restricted access 69 Passing for White, Passing for Black
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69 Passing for White, Passing for Black ADRIAN PIPER [T]racing the history of my family is detective work as well as historical research . To date, what I think I know is that our first European-American ancestor landed in Ipswich, Massachusetts, in 1620 from Sussex; another in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1675 from London; and another in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1751 from Hamburg. Yet another was the first in our family to graduate from my own graduate institution in 1778. My great-greatgrandmother from Madagascar, by way of Louisiana, is the known African ancestor on my father's side, as my great-great-grandfather from the Ibo of Nigeria is the known African ancestor on my mother's whose family has resided in Jamaica for three centuries. I relate these facts and it doesn't seem to bother my newly discovered relatives. At first I had to wonder whether this ease of acceptance was not predicated on their mentally bracketing the implications of these facts and restricting their own immediate family ancestry to the European side. But when they remarked unselfconsciously on the family resemblances between us, I had to abandon that supposition. I still marvel at their enlightened and uncomplicated friendliness, and there is a part of me that still can't trust their acceptance of me. But that is a part of me I want neither to trust nor to accept in this context. I want to reserve my vigilance for its context of origin: The other white Americans I have encountered-even the bravest and most conscientious white scholars-for whom the suggestion that they might have significant African ancestry as the result of this country's long history of miscegenation is almost impossible to consider seriously. She's heard the arguments, most astonishingly that, statistically, ... the average white American is 6 percent black. Or, put another way, 95 percent of white Americans are 5 to 80 percent black. Her Aunt Tyler has told her stories about these whites researching their roots in the National Archives and finding they've got an African-American or two in the family, some becoming so hysterical they have to be carried out by paramedics. Perry, Another Present Era Estimates ranging up to 5 percent, and suggestions that up to one-fifth of the white population have some genes from black ancestors, are probably far too high. If these last figures were correct , the majority ofAmericans with some black ancestry would be known and counted as whites! Davis, Who Is Black? The detailed biological and genetic data can be gleaned from a careful review of Genetic Abstracts from about 1950 on. In response to my request for information about this, a white biological anthropologist once performed detailed calculations on the African ad-© 1992. Used by permission. Originally published in 58 Transition 4 (1992). Copyrighted Material 426 Adrian Piper mixture of five different genes, comparing British whites, American whites, and American blacks. The results ranged from 2 percent in one gene to 81.6 percent in another. Abvut these results he commented, "I continue to believe five percent to be a reasonable estimate, but the matter is obviously complex. As you can see, it depends entirely on which genes you decide to use as racial 'markers' that are supposedly subject to little or no relevant selective pressure." Clearly, white resistance to the idea that most American whites have a significant percentage of African ancestry increases with the percentage suggested. "Why, Doctor," said Dr. Latimer, "you Southerners began this absorption before the war. I understand that in one decade the mixed bloods rose from one-ninth to one-eighth of the pop- ~tlation, and that as early as 1663 a law was passed in Maryland to prevent English women from intermarrying with slaves; and, even now, your laws against miscegenation presuppose that you apprehend danger from that source. " Harper, lola Leroy (That legislators and judges paid increasing attention to the regulation and punishment of miscegenation at this time does not mean that interracial sex and marriage as social practices actually increased in frequency; the centrality of these practices to legal discourse was instead a sign that their relation to power was changing. The extent of uncoerced miscegenation before this period is a debated issue.) Eva Saks, "Representing Miscegenation Law," Raritan The fact is, however, that the longer a person's family has lived in this country, the higher the probable percentage of African ancestry that person's family is likely to havebad news...


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