While the main purpose of racial segregation is to separate humans into racial groups in daily life, the aim of American racial segregation holds a deeper meaning that is still thriving in modern America. The long time segregation between black and white America which divided the two groups based primarily in regards to skin color and finally class for over 400 years has now found a new a subject to objectify, bi-racial individuals.
These individuals, born to one white and one black parent in America, have felt the tensions that exist between their monoracial white and black counterparts, however, they have not been fully recognized by or as a part of either racial group. They are often regarded as not black enough to be considered ‘truly black’ by black Americans. Or since they have an ounce of black blood they are thus considered black by white America.
This conceptualization was historically grounded in the culturally sanctioned one-drop rule (Davis, 1991), which stated that an individual with one drop of black blood automatically became a member of the black race” (O’Quinn 1). This paper will provide historical background as to the emergence of the biracial community in America and argue strongly the issues surrounding the biracial experience including identity crisis and the “need for the reclassification of person with one black and one white parent as biracial” (Makalani, 1).
The monoracial child, either black or white, growing up in America has a much easier time of identifying with their natal race than that of a biracial child. Not only does the child identify with the race and its issues but it is also recognized as a member of the race by other member and by onlookers. For example, a monoracial black person is considered a member of the black race by both black and white people; the same is true for members of the white race. White Americans set the social standard and experience what all other races in America strive to attain: white privilege.
White privilege is described “as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious” (McIntosh, 1). This heredity of privilege allows white Americans a “weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks” (McIntosh, 1). These privileges that came into existence in slave era days are still very present in modern day America. White Americans have never had to deal with the following issues that surround black people each day, such as:
1. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area that I can afford and in which I want to live. 2. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented. 3. When I am told about our national heritage or about civilization, I am shown that people of my color made it what it is. 4. Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability. 5. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial (McIntosh, 2) The previous five examples were only a handful of daily struggles that white people are blissfully unaware of and lucky to not have to deal with or think about as they move about society. But nonetheless, they are still a race that recognizes its members. Conversely, black Americans do not come from privilege as their white counterparts. However, the members of the black community recognize its members for the struggle and burden they each bare.
This struggle has become seen as a badge of honor for a black man in American to make it past the age of 30 without going to jail or being killed or for the black woman to remain childless well after the age 25. This dissonance that began in slave era days and still exists in some realms today between the black and white America begs the question: how did these two races copulate with such disdain for one another enough to bring about biracial children? And what has been the impact of the racial prejudices on this new diversified race?
The Foundation of Racial America In Biracial and Multiracial Children’s Place in Slavery era America, the emergence of the biracial child in slave era America and the issues they encounter is discussed: Author Lalita Tademy, while researching for her book Cane River (a book that takes a look “at the evolving relationships between blacks and whites – particularly the complex bonds between slave owners and slaves”), found that while there were black codes that dictated how to behave towards slaves, these codes were often ignored (Slavery in America).
White men were not supposed to father slaves’ children, but slave women were forced to comply with sexual advances by their masters on a very regular basis as they “owe to [their] master a respect … without bounds, and an absolute obedience … and complete power over [their persons]” (Foner 349). J. William Harris found that “of the children living with mothers alone, about one in six had white fathers… ” (Harris 127). These children were then faced with the stigma of being neither white nor black.
In the American slave days, where discrimination of black societies through social and class warfare was legal it was the black women that bore burdens of not only being black and but also because she was a woman. Women by nature are not as strong as men thus making it difficult to run away from their masters in the pursuit of freedom. However, this was not the case for black men, who, not wanting to be held against their will often ran away in search of freedom, or they were sold to other slave owners.
Thus in both scenarios, black women were left to raise children on their own along with the help of other fellow black slaves thus creating a new family fabric consisting only of women. With black men being out of the picture, black women took on the role of sole provider and protectors of their children. Black women, not only being considered part of the weaker sex, were also sexually objectified by their masters and often had to comply with sexual advances. These sexual advances often times led to reproduction of a biracial child(ren).
William Wells Brown once wrote, The nearer a slave approaches an Anglo Saxon in complexion, the more he is abused by both owner and fellow slaves. The owner flogs him to keep him ‘in his place,’ and the slaves hate him on account of his being whiter than themselves” (Biracial, 1). The biracial identity in America stems from three points of view. The foundation of the biracial identity first begins with the parents. In slave era America, biracial children often felt in the case of having a white father “paternal negligence as Frederick Douglass had written that his father is “shrouded in a mystery I have never been able to penetrate….
William Wells Browns’ father was the cousin of his owner and, except for soliciting a promise that his boy would never be sold, was never a part of the young boy’s life” (Biracial, 3). However, these biracial children grew up with their slave mother in the black communities. Being black and a mother, it was often difficult to protect her biracial child from the harsh realities of their world. Biracial children were often looked down upon by members of the black community because as a biracial child they enjoyed a less harsh life, and were thus closer to attaining white privilege because of their lighter skin color.
In todays America, biracial children are still looked at with slave era eyes, but that adage of ‘white is better’ and the ‘lighter skinned a person is the better chance a person has at assimilating into white society’ is slowing but surely becoming a prejudice of the past. Biracial individuals offer a unique set of rules to the American society. These rules do not confer with the contemporary black standards of wishing they were white to feel like they were a part of all American society, and they are neither oblivious to the de facto of white privilege that exists.
The biracial identity offers the best of black and white culture to America in pretty box. So which race does the biracial individual identify with? The answer, whichever one they feel comfortable being around. However, it’s most likely both because biracial children learn to function in either white or black society in America. They innately know they can “enjoy unearned skin privilege” (McIntosh) because they are part white and they are aware that being part black does not deem them inadequate or less worthy of a place among society so they cannot be only classified as just part of one race.
They are a part of the majority races in America. Biracial individuals typically see people as fellow humans, not as inferior or superior races. This trend is likely to continue as more interracial couples have biracial and multiracial children that will change the attitude of future generations in regards to race. We are already seeing this effect occur as America elected biracial president Barack Obama in 2008 and has since reelected him to serve a second term in 2012.
Courtney from Study Moose
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