As a mixed race person who makes a point to inform everyone about her race, I take a slight issue with the fact that President Obama has not made a concerted effort to correct the public regarding his ethnicity. However, I understand why he might not. Unlike me, he looks black and moreover, the “One-Drop Rule” is more apparent in the tone of his skin more than it is mine.
What I recently learned was that the term initially started out being used for children of Blacks and American Indians in Virginia in 1705. Most who are familiar with the term are more inclined to know that in the early 1900's, a law was adopted by many states that stated if people had more than one eighth African ancestry (in some states it was one forth), they were considered to be African Black. Much of this started in during slavery and later with Jim Crow segregation. An interesting note about the “One-Drop Rule” is that it only applied to Blacks in the United States. Foreigners have often asked why Americans recognize those who have a multi-racial background by their true heritage and instead lump them into a category based on their skin color.
This is also how the term “mulatto” became so popular and came to include children whose parents were black and white, respectively. The term was initially used to identify a child of a “pure” African and a “pure” white. Examples of those known as mulatto when the term was coined include Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglas, both of whom had slave mothers and white fathers.
The term is not used as much as it used to be, but does make an appearance. It did exist as an official census category until 1930. Personally, I did not know about the term until I was about twenty-three, and in the midst of an identity crisis. However, an interesting note is that the term is now used in a broader sense and transcends many mixed backgrounds and is typically interchanged with the term “turk”. In the 2000 Census, approximately 6200 Americans identified themselves with “mulatto” ancestry. In the last fifty years, most people with mixed heritage have identified themselves as “multiracial”, “mixed”, or “biracial”.
Getting back to the President, his mother is white and from Kansas and his father is African and from Kenya. The President, by definition, is mulatto. While the “One-Drop Rule” would indicate that he is Black, the Rule is ignored by the courts today and therefore the President would not have to be considered black. However, we mulattoes sometimes make the choice to identify with one part of our ancestry over another. President Obama has chosen to do that. While I may not agree with that, it is his choice. Do we have our first mulatto President? Yes. First black President… well, sorta.
For more Census information:
Sources and additional reads: