SHADES OF A RAINBOW: America’s Slippery Slope of the “One-Drop Rule” and the “First Black President”

“The United States is the only country in the world in which a white woman can give birth to a black baby but a black woman cannot give birth to a white baby.”  (Stephan Thernstrom, Winthrop Research Professor of History at Harvard University)

First, it began with the kitchen-table whispers of adults in various homes of friends and family.  Then, the hushed insinuations became more discernible within the visions of my mind, even names- but, not the faces- you recognized within their flights of fantasy about who must have slept with whom, and when, as well as how, among the racial muck and mire of the upper part of the Deep South.

Later, I began to understand that it must have been the way that race horses were bred in the Antebellum South, in Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region, as well as black women captured or duped within the Atlantic Slave Trade- like “thoroughbreds” of an abominable racial pedigree, from the ancient wombs of Ghana, Mali, Songhai and Timbuktu, defiled and contaminated within the perverted lust for the power of the gun and a twisted Eurocentric belief in Anglo-Saxon superiority.

As a child, growing up in the waning years of Old Jim Crow, by the time you were in the 5th grade, the vicious school-house recess rumors were full-blown episodes of black families with white grandparents, “high yellow” cousins and fair-skinned stepbrothers and sisters on the other side of the river, or proverbial railroad tracks. These were the accepted, and often rejected, by-products of a peculiar hybrid manifestation of racism- the problem of race and color in America, somewhere along the continuum of being Colored, Negro and Black and now African-American or, on occasion, even Mixed Race.

Some journey… But, frankly, those were the thoughts that loomed in my mind when all the hoopla began about mixed-race heritage and the “first black president,” during Barack Obama’s first run for the White House Oval Office, in 2008. For me, being an African-American with truncated roots in Africa, America AND Europe, the whole idea behind some sort of racial purity in the United States has always been a colossal joke, something the mongrelized, pea-brain racial purists and pragmatic realist will probably quibble about forever. It’s also why I felt that pinning a racial label on the president would be tricky and precarious, at best, given the complexities of our nation’s racial past. 

But, I’ll leave all that for the geneticist and pseudo-pedigree peddlers to argue, since I truly believe that we’re all some part-50th cousin to everybody else in the world. And, the kalideoscope of colors and skin-tones in America, alone, suggest that many folk have been in denial and “whistling dixie” for ages. In fact, I used to gauge where some white co-workers’ heads were at, by calling them “cousin,” at times, sort of a workplace barometer to test various mindsets and sensitivities. Depending on their response, I knew they were probably accepting of reality or simply “whistling dixie” within the limited social and business interactions we experienced.

Silly Conjecture? 

It’s also why the idea of President Barack Hussein Obama being the “first black president” of these United States is laughable to me, especially considering the facts and research surrounding the arguably five or six “black presidents,” tinted by the “One-Drop Rule,” which preceded him. His being the “first” infers that the premise is a foregone conclusion in a society chock-full of debatable ancestry.

I’m not trying to shake up anyone’s pedigree chart or other illusions about where they came from, or who they really are, but let me explain where I’m coming from.

At a time in which America seems to be teetering on the edge of politicized economic extinction, it’s becoming clearer that race and ethnicity seem to be our nation’s number one problem, still, if you read between the lines of the political pundits and nut-ball critics of the current president’s administration. And, the issue seems systemic to our mongrelized bloodlines. Yes, “mongrelized,” pure and simple. Of course the so-called “blue blood” families of our society would beg to differ on this idea.

The “One-Drop Rule,” alone is enough to drive a sane person crazy, let alone the hushed idea and experiments with eugenics (the pseudo-science of improving the human species), coupled with convoluted laws against miscegenation (race mixing) in America, spun into existence within the colonies of the Antebellum South.

Oh, I nearly forgot, we don’t speak this way in our modern-day, multi-cultural society.  I mean, we don’t speak this way, anymore.  It’s blasphemous. But, trailing in the wake of our nation’s various “Black Code Laws” (1860’s), when “Jim Crow” was alive and flourishing- between the period after the Civil War (1880’s) and the Civil Rights Movement (1960’s), such profane community speak was commonplace or common thought, perhaps even somewhat sacred, among the lingering Antebellum Era diehards.  It was also popular in confederated slave states bent on secessionism and profit maximization on the backs of slave labor, according to my review of history.

According to my research and additional insights passed on through my ancestors and certain professors, the “One-Drop Rule” was once used in America, incredibly, to pigeon-hole a person, supposedly with “one drop of black or African blood,” in order to advance the cause of white supremacy and to assign children of mixed-race sexual unions to a socio-economic group of lesser status than society’s prevailing status quo. But, its effect is still felt, today.

