Wednesday, April 16, 2008

give birth to black children

Did you ever notice that white women can give birth to black babies, but black women can't give birth to white ones?

If a white woman gives birth to a baby that looks more or less black because the father was black, most people today still say the baby is black. But if a black woman gives birth to a baby whose father was white, that baby also becomes a black person, whether the baby looks black or could pass for white.

In 1996, James McBride published a popular book called The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother. Why is it that a white person could never write a tribute to his or her black mother?

Recently, I thought this paradox might be changing when I saw this headline: "Black Women Giving Birth to White Babies on the Rise." However, as the article explains, this phenomenon is happening in Europe, not America, and furthermore, it doesn't mean that the age-old idea that black women can't give birth to white babies is fading away, even in Europe. Instead, as the article also explains, the "number of Black women who are giving birth to White babies has been on the rise [because of] the increasing number of infertile White couples choosing cross racial surrogacy across Europe. . ."

Presumably it's still the case, then, that if a "Black" woman in Europe had a child through normal reproductive methods whose father was "White," the child would be considered "Black," and if a "White" woman had a child with a "Black" man that way, that child would also be considered "Black." (The comments below that article bear this out--notice how many people there were initially shocked by the headline.)

Such bizarre differences would seem to expose the absurdity of the whole notion of "race," and one might hope that we're moving beyond such double standards. However, despite the inclusion of a new check-box on the most recent (2000) U.S. Census, which for the first time allowed people to declare themselves biracial or multiracial, the tenacious grip of traditional racial categories remains strong. This racial conundrum also determines how we label and perceive the man who seems likely to be our next president, Barack Obama.

Obama's parents were a white woman from Kansas and a black man born in Kenya. He may well have checked the multiracial box on the 2000 census, but in the eyes of America, and no doubt the world, he would still be America's first "black" president. A label that we almost never hear for him is the accurate one, America's first potential "biracial" president.

Obama's mother is white, but we usually consider him black, especially because he looks black. But if his mother were black and his father white, we would still consider him a "black man," whether he looked black or white. We perceive our possible future leader through the lens of this double standard because it's still the case that white women can have black babies, but black women can't have white ones.

Is your head spinning too?


  1. It's called the "one drop rule"...

  2. Right, but what I'm basically asking is, why does such an outmoded rule still have such currency?

  3. Because the alternative takes away from the notion of "whiteness" and that is too scary for some people. Are you familiar with Dr. Cress Welsing. Not that you need subscribe to her theory but some of it does make sense.

  4. There's this strange theory amongst some Blacks that the race of the father determines the race of a child. Meanwhile in the Jewish community, if you're mother's Jewish, her child's Jewish.

    Racial constructs are only useful for scholarships and grants.

  5. Macon D,

    One other thought...since Mitochondrial Eve is the mother of all and she came out of Africa technically black women have given birth to white children...

  6. I am the "black" child of a white mother and the black mother of a "white" child. When people meet my son and his father, but not me, they assume he's entirely white. When they meet he and I together, sometimes they are very confused. When he was born it blew my mind that I could give birth to someone who looked like he did. What's even more interesting is how he sees me as being majority (read: not brown), like him.

    Outmoded indeed.

  7. I think the "one drop rule" is still in play because it involves both racism and sexism. Even though it's not said outloud as much (unless you are watching an early morning talkshow highlighting "backwards" people), I think there is still the idea that a white woman who has been with a black man has been tainted/ruined/lost her "good girl" status/etc.

  8. I'm not sure how many separate anonymouses we've got here.

    Yes, I am familiar with Francis Cress Welsing's ideas. While her framing of racism as a "global system" resonates with me in a way, her claim that white supremacy is a biologically based system meant to ensure the "genetic survival" of the earth's white minority strikes me as overly essentialist. White supremacy is indeed a "system" of sorts, but it's not something that sprung from the genes of white people, and also, what it is and how it operates vary from place to place.

    I think white supremacy is instead an ideology, a tool of sorts initially wielded by certain, particularly greedy white people in order to justify the exploitation of those who were artificially labeled non-white, and later, a lingering mode of thought and behavior that still favors whiteness in virtually countless ways. Anyway, other claims by Welsing--that white skin stems from a "mutant" strain of blackness, and that homosexuality is a white creation injected into the black community in an attempt to destroy it--strike me as so ridiculous that I find it difficult to pay attention to anything else she has to offer.

    Thanks for your story, lavalady, it's further evidence of the absurdities we still live with, thanks to the outmoded "one drop rule."

    You're certainly right, vcat, that sexism is a primary factor in the persistence of this outmoded rule and the shadow it still casts over interracial relationships. Sexism is also, of course, a contributing factor to the reality that so many African Americans carry the blood of white ancestors--raping female slaves was a common method used by slave owners for increasing their property (and thereby, bizarrely enough, enslaving their own children).

  9. I believe there's a name for that idea, that if there's an interracial union the child is designated as belonging to the identity of the minority parent. It's a double slap in the face, for the white parent of the black child, society says that your child will never reap the benefits of whiteness--they are tainted, to the black parent of a "white" child, that child will never reap the benefits of whiteness because of parental taint. The concept holds water because society still wants to hang onto the idea that race is tangible, that it's passed on from parent to child--I don't know if you recall the identical twins who were different races since each parent had a white and black parent themselves. It really shouldn't have been such a big deal, but the idea that you could produce identical twins of visually different races floored everyone. Race isn't supposed to work that way, to most people it's an absolute.

  10. Black women white children isn't that how the whites came about as some sort of albino offspring of the early african mothers.

  11. I disagree with the statement that, "black women cannot have white babies." My grandmother's grandmother(was half Cherokee and half African, but had no semblance of appearing African. She had naturally straight hair and looked completely Native American, and her husband was a Irish Immigrant. He had know idea she was mixed until the arrival of the last two children who looked nothing like in the other children white skin blond hair, light brown hair,blue eyes, green eyes, gray eyes and hazel eyes) had 17 children of which 15 came out looking white and the other remaining two children were light-skinned like Tina Knowles. Consequently, 10 of them passed for white and moved to the Northern part of the US, while to remaining 7 remained black, including my grandmother's mother who was one the children who appeared white. Lastly, my grandmother looked white and had fire engine red hair and blues eyes. She and a first cousin had to pass for white in order to avoid being Lynched, while driving after dark in the South. My grandmother in turn get birth to an aunt who had pass for white in the 1960's, when traveling from the south to the north, because the white man she was sitting next to told her how hated blacks not knowing she was black(she has white skin and had deep red hair). The point is their are some black women/biracial women who have biologically white children. Eartha Kit, Victoria Rowell, Lena Horne,Carly Simon, and Lynn Whitfield just to name a few. Also, their many (black) biracial people who look white like Mariah Carey, Carly Simon, Derek Jeter and others

  12. This has been a thoughtful post and conversation.

    I'm mixed race, but most people who see me assign the same race, the one I apparently look most like. This makes me feel more intimate with that community if only because I am treated as though I am part of it. So what actually connects me is racism -- in that, the group membership that messes my life up most is the one I end up feeling I belong to. Maybe because the white part of me doesn't need much support or solidarity -- but the minority parts are in desperate need of sisters and brothers to negotiate the very white world I happen to live in.

    As to why the rest of the world assigns the race they do -- well, that'd take much more thinking and writing than there is space for here.

    A question that might be helpful: How does cultural anxiety about "passing" influence the dilemma Macon describes? A maybe-related question: Why do people feel slighted when they realize someone isn't "really" the race they've been treating them as? -- for instance, that Obama isn't "really" black, etc.

    1. This conversation has my full attention. I am from New Orleans, and always hoped to have opportunity to adopt and conceive a mix of black and white babies. It seemed to me the only right way to have a family... No "us" and "them", but all Us's, having each others backs and crazy in love with each other.

