My Son vs. Plessy and the “One Drop Rule”

My oldest son came home from school today and asked what the “one drop rule” was, and I seriously had to breathe, because who tells these kids these things. No matter how much you try and censor what information they’re exposed to, once they go to school, you simply have no control anymore. But, now that left the hard part to me: how to explain to my 8-year-old what the “one drop rule” meant. I proceeded to tell him there once was a man named Homer Plessy, who was only 1/8 black.

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He bought a first class ticket, and sat on a train in an area that was marked “whites only.” Of course that prompted him to ask, “like Rosa Parks?” I told him that this was long before Rosa Parks, that this was the beginning of that separation. I told him that even though Plessy was made up of mostly French ancestry, to most back then, all that matter was that one drop of Haitian blood, and for that, he was not allowed to partake in the “white only” sections.

Except then he asked me, “but, Momma this was a long time ago, it doesn’t matter anymore, right?” Unfortunately, I couldn’t lie, so I nodded my head “yes” because it did still matter, and after I quickly cataloged all the racist things that we all still hear today. Like the website and tweets about the mixed (mother African-American, and father Danish) actress, Amandla Stenberg being cast as Rue in Suzanne Collin’s, Hunger Games.

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I’m definitely going to call him racist because how can her death mean less just because she’s black. Worst, there are a ton more tweets like this. I’ll warn you now, beware of the language, it may offend.

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How can they say these things when Amandla Stenberg is so beautiful, and her acting in this role was outstanding?

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I thought how terrible people were to say those things about that beautiful 12-year old girl, but then thought of the assassination polls on Facebook when Obama first took office in 2008. Not assassination polls to kill the president, but how to murder his then 10-year-old daughter, Malia, and 7-year-old daughter, Sasha. Who does that, and why? Facebook left the poll up for a while citing that they don’t step in and violate people’s 1st Amendment Rights. It wasn’t until National Security forced the poll down did Facebook appease.

Then I thought how just recently a West Virginian mayor claimed she was happy to have a classy woman back in the white house because she was tired of looking at an “ape in heels.”

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I think of all the blatant racism that still exists, the general inequality for anyone who is different, for any reason, and while Plessy vs Ferguson was a long time ago, over 100 years, there is a lot that still exists today.

This conversation was making me worry that maybe I had no way of protecting him, or my other two children. That the part of me that I gave them was going to be the cause of so much pain. I was about to tell him that he was never allowed to have dreads, or cornrows, never allowed to dress in baggy, or tight clothes either because they will perpetuate stereotypes, and that freedom of expression was a privilege he may never fully get. I was about to tell him that when he’s old enough to drive, I was going to enforce a curfew of 10PM because any later could involve racial profiling with law enforcement, and it just wasn’t safe until he interrupted my thoughts with, “It’s okay, Mom. I’ll just be like Homer Plessy and do something about it. I’m going to play basketball now,” and quickly ran away. In that moment, I’ll admit, I was sort of proud and filled with hope that by the time he was an adult, things would be even better until my three year old daughter walked in and thought, “Ugh, things are even worse for her.” How can I ever win!?!

4 Comments

  1. I feel your pain. I broke down one morning after telling my 6 y/o he couldn’t pull his hood up if it isn’t raining or freezing. I never thought I’d have to have these type of conversations. It’s truly heartbreaking.

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