As a child, I still recall the silly little ditty we sang among ourselves: “If you white, you’re alright, if you brown, stick around, if you black, get back… get back, get back, man!” And, we always cracked up behind it. Shucks, at ages 8, 9 and 10, little did we understand the dynamics behind the power of suggestion, especially as it applied to improving the lives of a white supremacist status quo, during the days and reign of ole Jim Crow.

Delusional Pedigree

Now, I realize I’m probably shaking up the pedigree-illusion world of many Americans, black, white or otherwise. But, we don’t seem to be able to, or simply won’t, talk to each other in serious tones regarding race.  It’s probably why we’ve wound up on the brink of politicized economic extinction, or suicide.

After all, what other expected outcomes were there,as we approach the re-election of our nation’s so-called “first black president,” on the heels of an unprecedented, GOP-led sabotage of America’s economic recovery and everything our president has attempted! The brink and the re-election must be devastating to the fearful, lingering Antebellum Era mindset, which is apparently hovering over the horribly failed 112th Congress. It is quantifiably the least productive, most divisive Congress, passing the fewest laws of any previous congressional session, to date.

Yet, here’s the funny part.  From what I recall, the “One-Drop Rule” claimed that anyone having at least one-eighth black blood or African ancestry was labeled as legally black. I guess that meant anyone with less than one-eighth African ancestry was legally white. But, how in the heck was this all measured within a society which, back then, was known to have serious flaws in keeping records of birth, death and marriage.  I recall that Florida once claimed to have the oldest records of vital statistics, only going back to 1865. And, between 1790 and 1840, when the U.S. Census Office was established (forerunner of the U.S. Census Bureau), the census was taken by a decentralized system of regional representatives or marshals which missed a lot of folk. 

We honor Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas in 1492.  However, historical documentation exists for expeditionary visits to these shores, by others, many years earlier. But, we did in-fact declare our independence from Great Britain, on July 4, 1776, long before the U.S. Census office was established.

Given this backdrop, it’s interesting that President Barack Obama is even considered as the “first black president.”  You see, even during slavery and before records of vital statistics and census were being kept, most people were accepted within, or rejected from, membership in the so-called white majority culture, based on their appearance, or degree of visibility towards blackness or whiteness. Back then, in early Colonial America, many people, black and white and Native-American, did not keep good records of ancestry. As I child, even I instinctively knew this, based on my crude observations and various kitchen table conversations.

So, I think it stands to reason that somebody classified as legally black, who probably looked white, might have been president long before President Barack Obama was even born.  And, I can just hear the naysayers and racial purists, with their political spins and shams, and their squirming behinds in neo-Confederate seats, trying to explain their allegiance to an earlier presidency- which happened to be black. But, the idea of a black president before President Obama is not such a foreign idea and has long been speculated and, some say, recently proven via strenuous research by scholars and historians, black and white.  

When I was a child, certain folk in the community were known to be “passing” for white. It was their choice, pure and simple, to avoid the social misery and difficulties associated with being considered black and a 2nd class citizen in a society geared for a status quo of wretched white supremacists, as well as decent-leaning white citizenry. So, I wasn’t surprised when running across research which strongly suggested that up to six presidents in the United States, before President Obama, may have been legally black.

Plausible Heritage

It now seems that contemporary historians are all over the place on the whiteness or blackness of the following presidents:  (1) Thomas Jefferson, (2) Andrew Jackson, (3) Abraham Lincoln, (4) Warren Harding, (5) Calvin Coolidge and (6) Dwight E. Eisenhower. As for their alleged racial heritages, I have friends who simply say “C’mon man….” dismissing the possibility altogether. Independent historians, some call “amateur,” and historians of the status quo, alike, argue for and against theorems and research published on the curious ancestry of these individuals.

But, whether or not you give any credence to the “Six Black Presidents: Black Blood: White Masks USA” (by Dr. Auset Bakhufu, 338 pgs, 1st, Ed published Jan 1993, Pik2 Publishing) or “The five Negro Presidents: According to what White People Said They Were (by Joel Augustus Rogers, 19-page pamphlet, published May 1965, Publisher:  Helga Rogers), it’s reasonable to allow for the likelihood that between one and six black presidents may have been in office, based on historical research and the existence of the “One-Drop Rule,” as well as the hierarchy of color in Colonial America, where white or lighter skin tones always carried a higher value than black or  darker skin. 

There’s even a widely rejected view, as hoax, by historians and biographers, of a seventh black president, John Hanson, rumored to be a Moor and chosen by Congress, in 1781, to run the country as the 1st President of the Continental Congress (a ceremonial position before the Executive Branch was established in 1789 and before George Washington became president). They also tend to reject much of the claims regarding African ancestry in American presidents.  Yet, they readily acknowledge our nation’s nagging legacy and hushed realities of interracial relationships and secret sexual liaisons. 