      After reading your post, I feel my hopes might be overly idealistic in that each race will inevitably break off to "identify more with what is familiar". Please tell me your insights that might play on my decision.

  13. Damn! I didn't know that Carly Simon was biracial!

  14. Great question, Mio:
    "Why do people feel slighted when they realize someone isn't "really" the race they've been treating them as? -- for instance, that Obama isn't "really" black, etc."

    Well, in cases where whites don't realize you're black, it's a mix of a couple things.
    You turning out to be black instead of white, like they thought, shakes the core of the very foundation of ALL the beliefs they have about not only your race, but the ones they hold so dearly about themselves. In their minds you're supposed to be different from them in almost every way.

    Let's face it; most people like to feel that they are superior to others in some way, and the stereotypes they cling to about blacks, etc., are the proof they need to validate that. You can't be as intelligent, hard working, ambitious, witty, cultured, giving, etc as they are, because those traits are considered "white" by them. Blacks are supposed to be the exact opposite. They've bought that story, hook, line and sinker, and it works well for them.
    Now here you come along, not being their clearly defined personification of a black, doing things and behaving in ways they've conditioned themselves to believe you shouldn't be able to, so much so that they had no clue you weren't "one of them", and now they have to question the validity of all that they've been taught from the moment they popped out of the womb. They have to scramble around to find reasons for make it make sense.

    And on top of that, you have the nerve to "pass"?! Intentionally or not, that pisses them off the most, because not only did you "fool" them, but passing has enabled you to experience the one thing that for the most part has always been their own private reserve: white privilege. Other "coloreds" can achieve and become as successful as they please, but at the end of the day, their skin color keeps them from walking through that one particular door. Oh, HELL no! Racists will want to kill you for that. White privilege is to some an honor and a birthright. In many of those minds, they feel that you might be able to get their jobs, their success, their fancy homes, and their women, but you STILL can't get THAT as a person of color. No matter how many millions you make. No matter how many whites you marry.
    White privilege you can NEVER have.

    Blacks passing as white, whether intentionally or not, shatters the sh*t out of that. It's the final frontier. A place you shouldn't be able to enter or dwell. Not for a second.
    That's what pisses them off the most, IMO.

    By the way, sorry if I went off topic of the original post, but that question spoke to me.

    There's some great material on the web about passing. Do a search on "passing for white", and reams of stuff pops up. The stories are something else.

  15. fitness diva, I hope that you're not right about most whites wanting or needing to feel superior to blacks. However, as I continue to focus honestly on myself and other white folks, I can see something most don't want to admit, because they can't see it--they've been trained by a society that is still white supremacist to feel superior to blacks. It doesn't have to be a conscious decision to feel that way for those feelings to arise in the presence of black people. And because few whites now think they're racist, few recognize those feelings of superiority for what they really are. Now that I recognize such trained responses in myself, I've been trying to untrain or deprogram them.

    Your description of encounters by those who can pass for white with whites who realize that they're passing reminds me of Adrian Piper's excellent description of such moments (she's a renowned artist and philosopher who could pass for white, but chooses not to). What you wrote actually helps me to understand some of what she says here, so thank you for that:

    For most of my life I did not understand that I needed to indentify my raical identity publicly and that if I did not I would inevitably be mistaken for white. I simply didn't think about it. But since I also made no special effort to hide my racial identity, I often experienced the shocked and/or hostile reactions of whties who discovered it after the fact. I always knew when it happened, even when the person declined to confront me directly: the startled look, the searching stare that would fix itself on my facial features, one by one, looking for the telltale "negroid" feature, the sudden, sometimes permanent withdrawal of good feeling or regular contact--all alerted me to what had transpired. Uh-oh, I would think to myself helplessly, and watch another blossoming friendship wilt.

    Sometimes this revelation would elicit a response of the most twisted and punitive sort; for example, from the colleague who glared at me and hissed, "Oh, so you want to be black, do you? Good! Then we'll treat you like one!" The ensuing harassment had a furious, retaliatory quality that I find difficult to understand even now: as though I'd delivered a deliberate and crushing insult to her self-esteem, by choosing not to identify with her racial group.

  16. You can't be white if you have anything else in your blood. Perhaps the answer isn't to call them "black," but white is not as inclusive as black. And people of color are automatically minorities, like black people, so perhaps it's easier for them to identify with other minorities. Let's not forget that all colored people were lumped together. It's always been white vs. everyone else.

  17. Children of Men precursor? Sorry, just loved that flick. New to the blog. You've got some interesting stuff here, cool to check it out.

  18. Dear Macon D:

    Greetings. My name is Harry Allen. I publish the blog *Media Assassin* at I also host the radio show, NONFICTION, on WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM, Fridays at 2 pm.

    I just wanted to comment briefly on your post about Francis Cress Welsing's ideas. I know Dr. Welsing personally. Also, some colleagues of mine, Public Enemy, once made an album, partially inspired by her ideas, called *Fear of a Black Planet*.

    The notions you're referring to are found in Dr. Welsing's book *The Isis Papers*, in a paper entitled *The Cress Theory of Color Confrontation*.

    Dr. Welsing's Cress Theory isn't "biologcally based." It's amazing how many white people say this, and get it wrong.

    Essentially, the Cress Theory says that racism (white supremacy) is a **system**--a conglomeration of defense mechanisms--that white people have created for the purposes of---and the following term is Dr. Welsing's key concept and true innovation---**white genetic survival**.

    Put another way, humans tend to be brown females. The true minorities, planetarily speaking, are white people, globally.

    Because of this, without a set of harsh restrictions designed to keep people from intermixing, sexually, without limit, after sufficient time, white people would cease to exist as a distinct phenotype. They would be "overrun genetically," so to speak

    At least, says Dr. Welsing, this is the idea with which Europeans came up, especially once they began to press out around the globe, and soon realized that, everywhere they went, there were lots of people, and all of them were non-white.

    There is no "genetic" basis for racism, in her analysis. Racism is a psychological response to the perception of threat.

    That threat is chromosomal, and thus genetic. But the theory does not say the basis of these white actions are genetic.

    It merely says that white people saw they would **cease to exist** without some real control over what non-white people did. Racism (white supremacy) was the fierce and fiery result.

    Produce Justice,
    Harry Allen
    Media Assassin

  19. Thanks Harry. I heard Dr. Welsing speak way back in 1989. While I no longer have my copy of the Isis Papers, I thought it was worth mentioning even though I could not go in depth with her theory.

  20. Thank you for the clarification, Harry. I checked out your site regarding your radio show, which looks interesting, but I couldn't find a podcast--is there one?

    Your clarification of some of Welsing's ideas shows me where my summary of them is off, but not in a way that makes them any more convincing to me. Okay, she sees a psychologically motivated urge, not a genetic one. My further understanding is that according to her, the white perception of threat, and thus the desire to avoid racial mixing and to fight for the survival of the white race, is an unconscious perception. But that makes it hard to prove or disprove, seems to me.

    It's also a strange theory in that the whole idea of a "white race" is actually only a few hundred years old--could such a driving collective fear really be inculcated in such a relatively short time?

    I'd like to hear how her theory accounts for interracial relationships--history is rife with them, and they're on the rise.

    I can't tell if you find her theories credible or not, and you didn't touch her homophobic claims. I'm wondering what you think of her idea that homosexuality is a white invention designed to destroy the black race, and if that is indeed how you interpret her theory on that.

  21. Greetings, all. Harry Allen from Media Assassin ( here:

    To your questions, macon d:

    Q: "I checked out your site regarding your radio show, which looks interesting, but I couldn't find a podcast--is there one?"

    There isn't. I'm a little behind the times, this way. We stream and archive files for a short time. I hope to get this changed eventually.

    Q: "It's also a strange theory in that the whole idea of a 'white race' is actually only a few hundred years old--could such a driving collective fear really be inculcated in such a relatively short time?"

