Why Do We Consider Obama to Be Black?

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2011-01-30 23:23Z by Steven

Why Do We Consider Obama to Be Black?

New America Media

Ronald Takaki (1939-2009), Emeritus Professor of Ethnic Studies
University of California, Berkeley

A historical look at the the persistence of the “one drop” rule.

Editor’s Note: Historian and scholar Ronald Takaki uncovers the origins of the “one drop” rule that was key to defining race early in America’s history, and ponders whether we will ever move past it – even with a mixed race presidential candidate. Takaki, emeritus professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (updated edition to be published by Little, Brown in December).

Barack Obama is the son of a white mother and a black father. In Latin America, he would be identified as “mulatto” or half white and half black, and in South Africa as “colored” or between white and black.

Why are all African Americans, regardless of their mixed racial heritage, identified as black? What are the origins of the uniquely American “one drop” rule?

The first 20 Africans were landed in Jamestown in 1619. Yet, the planter class did not rush to bring more laborers from Africa. The elite wanted to reproduce an English society in America. By 1670, only 5 percent of the Virginia population was African.

Six years later, the planters abandoned their vision of a homogeneous society. During Bacon’s Rebellion, armed white and black laborers marched to Jamestown and burned it to the ground. After reinforcements of British troops had put down the insurrection, the planters turned to Africa as their primary source of labor: they wanted workers who could be enslaved and disarmed by law based on the color of their skin. The African population inclined upward to 40 percent.

The planters also stigmatized the complexion of the African laborer. They had earlier passed a law which law provided that the child of a slave mother would inherit the status of the mother, regardless of the race of the father. Thus a child of a slave mother and a white father would be a slave.

After Bacon’s Rebellion, the elite passed another law which enslaved the child of a white mother and a black father.

These two laws gave birth to the “one drop” rule. To be black, even part black was to be a slave, and to be a slave was to be black…

Read the entire article here.

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