Cultural Rainbow/ Shades of Color

It’s also interesting that many of the first Europeans that came to the United States were, like Africans and Native Americans, not exactly white and were considered to be minorities.  Over the years, the Immigration services and self-identification within the census-taking process seem to have gradually accepted or claimed many immigrants with dark-skinned heritage as being classified as white after a few generations, even as the minority population in the U.S. continues to grow. 

In my lifetime, I’ve seen racial identification within my own family and families of friends first collectively use, then gradually eliminate, such terms as mulatto (1/2 black), quadroon (1/4 black), octoroon (1/8 black), half-breed, etc., when referring to our ancestors or conditions during the Jim Crow years.  And, I still marvel and often laugh at how my light-skinned paternal grandfather, of Scotch-Irish ancestry, often called mulatto or white, and my cinnamon-brown-skinned grandmother, of Coastal West African and Cherokee Indian ancestry, traveled in different railroad cars, pretending they didn’t know each other, when traveling by train from Ohio to visit our home in Kentucky. It was no big thing, back then, just part of an every-day survival skill-set, during the segregation years. But, it’s almost laughable, today. 

But, when I look around at the rainbow of skin-tones, open eyes and softened hearts in America, today, I’m puzzled.  I wonder how we ever arrived at this stage in our nation’s development one political party seems bent on bringing  people together, while another seems to be tracking backwards, aiming to retract or reverse old civil rights legislation. It seems to be oblivious to the racial reality of the expanding minority communities which they continue to slander and offend with despicable racist and sexist rhetoric, filled with bald-face lies and calculated distortions.

I’m puzzled. Yet, I understand all the reasons why, given the harshness of our racial past and the lingering attitudes of an Antebellum mindset, stuck on stupid and some notion of Anglo-Saxon superiority and “blue blood” pedigree.  This includes the unfounded fears of racial retributions or reversed abuses of political power, as well as the assorted predictions for a coming race war, all stemming from the cultural ignorance in America from not being able to talk in serious tones about race to each other.

That’s why I’m happy to cast my vote for the re-election of President Barack Obama, no matter what he calls himself. A vote for O-B-A-M-A is a vote for progress, not regress and certainly not a return to the Jim Crow and Antebellum mindset of yesteryear. It’s a vote for a rainbow of possibilities, like the colorful, mythological Phoenix, arising out of the ashes from our ugly past. 

Wake up America, a V-O-T-E  F-O-R  O-B-A-M-A is a vote for an America we all already know and love.  It’s not the hate-filled, divisive America apparently envisioned by certain race-baiting politicians, pseudo-journalists and fake television-news shows. Rather, it’s the people-loving and caring America which is slow to anger, but quick in kindness, at home and abroad. 

Ask yourself, what does your cultural and social quotient really tell you when hearing that black people vote for our president only because he’s black, when they’ve voted for previous presidents who happened to be white– or, mostly white, depending on your interpretation of the “One-Drop Rule”?


Could it be simply because of the content of his character and gist of his political party’s platform which, when compared to the flip-flopping flaps of his opponent and his party’s platform, earns President Obama the trust of many citizens within every color and shades of color, within the spectrum of America’s- and, the world’s- cultural and racial rainbow.  

Ask yourself, do the people who seem to hate President Obama truly hate him- or, within the slippery slope of America’s “One-Drop Rule,” they somehow hate themselves?

Backstreet Djeli w.d.s.


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About William "Duke" Smither (formerly, pen name: "Backstreet Djeli")

William "Duke" Smither, author of “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior, in the Shadows of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade,” is a Frankfort Kentucky native; Richmond Virginia resident. Retired Public Utility Sr. Investigator and nuclear site worker, Married w/ 3 children and 6 grandchildren; U.S. Navy Viet Nam Era & Cuban Missile Crisis Veteran; Member of "Cuban Blockade Survivors" & The American Legion; B.S. Degree (Business Mgmt) w/ independent studies in Ancient African History and African-American History. Post-graduate studies in Criminal Justice Administration. Former Sports & Feature writer for the weekly Richmond Afro-American Newspaper, during Freshman year of college. Retirement activities include: Freelance writer, playwright, actor and director of faith-based community theater productions; founder of "Backstreet's Blog" ("Talking Drum Dialogues") at and contributing writer for "BlackPast.Org," the international, on-line reference center for African American History. His debut novel, “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior…,” is the first installment of a possible historical-fiction trilogy.