This is a topic that, unlike user-pay heathcare, I know in advance is controversial, so please note that I'm not telling anyone you're counting your population wrong, or that any colour of person should count more or less than any other. I'm just documenting what surprises me, and admitting the misconceptions of this one anonymous aviatrix. We touched on this earlier in a discussion in another post's comments, I believe.
I'm in a town of approximately ten thousand people. I looked it up on Wikipedia to see what people do here, what the industries are, or if there is any local history I should know about. There isn't much, but the article says the local population is within a few percentage points of fifty percent black and fifty percent white. And it says that only 1.5% of the population is composed of two or more races.
Wait, what? That's 150 people of mixed race in the whole town, a stunningly low rate of interracial mixing in a place where people of the two races clearly work and go to school together. It stretches credibility. This was once a cotton-growing, slave-owning area, so there have been black and white people living close together here for a couple of hundred years. Let's say that seven generations ago, when the slaves were freed, the population contained only pure white and pure black people, and that just one couple ever dared to breed outside their race. Assuming that two of their kids lived to produce kids, and so on for each generation, a single interracial couple in 1860 would produce the progeny to match the census claim, with no other interracial children being born or coming to the town.
I know for sure that there were interracial couples as far back as the 1860s. There was a speaker at the museum whose great-great-something-great-grandfather was a white slave owner and whose great-great-something-great grandmother was a black slave. I don't believe there was only one such ancestor in this town. Not to be too indelicate, but rape and drunken accident alone would bring the total higher than that. The possibilities, I concluded, were:
- a) Wikipedia is in error
- b) Almost everyone of mixed race leaves or does not have children
- c) The vast majority of people of mixed race either lie on the census or do not know about their ancestry
Option (a) is no fun, so I'll assume that the answer is a combination of (b) and (c), which implies that being of mixed heritage carries such an extreme stigma here that you are socially ostracized or worse unless you can hide the admixture and claim to be descended from solely one race or the other.
While I was hypothesizing on the social hierarchy that would make it less acceptable to be partly descended from the dominant race than not at all, someone laughed at me and swept it all aside. In the United States, he explained, if you have enough African ancestry for it to be visible in your features, you are legally black. You can even be legally black if people can't tell by looking at you. Mixed race, he said, applies only to people who are, for example, part Pacific islander and part Caucasian, or maybe part Cherokee and part black. But if your mom is white and your dad is black, or vice versa, you're black.
I'd heard of the "one drop rule" but I thought it was historical, not a current definition. There does need to be a definition here, because in the US there are still some affirmative action opportunities for blacks, such as scholarships or quotas. For comparison, in Canada there are financial benefits to being a status Indian, so there are rules about who gets status, i.e. 1) the child of any two status Indians retains Indian status, and 2) the child of one status Indian and one non-status person also gets a status card, but only if the status parent did not get his or her card according to part two of the rule. It's called the second generation cutoff.
The probable result of the Canadian rule is that after a number of generations there won't be anyone left who is a status Indian. First nations folk aren't particularly racist in my experience, so if they are living in an area where people of other races are present, which is just about everywhere now, there is a chance they'll have children with someone who doesn't have a status card. But the result of the American rule is almost the opposite: with continued intermixing of the great American melting pot, eventually almost everyone will be able to trace some ancestry to Africa. And no one will be bothered by it.
Modern science tells me that I am ultimately of African descent, but, as far as I know, all my African ancestors walked out of that continent before recorded history, and their descendants trekked further north into Europe before settling down to breed my documented ancestors.