    A: I don't know. I think it's a question worth asking. I guess the issue is, how long *should* such a thing take? In your opinion, say?

    Part of what's interesting, to me, is how, typically, when the Cress Theory (actually "hypothesis" would be more accurate) is brought up, what I see most white people do is either 1) say it's about something that it actually isn't, or 2) say nothing; say, for example, 'That's interesting,' then nothing.

    As such, in those rare instances that the ideas get raised, they don't get the analysis that your question, and these issues, deserve.

    Q: "I'm wondering what you think of her idea that homosexuality is a white invention designed to destroy the black race, and if that is indeed how you interpret her theory on that."

    A: I don't know that this is her theory, nor do I know enough about what homosexuality is to say how, in its details, it ultimately affects non-white people.

    I do believe, however, that the racists (white supremacists) dominate non-white people in all areas: Economics, Education, Entertainment, Labor, Law, Religion, Sex, and War.

    That said, whatever form of sex white supremacists practice, they do so, ultimately, over all non-white people.

    As such, to the degree that any white person is "homosexual," *and* practices white supremacy, *everything* they do, so to speak, "is a white invention designed to destroy the Black race," quote-unquote-unquote-unquote.


  22. "It's also a strange theory in that the whole idea of a "white race" is actually only a few hundred years old--could such a driving collective fear really be inculcated in such a relatively short time?"

    I believe it's a psychological way for whites cope with the shame over slavery and Jim Crow: to blame Blacks. Blacks must be deficient in some way for whites to have abused them so. The old blame-the-victim game.

  23. I am from the United Kingdom and I'm a 20 year old mixed race girl. I am British through and through. My mother is part jamaican, part spanish, part irish, scottish, british, welsh and a very small fraction chinese. My father is half indian, half persian. I have been thought of as indian my whole life, although my hair is very curly. But it's only in America, it seems, that a person with naturally brown skin is seen as completely black with afro-haired parents. And my 'black' aunt had sex with a 'white' man and her son has white skin, blond hair and blue eyes, just like his father. How come it's only ever been 'lighter skinned people' who've asked me where i'm from and if i speak English. IGNORANT AND NOSY.

  24. @ those questioning the "150 years" thing--I think that the PBS/California Newsreel series, "Race: The Power of an Illusion" does a good idea of fleshing out the ways that race "science" and other social and historical factors.

    In terms of "black children" . . . at my alma mater (Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI) this past spring, Dr. Kristal Zook talked about the fact that white mothers of biracial children are now intentionally and insistently identifying their children as "biracial"--forgive me if I'm not quoting her with complete accuracy (I hope Dr. Zook, a former journalist, will forgive me!), but there appears to be a movement among white mothers of biracial children to push for their child's "biracial" identity--

    in other words (again, a complete paraphrase) "My child isn't BLACK--she's BIRACIAL". Which to me stinks of wanting to hold on to whiteness and the privileges it bestows . . .

    here's one interesting blog entry about a series of beauty products created by and for white mothers of "biracial" (NOT BLACK!) children:

  25. I am a light skinned black woman with one of the oldest strains of DNA. Yes, I have been tested. I recently gave birth and my baby has white skin, blond hair and blue eyes. Why? my father is blond and blue eyed, her father is Italian and blue eyed. I live in Europe, so my baby is considered Italian. Do I insist on a black identity or a multiracial identity? I recognize all aspects of my culture and my wish is for my daughter to do the same. One drop rule is dead and it should be because it served no other purpose than to keep people of color in slavery. People of color in America should have a ceremonial burial of this concept of race because it is misleading.

  26. Let's just break it down: It's the privilege. People want privilege for themselves and their children. That's why the white mothers are looking to have their children seen as biracial. I also see why black people get angry when someone wants to pass. It's another reminder that they don't have the same power and that feeling just stinks.

