Hypodescent

a poem and history lesson

drip drip drip
the firecracker spills, red

across wet, beige lips

the blacktop is sticky

and so is our skin

got a handful at work, so unlike mine

strangers still approach me in Spanish

Wasn’t I A Black this whole time?

Ain’t I a Black when I can’t pronounce your name?

Ee-ah-po? or Old-mee-nah?

Either way, I’m in your ghetto coasting past on the bike lane

what’s in a name, even when it’s Jane Cossack

It may not be ghetto, but I’m Black!

you’ve gotta believe me, I’ve gotta show

social justice? check.

just how many BLM’s can I fit into a convo?

and aint beauty standards misogynist?

They say I’m pretty, but I’m Black, bitch! [trembling “yaaaaassss!”]

with lips stained red, that much brighter than your purple,

even when people don’t know I’m Black, I’m still hurting

we are Black even when you look like a monkey

and I, the perfect tan

under the sun, where my skin peels

somewhere under these layers, bound to be a Black beneath…

when I lost you in the dark

when I just know your hair cant be real

Black because we grew up together on Golden Krust

Black because I see the news and feel

we are Black, like our great grandfather was

we can’t divide us under one oppressor

You need us, the yellows, the tans, and litebrights

the Posterchilds

Celebrities

like Angela and Newton

Reasons why Bobby Seale’s a loser

Together, Black because there are people whiter than us

So leave those, Identity Extremists to die!

They just want the race war that’s coming in time

And besides, boyfriend is white; I can’t leave!

you need an articulate, octaroon like me, Blackness comes from within

I know Blackness better because I can understand both sides of the fight


The North American practice of applying a rule of hypodescent began during colonial times when indentured servants and transported convicts working at the direction of the colonists and colonial authorities were joined by Africans that from 1619 on were first taken first from Spanish and then more and more from English or British slave ships. But while the freed captives were Christians, these individuals were classified as indentured workers.
Virginia formally enacted a 'slave code' in 1705. There is documentary evidence from the 1650s that some Virginia Negroes were serving lifelong terms of indenture. In the 1660s the Assembly stated that "any English servant that shall run away in company with any Negroes who are incapable of making satisfaction by addition of time shall serve for the time of the said Negroes absence", indicating Negroes could not 'make satisfaction' by serving longer if recaptured. This device gave legal status to the practice of lifetime enslavement of persons of African descent; in subsequent statutes the legislature defined conditions of lifetime servitude.
But in 1655 Elizabeth Key, a mixed-race woman, fought and won the first freedom suitin Virginia. Her English father had acknowledged her as his daughter, had her baptised as Christian, and, falling ill, established a legal guardian to care for her after his death, arranging a limited-term indenture for her as a girl. But the guardian sold her indenture and left the colony, and the next master did not free her. When he died, his estate claimed her and her son as slave property.
However, following Key’s victory, Virginia established the principle in law in 1662 of partus sequitur ventrem, from Roman law; that is, children born in the colonies would take the social status of their mothers. This meant that all children born to enslaved women would be born into slavery, regardless of their paternity and race. This was in contrast to English common law, by which the status of children of English subjects was determined by the father.
As slavery became a racial caste system, persons of only partial African ancestry and majority European ancestry were born into slavery. African descent became associated with slavery. By hypodescent, persons of even partial African ancestry were classified socially below whites. By the late 18th century, there were numerous families of majority-white slaves, such as the mixed-racechildren born to the slave Sally Hemings and her master Thomas Jefferson. She was three-quarters white and the half-sister of his late wife; their children, born into slavery, were seven-eighths white. Jefferson gave the four surviving children their freedom as adults; three assimilated into white society.
The Southern author Mary Chesnut wrote in her famous A Diary from Dixie, of the Civil War-era, about the hypocrisy of a man’s recognizing white women’s children among the slaves in every household but his own.
Fanny Kemble, the British actress who married an American slaveholder, wrote about her observations of slavery as well, including the way white men sexually abused slave women and left their mixed-race children enslaved.
Sometimes the white fathers freed the children and/or their mothers, or provided education or apprenticeship, or settled property on them in a significant transfer of social capital. Notable antebellum examples of fathers who provided for their mixed-race children were the fathers of Charles Henry Langston and John Mercer Langston and the father of the Healy family of Georgia. (Each had a common-law marriage with a woman of partial African descent.) Other mixed-race children were left enslaved; some were sold away by their fathers.
Research by historians and genealogists has shown that unlike the above examples, most free African Americans listed in the first two US censuses in the Upper South were descended from relationships or marriages in colonial Virginia between white women, indentured servant or free, and African or African-American men, indentured servant, free or slave. Their unions reflected the fluid nature of relationships among the working classes before slave caste was hardened, as well as the small households and farms within which many people worked. The children of white mothers were born free. If they were illegitimate and mixed race, they were apprenticed in order to avoid the community being burdened with upkeep, but such persons gained a step in freedom.
By the turn of the nineteenth century, many of these families of free African Americans, along with European-American neighbors, migrated to frontier areas of Virginia, North Carolina, and then further west. Such families sometimes settled in insular groups. Mixed-race people of African-European descent are believed to have been the origin of some isolated settlements, which have long claimed or were said to be of American Indian or Portuguese ancestry. As an example, a 21st-century DNA study of a group of Melungeonfamilies in Tennessee and Kentucky, long rumored to be descendants of Turks or Native Americans, showed they were overwhelmingly of African and European ancestry.
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