A recent Institute of History, Archaeology, and Education (IHARE) article has the provocative title What Race is Meghan Markle? What about Sally Hemmings?
The author, Peter Feinman, notes that “developments in naming black people have been… convoluted.” And not just in the United States – Cuba, Brazil, Venezuela all have similar issues.
“Sally Hemmings was 75% white and 25% black. She had a white father and a biracial mother. She had three white grandparents and six white great-grandparents. These numbers are important because Virginia in the 18th century did not adhere to the one-drop rule. Instead it had the 7/8 or 87.5% rule. That means if seven of your eight great-grandparents were white then you were white legally. Sally Hemmings at six great-grandparents fell short of this standard. However, if she and Thomas Jefferson or any Jefferson had a child, then that child legally would be white… at least under the 18th tury standards. Times would change.”
Of course, white Americans have their own racial confusion, especially after the onslaught of DNA testing. See They Considered Themselves White, But DNA Tests Told a More Complex Story (Washington Post, 2/6/18).
In the US, the term “Asian” is historically inaccurate. About the only people from the continent of Asia who AREN’T considered Asian are the folks from Afghanistan and westward, the very lands conquered by Alexander the Great and dubbed Asia.
Peter Feinman suggests the answer to the title question is Yes. “We know we are going to do it so why pretend otherwise. With DNA testing the answers will become even more precise… Given that we are going to classify people based on race other than human, what races should we use?… We need to do a better job classifying people and we need to do it before the 2020 census confuses the issue even more.”
Well, that conversation, I believe, is already evolving. Since a 1997 OMB mandate, the ability to choose more than one race on Census and other forms has been available. On the 2000 census, 2.4% of people selected two or more races. By 2010, it was up to 2.9%. I will be very interested to see what the 2020 data will show, but given the increase in “mixed” marriages, I suspect the number will be well above 4%. What that will mean societally, I don’t know.