  4. Slave Disobedience in America
  5. The Impact of Negro Revolt

XI. The Resulting Pattern of Separation

  1. The Hardening of Slavery
  2. Restraint of Free Negroes
  3. The Walls of Separation
  4. Negro Churches

Part Five THOUGH AND SOCIETY 1783-1812
XII. Thomas Jefferson: Self and Society

  1. Jefferson: The Tyranny of Slavery
  2. Jefferson: The Assertion of Negro Inferiority
  3. The Issue of Intellect
  4. The Acclaim of Talented Negroes
  5. Jefferson: Passionate Realities
  6. Jefferson: White Women and Black
  7. Interracial Sex: The Individual and His Society
  8. Jefferson: A Dichotomous View of Triracial America

XIII. The Negro Bound by the Chain of Being

  1. Linnaean Categories and the Chain of Being
  2. Two Modes of Equality
  3. The Hierarchies of Men
  4. Anatomical Investigations
  5. Unlinking and Linking the Chain
  6. Faithful Philosophy in Defense of Human Unity
  7. The Study of Man in the Republic

XIV. Erasing Nature’s Stamp of Color

  1. Nature’s Blackball
  2. The Effects of Climate and Civilization
  3. The Disease of Color
  4. White Negroes
  5. The Logic of Blackness and Inner Similarity
  6. The Winds of Change
  7. An End of Environmentalism
  8. Persistent Themes

XV. Toward a White Man’s Country

  1. The Emancipation and Intermixture
  2. The Beginning of Colonization
  3. The Virginia Program
  4. Insurrection and Expatriation in Virginia
  5. The Meaning of Negro Removal

XVI. Exodus

Note on the Concept of Race
Essay on Sources
Select List of Full Titles
Map: Percentage of Negroes in Total Non-Aboriginal Population, 1790

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Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson: History, Memory, and Civic Culture

Posted in Anthologies, Books, History, Media Archive, Slavery, Social Science, United States, Virginia on 2009-11-19 02:19Z by Steven

Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson: History, Memory, and Civic Culture

University of Virginia Press
325 pages
6 x 9
ISBN: 0-8139-1919-3

Edited by

Jan Ellen Lewis
Rutgers University

Peter S. Onuf
University of Virginia

The publication of DNA test results showing that Thomas Jefferson was probably the father of one of his slave Sally Hemings‘s children has sparked a broad but often superficial debate. The editors of this volume have assembled some of the most distinguished American historians, including three Pulitzer Prize winners, and other experts on Jefferson, his times, race, and slavery. Their essays reflect the deeper questions the relationship between Hemings and Jefferson has raised about American history and national culture.

The DNA tests would not have been conducted had there not already been strong historical evidence for the possibility of a relationship. As historians from Winthrop D. Jordan to Annette Gordon-Reed have argued, much more is at stake in this liaison than the mere question of paternity: historians must ask themselves if they are prepared to accept the full implications of our complicated racial history, a history powerfully shaped by the institution of slavery and by sex across the color line.

How, for example, does it change our understanding of American history to place Thomas Jefferson in his social context as a plantation owner who fathered white and black families both? What happens when we shift our focus from Jefferson and his white family to Sally Hemings and her children? How do we understand interracial sexual relationships in the early republic and in our own time? Can a renewed exploration of the contradiction between Jefferson’s life as a slaveholder and his libertarian views yield a clearer understanding of the great political principles he articulated so eloquently and that Americans cherish? Are there moral or political lessons to be learned from the lives of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings and the way that historians and the public have attempted to explain their liaison?

Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson: History, Memory, and Civic Culture promises an open-ended discussion on the living legacy of slavery and race relations in our national culture.


Annette Gordon-Reed, New York Law School
Rhys Isaac, College of William and Mary
Winthrop D. Jordan, University of Mississippi
Jan Ellen Lewis, Rutgers University, Newark
Philip D. Morgan, Institute of Early American History and Culture
Peter S. Onuf, University of Virginia
Jack N. Rakove, Stanford University
Joshua Rothman, University of Virginia
Werner Sollors, Harvard University
Lucia Stanton, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation
Dianne Swann-Wright, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation
Clarence Walker, University of California at Davis
Gordon S. Wood, Brown University

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