Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Multi-Racial Read #3
From the moment I read the title, When White is Black I knew that I would find stories within that would inform my research. Written by John Martin,
this is another book which causes the reader to consider how the color of a person's skin affects how he is perceived and treated by both the black and white community.
One aspect of this book which I find intriguing, is Martin's family tree that introduces the narrative. Tracing his mixed race heritage back four generations, Martin had African American, Native American, and Caucasian ancestors on his mother's side. I was familiar with the words Mulatto and Quadroon, but Martin introduced me to Octoroon. He labels his family further explaining that many were "Mulatto-W" (65% white). This forms an excellent backdrop to showing how the "one-drop rule" governed both his mother's and grandparents' lives.
Most of the book records his mother's (Mulatto-W) and grandmother's (Quadroon) experiences as multi-racial women--well before there was more than one box to check on a census form.(It was not until 2000 that individuals could check more than one race on the census form.) The time period spans almost a century (1876-1969) when passing afforded a better economic lifestyle but also included personal risks from both the white and black communities.
One of the stories that demonstrates the schizophrenia of the time period shows how in mid-life, Martin's great-grandfather (Mulatto-W) was recast from white to black after an incident when he saved a black man from being beaten by whites. The man he rescued later accused him of having a "brown" grandmother, whites began condemning him as a "white nigger," and his life dramatically changed. His daughter (Martin's grandmother) had always seen herself as white, "...in view of how colored folks were treated, there was no way she, or anyone else in their right mind, would voluntarily choose to be one of them." (p. 36). For many years afterwards she was plagued with "a mixture of confusion, anger, resentment, paranoia, and fear." (p. 37). Her questions about why her father has been mistreated were finally answered when she understood "how colored people experienced daily life, the humiliations they suffered, and the real barriers they had to overcome just to exist." (p. 37)
Are racial biases only about skin color, hair texture, or the shape of one's nose? In my next two blogs I'll reflect on that in greater depth.
When White is Black, multi-racial, John Martin, passing, 2000 census, Mulatto, Quadroon, Octoroon