Indie Groundbreaking Book: (1)ne Drop
Landmark Photo Essay Book Seeks to “Shift the Lens on Race”
Has the social and political mindset on race in 2014 changed from where it was 100 years ago? What is the definition of “Blackness” in the modern age? These are just a few of the many questions posed by (1)ne Drop
, a landmark new book that seeks to “shift the lens on race” in more ways than one. Written and compiled by Dr. Yaba Blay, Ph. D., a teacher and scholar in the subject of African Studies at Drexel University in Sacramento, CA, (1)ne Drop
is an ambitious project. Part textbook, part photo essay, part academic thesis, (1)ne Drop
is also this month’s indie groundbreaking book, and for more reasons than I can list.
On one hand, (1)ne Drop is groundbreaking for shedding a light on the troubling biological basis for much of the racism that has existed in the United States for more than 200 years. That basis is called the “one-drop rule,” a concept that says a person should be identified as “Black” if they have so much as a trace of Black ancestry (or so much as a single drop of Black blood) in their heritage. In the 1900s, the one-drop rule was an actual law, used throughout the southern parts of the country to promote “White racial purity” and overall White supremacy. But while the law is gone, the concept and the thought behind it still persists, and that question of racial identification permeates (1)ne Drop.
In the intro section of (1)ne Drop, Blay briefly turns her discussion toward a famous person—Halle Berry—to help readers understand the one-drop rule. Berry, of course, is a widely identifiable celebrity, known for roles in films like X-Men and Die Another Day. In 2002, Berry won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in the film Monster’s Ball, in a history-making occurrence. It was the first time a “Black” woman had ever won the Best Actress category at the Academy Awards.
Berry, the daughter of a Caucasian mother and an African-American father, was already a case study for racial identification. Could she fairly be identified as “Black,” because of her father’s racial heritage? Could she just as fairly be identified as “White,” because of her mother’s English and German ancestry? Or is she “Mixed Race,” a term that is often used to refer to our nation’s current Commander-in-Chief?
As Blay writes in the intro sections of (1)ne Drop, though, Berry and her family have become even more significant examples of the plight for racial identification in the years since that 2002 Oscar prize. This is because Berry, who has a daughter with French-Canadian model Gabriel Aubrey, identifies her daughter as “Black”—even though she herself is partially of White ancestry, and even though Aubrey is a Caucasian male. Berry has cited the one-drop rule as her justification, but has also said that she believes her daughter, Nahla, will have to choose which race to identify with as she grows up.
Blay isn’t so sure that Nahla—or anyone else, for that matter—will ever be allowed to choose their own racial identification. And that’s because, as this book makes abundantly clear, the country we live in still draws concrete racial lines between Black and White—even though Mixed Race families are becoming more and more prevalent. In short, America is still a nation obsessed with categorizing its people by race.
To prove this point, Dr. Blay compiles perspectives of 60 different contributors who—based on the one-drop rule—fit into the racial identification of “Black.” The book presents the stories of these individuals alongside their photographs in a manner that is as stunning from a visual perspective as it is important from a narrative one. The contributors make up a wildly diverse subset of people. They hail from 25 different countries, and almost every single one of them has a different racial term with which they personally identify. They all hail from different walks of life: different states, different countries, different experiences. They’ve all led different lives: with different jobs, different interests, different pursuits. And yet, they are all identified under the umbrella of “Blackness.”
By exposing readers to these people and their disparate experiences, (1)ne Drop seeks to start a conversation on what it actually means to be Black. As will become evident from flipping through a few pages of this book, it’s not just about skin color. Many of the contributors featured here actually look White, or have “racially ambiguous” characteristics that have inspired rude questions like “What are you?” or “Where are you from, originally?” all their lives.
But the conversation incited by (1)ne Drop is about more than who is Black or White. It’s about showing people how broad these seemingly narrow racial categories we draw really are. It’s about how the outdated thinking of the one-drop rule still lingers. But it’s also about people who are proud of their black heritage, of the “Blackness” that pervades their identity, despite the deck that is so often stacked against them. Ultimately, Blay’s goal—as is stated on the book flap for (1)ne Drop—is to get people to start seeing Blackness in a different light. And this wonderful, powerful book, with its collection of stories, visuals, and powerful perspectives, is absolutely an aid in making sure that happens.
Nothing could be more groundbreaking than that.
Craig Manning is currently studying English and Music at Western Michigan University. In addition to writing for IndependentPublisher.com, he maintains a pair of entertainment blogs, interns at the Traverse City Business News, and writes for Rockfreaks.net and his college newspaper. He welcomes comments or questions concerning his articles via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.