Biracial Americans: The Advantages of White Blood

Biracial Americans: The Advantages of White Blood

Chapter 8 of An Historical Analysis of Skin Color Discrimination in America
200 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4419-5504-3

Chapter: pages 109-126
DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4419-5505-0_8

Ronald E. Hall, Professor of Social Work
Michigan State University

Similar to that of Native Americans, the genesis of victim-group discrimination for biracial Americans is rooted in traditions of slavery and the antebellum South. Biracial Americans during the antebellum period more often than not were the sons and daughters of the slave master class and having light skin on occasion may also have been of Native American ancestry. Whether biracial Americans were mixed blood by having white or Native ancestry their phenotype, light skin set them apart from the darker-skinned African-American populations whose bloodline had not yet been mixed.

Life for biracial Americans during the antebellum was both privileged in some respects and oppressive, in other ways similar to unadulterated dark-skinned blacks. Due to the one-drop theory of racial identity, whites made no distinctions between blacks and biracial Americans, despite the fact that, by genetic proportion, some biracial Americans were more white than black. In the interest of maintaining slavery and the myth of white supremacy, any known African ancestry defined even those who were characterized by blond hair and blue eyes as black. Defined as black, they were subject to discrimination, could be enslaved, relegated to second-class citizenship, and have no more legal access to the institutions of government than any other black person. Some resented being defined solely as black and in numerous ways discriminated against blacks, which included separating themselves from the black community, often friends and family members. During the antebellum, biracial Americans temporarily passed for white when seeking employment and permanently passed when considering marriage to a white fiance. Permanent passing was a critical form of victim-group discrimination that required that they never again acquaint themselves directly or indirectly with those to whom they were related by blood. Biracial Americans who could not withstand the emotional turmoil associated with their conflicting physical characteristics were designated as “mulatto.” Mulatto was the antebellum term applied to mixed-race or biracial African-Americans who, but for a trace of black blood, were otherwise considered white. Their tragedy was inspired by the contradiction in who they wanted to be—white—and who society required they be—black- Subsequently, they occupied a mid-level racial status, which constantly challenged their quest for identity and group acceptance. However, despite their being defined as black, being of light skin and often having white features accorded many biracial Americans who were…

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