One -Drop Rule

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The One-Drop Rule: A Key Player in the Construction of Race in the United States

Barack Obama’s election as the President of the United States in 2008 was considered by many to be a representation of the huge strides the country has made in terms of race relations. Considering that blacks in America were denied civil rights less than five decades ago, his election certainly indicates that progress has been made. Obama and his election to office is linked to this progress because much of the population considers him to be black, including himself. Yet, Obama has as much “white ancestry” as he does “black ancestry.” This specific example can be related to the convention ‘that considered a white woman capable of giving birth to a black child but denies that a black woman can give birth to a white child,”[1] identified by Barbara Fields. His classification as black, despite the fact that he is also half white, shows how the idea of the one-drop rule is still very much present in modern times. This rule indicates that a person with even a single drop of “black blood” is to be considered black. The idea of the one-drop rule has a very deep history in the United States and has been ingrained in the countries racial ideology, partly through legislation. The development and use of the one-drop rule is unique to the United States in that “We are the only country in the world that applies the one-drop rule, and the only group that the one-drop rule applies to is people of African decent” [2] The development and use of the one-drop rule has had a profound impact on the construction of race in the United States.

In order to understand the implications of the “one-drop rule” it is important to understand what this rule actual implies. As mentioned above, the rule indicates that one is considered black if they have even one single drop of “black blood.” This rule relies on the idea that race is determined by blood, and is therefore biological. This idea that race is biologically determined has been repudiated by many scholars from many different disciplines. There is no proven link between biological make-up and race. Rather, race is an idea that has been socially constructed throughout history. The one-drop rule has played a large role in this construction.

The origin of the one-drop rule in the United States dates back to colonialism and slavery. As settlers continued to establish themselves in the colonies, their economy became increasingly more dependent on slave labor. This demand resulted in the North Atlantic Slave Trade, which imported masses of African people, unwillingly forced from their home countries, to the United States to be sold as slaves. Barbara Fields explains that Africans became associated with slavery in the United States because “ [n]early all Africans were slaves when they arrived in Virginia, and, before 1644, nearly all slaves in Virginia were African” [3] This associated led to the rise of the idea of the one-drop rule due to the fact that “the antebellum South...” saw it “as a way of enlarging the slave population with the children of slave holders”[4] The one-drop rule served in “Keeping the color line sharp [which] facilitated the enslavement of children begotten upon slave women by white men.” [5] In Colonial America the idea of the one-drop rule developed due to the desire to expand the institution of slavery. Within these terms, people with any trace of blackness were subjected to the perils of slavery.

The concept of the one-drop rule was implemented in order to increase slave populations, however the rule was not yet legally established. While there was no explicit rule during the period of slavery, the idea of the one-drop rule was clearly widespread for it can be seen in the legislation of the time. There were several laws that were enacted to prevent mixture between different races. These laws assumed that people with any trace of African ancestry were black. One set of legislation was...
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