    I just wish people were more honest about the idea of privilege in and of itself. Color and ethnicity is simply how it's played out. In a world where people are competing for perceived scarce resources, one wants all the privilege they can get, and thereby supports any overt connection to privilege, on the chance that one will get a share of those resources. If you and your "group" don't have those privileges and access to resources, then what?

    The sad truth is that the vast majority of white people are getting rooked by their own upper classes for a "privilege" that they will never see. Oh, they'll get a bone here and there, but c'mon. Why isn't every white person rich? Why isn't every white person at Oxford or running a Fortune 500 company? And now that the pool of resources in this country is getting smaller for more white people, what can we expect will happen?

    I imagine that no one would care two figs about color or ethnicity if there were another gauge by which power and resources were divvied up. Privilege. What does that mean to people? Is everyone even going by the same definition? I don't know, but I think it's all worth investigating.


    See the link above. It can happen either way. We don't know why/how...only God knows. I'm not sure why this is even being discussed.

  28. There are some whites unknowingly with black ancestry who are some of the most bigoted racists. There are also some rabid hypocritcal racists who find pleasure in fornicating with those they pretend to hate. Remember Strom Thurmond, yes that creep, who publicly demonstrated his hatred for Blacks while he hid his two-timing with a black woman. Thomas Jefferson had the hots for Sally Hemmings, one of his black slaves, and produced several "mutts" by her.

  29. Im a 27 year old white mother of 2 biracial children. (black and white) It really upsets me that people are saying white women with mixed children refer to their children as "biracial" to hold on to the white part of them. This is obsurd. Why are the children not known as biracial anyway instead of black THAT IS WHAT THEY ARE AND THAT IS WHY WE HOLD ON TO THE TERM "BIRACIAL" My children will be proud of who they are which includes both races not just black like they are automatically considered. My younger daughter who is very light skinned and often mistaken for a white/mexican biracial was hospitalized for a week and because I checked that her father was black. She then became black her arm band said black female? My child isnt only black shes black and white and it really makes me mad that their automatically catagorized as black not because I think the black part is inferior to the white part but because I want them to be able to be who they are. Which is who everybody else wants to be some white people go tanning to get my daughter complexion and some black people bleach their skin to get my daughters complexion what they are is beautiful and its nothing to be ashamed of.

    1. AWESOME!!!!! Thank you for being a beautiful voice above others led by fear!

  30. My middle eastern husband has dark skin but he is not "African-American;" he is of Arab descent. When he ran for our local city council, the local University radio station interviewed him and asked him what it was like to be a candidate "of color." Shortly afterwards we received mail from angry African-Americans demanding to know why he had hidden / turned his back on his African-American heritage. Several of them were angry that he had married a white woman (myself.)

    None of these people actually took the time to LEARN about my husband or they would quickly have discovered that he was born in Iran which is located on the Asian (not African) continent. Instead they decided to become offended about a situation that did not even exist. I guess we are lucky that the Asian-American community did not kick up a fuss about my husband's failure to embrace his "Asian" heritage (despite his lack of typically "Asian" features.)

    Our mixed-race children are beautiful, with caramel skin, brown hair and hazel eyes. Their coloring is darker than mine but lighter than my husband's. Have I given birth to white children? Or Arab children? Children of color? I certainly hope we can move past this whole "labeling people" thing soon.

  31. It's believed that colored people have much stronger gene than the white ones.

  32. I happened upon this website and was totally intrigued. My grandmother is French and my grandfather is a black man from the south. Needless to say after researching my family history my grandfather does have white ancestors and carries a French last name. They have to mother and uncle who are the same color. They both identify as black people. My mother had me with a black man who has irish ancestors and I appear to the world as black and identify as such. My uncle had my cousin with a white woman of Irish decent and he, to the world, appears as white (he has blonde hair and blue eyes). He still identifies as black. My mother and uncle have encouraged us to be who we are and although genetically the white is more prominent in our blood we choose to mark the African American box. Its all about what you as an individual identify with, not what society says you are because of how you look.


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