Remember when President Barack Obama won in 2008 and pundits started asking if the United States was post-racial because we had a Black man in the White House?
Well, people like Dr. Yaba Blay (pictured) knew better.
Blay, an assistant teaching professor of Africana Studies at Drexel University, explores Black racial identity and the politics of skin color with her creative and thought-provoking (1)ne Drop project.
The one-drop rule refers to the centuries-old rule that deemed anyone with any sort of African heritage to be Black, even if you are of mixed heritage. It’s the idea that one drop of Black blood makes you Black. The rule is still alive and well today, which has been discussed by people of mixed heritage like Obama and Halle Berry.
And it’s an issue we play out with one another. Four hundred years after Blacks were first brought to this country as slaves, it wasn’t uncommon for African Americans to discriminate against one another based on the color of their complexions. Just look at the complexions of women considered to be attractive in the media productions of African Americans. How many of our politicians are dark-skinned?
“Many of us would like to believe that we have a Black President and it’s how many years since enslavement and that we’ve come a long way and these things don’t matter,” said Blay.
Nobody knows how untrue that is more than Blay herself who was born to Ghanaian parents and raised in New Orleans.
“In New Orleans, skin color politics is at the forefront of our social relationships. So from a very young age I was made very aware that I was dark skinned,” said Blay.
Enter Blay’s (1)ne Drop Project.
“The (1)ne Drop Project is a multi-platform project that seeks to challenge narrow perceptions of what Blackness is and what Blackness looks like. It’s this interesting combination of photography, personal memoir, and historical information to delve in to people’s identities,” Blay added.
There were simply less choices when the one-drop rule was more strictly enforced. If you had African heritage, you were Black. There were always those with African heritage who could pass, but the one-drop rule “historically has come to define Blackness,” said Blay.
But today there is a choice to be multi-racial, which hasn’t always existed.
“How do we interact with people when we are not really clear about what race they are and what culture they are from or their ethnicity?” Blay asked.
Blay also discovered there is a flipside to the one-drop rule.
“There are benefits that come with having dark skin. There are benefits that come with being of one race — that I walk into a room and nobody is questioning me about my identity,” said Blay.
Blay recently explored some of these questions on “Who Is Black in America?” another installment of CNN’s “Black in America” series that she produced. For tackling all these sticky issues, Blay is the Shine Awards Smarter Than Average winner.
“We have come to understand our Blackness much larger than a legal classification and so I’m trying to give voice to that,” said Blay.
“It’s something that we need to talk about and it’s something we need to heal from.”
Watch Blay talk about Blackness here: