Why does 50% white and 50% black equal black?

Posted by | July 11, 2009 | america | 8 Comments

beckhamandwhitneyWhy is the darker woman on the left called white and the relatively similar featured lighter woman on the right called black?
One of the things that struck me about the controversy surrounding Michael Jackson’s bleached skin and thinned features (the latter co-incidence suggesting the former wasn’t just vitiligo) was how extremely stereotypical racial classification is and how much it has to do with history. Michael Jackson ended up looking like a cartoon of a white woman.
In the US if you are of partially African and partially European decent you are most likely to be called black, suggesting that there is a notion of being ‘tainted’. The very fact that the half white, half black, President Obama is called black is proof of this prejudice.
The reverse is not quite the same. A person is often not tainted white in Africa as we will see with Obama’s trip there this week. That is not to say that people from various African nations are less prejudiced, just that the prejudices tend not to apply to ‘American Africans’ a term which shows the arbitrariness of African American and that the groupings where prejudices apply depend on local history.
The grouping of an entire continent which contains the majority of the worlds racial diversity, under one umbrella term ‘African’ is also an absurdity arising from the cruel fact that many people’s origins have been erased beyond the ability to pick a continent.
A randomly picked person from Africa will be as genetically different from another African as a randomly picked non-African. Someone from Ethiopia will typically have thin features and a Bushman may have fairer skin that Victoria Beckham’s tan. At the very least what it is to be black or white is blurred.
Victoria Beckham is a good way to illustrate this absurdity as the picture above demonstrates adequately. Both her features and skin tone appearing no more or less African than Whitney Houston in the picture above. Yet one is ‘black’ woman and the other is a ‘white’ woman.


  • Satan Mayo says:

    Both her features and skin tone appearing no more or less African than Whitney Houston in the picture above.

    Generally when talking about African-Americans (descendents of slaves), who aren’t descended from Ethiopians, the word “features”, for this purpose, means “nose”. And Whitney Houston’s nose is broad, making her look African-American.

  • bne says:

    Special request: I need honest comments on American perception of "average Russian"

  • dagny says:

    I have to disagree with your opinion that mixed race Americans are tainted by having some Black ancestry as I believe they consider themselves to be Black, as Obama does.

  • admin says:


    “I have to disagree with your opinion that mixed race Americans are tainted by having some Black ancestry as I believe they consider themselves to be Black, as Obama does.”

    I believe the tainting is not what people themselves think but what others do. Being black and proud is an independent idea from persecuting people. But I agree that your premise is possible, if not true.

    I think your argument holds with being Irish which was once a tainted heritage and is now a prestige one in America as evidenced by the fact that more people claim to be Irish than could possibly be without an Irish heritage being a minority percentage in genealogical terms [There are ten times as many (40M) Americans that call themselves Irish Americans than actual Irish people in Ireland (4.1M)]

    It is true that the mysterious fact that 50% black 50% white always = black could be to do with prestige rather than tainting but the continuing history of racism suggests that tainting is what is happening (i.e. as a result of people having been told they are black historically, rather than choosing to be so).

    Like all things to do with emotional subjects such as race, note that I am not endorsing this abhorrent behavior by commenting on its existence.

  • carrie says:

    Michael Jackson looked like a cartoon of a white woman? Victoria Beckham has ended up looking like a cartoon of a white woman.
    In the pictures, one might be a ‘black’ woman and one a ‘white’ woman, but neither of them look like real women.
    Would Hilary be doing a different job if she’d Botox’d those harsh frown lines and lifted her face to look 10 years younger?

  • Maharet says:

    “Why is the darker woman on the left called white and the relatively similar featured lighter woman on the right called black?” What a great question. It’s actually a fairly easy answer.

    One has to relax her hair to straighten it, the other just uses a blow-dryer or a flat iron. Simple.
    One has the nose “people” have come to associate with black people, the other has a nose people have come to associate with white people. Both have had SERIOUS nose jobs too, but that has nothing to do with anything.
    One uses cocoa butter to moisturize her chalky skin (or other special items for skin higher in melanin than others), the other one can use anything.
    One turns very dark brown (real brown, not tan) in the sun and the other turns COMPLETELY white in the dark. (hahaha, i’m funny. i love me.)
    One eats chicken and waffles the other each fish and chips.

    Also, one does crack the other most likely Adderal or Vicodin…. what…is that mean?

    Yes, it’s mean…it’s also disgusting and what’s wrong with the world we live in today. Until people stop categorizing each other or stereotyping each other the world around us will never change. This Majority vs Minority issue in the US is vicious, ignorant and never ending. Personally I take offense to being called a Minority as if being “white” is superior to “others”. What a pathetic and disgusting trait yet we allow it. We the “minorities” allow other people to categorize us and lump us together with others as if we understand our place in white society.

    It’s bullshit. Rich vs Poor is what it really comes down to and that has nothing to do with color. Stop letting other people call you a Minority. Imagine youโ€™re a filthy stinking rich Mexican with a great background from a lovely family and a superb education. You allow youself to be called a Minority in this country? How truly stupid are you? Seriously…

  • L says:

    OK I realise this is a dead thread but i just have to express my opinion here.

    Im English and Im white. Middle class if you think that still exists ! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Im not going to turn this into some social paper (it evidently already is or is just someone who is VerRy bored)..

    1) When I was at school there were mostly white people with a couple of africans and a few asians. This was to be expected – after all indiginously we are a country whos skin appears white. The level of curiosity for these people was huge! We asked them all sorts of questions… we studied thier looks, manerisms and culture.. becuase we were curious and fascinated in a really good way. They were fine with it and took it as sweet really – and it gave them a huge amount of credability in a way.. becuase they were special and unique AND one of us..

    2) I think i know whats going on here. When I go on holiday to another country..you stick out as being different. It puts you on edge.. even though you know that most likely the residents arent thinking saying behaving in any other way than ordinary to them. Your opinion about what they consider oridnary may vastly differ. If I was to then live in this new country.. there would still be this feeling that I was different. I would then probably seek out Xpat communities (like some English do in spain or irish in …everywhere ๐Ÿ™‚ to reinforce what i knew what i felt was comfortable. etc. 2 generations later.. I have embedded a subculture into the existing community. Thats fine I mean everyone is entitled to their heritage. Everyone also kind of has a responsibiity to respect the culture and community that they have adopted too. I become a little concerned that SOME 3rd generation asian families over here speak little English and only mix with other asian people by no means is this the norm.. but it happens.. and well.. i feel kind of like we are being used as a country for our benefits rather than being adopted as a community. same goes for english non spanish speakers in spain. Anyway I digress, at school then for those 3rd generation’s children – they begin to stick together with those who also have a heritage the same as theirs.. they form a group.. you know how kids can get.. and others get shunned. Perhaps the shunned call them names for being exclusive.. and then the group retaliates.. and low and behold you have developed a practise of segrigation with members from each group slanging the other. Some kids dont do that – some kids and families just mix right in and dont instill this need for a long gone culture. Lots of asians for example here cant even speak any other language (me as a language fiend think thats sad!!! but its up to them isnt it). This to me is what has happened in America. The worst thing is… that for some unknown reason (I think its becuase you helped us out 70 years ago???!! ) we get absolutley saturated with American TV over here and American culture.. and the kids .. theyve got a tinge of cultural segregation going on already .. then they see it double tripled from you guys.. and it sends them over the top..

    3) the backlash.. white people trying to stop being marginalised. The emergence of gangs in this country is really worrying. Whether its to do with saturation from USA culture gone awry… or if its to do with kids trying to fit in … thing is.. and im going to put this bluntly… If you are an indiginous person living in your country (for arguments sake lets say a white person in britain – i know how that sounds by the way .. but its easier than explaining things with other cultural issues being taken into account). you dont really notice your own culture… it just IS right? Same in Africa or whereever I imagine. So the emergence of all these subcultures… and segregation issues triggers something along the lines of them wanting to fit in.. to be a part of something. And hence you get many kids trying to emulate the behaviours of the subcultures either by completely adopting their view , procedure / prejudices or by forming their own group with similar behaviours – mostly becuase they feel threatened. They have no obvious culture to fall back on …

    4) I have been the victim of racism many times. Groups of one particular group of people living in this country mentioning no names becuase i have loads of really good friends from the same group (not that i even recognise it as that in day to day thinking), have spat on me as i innocently walked past. have called me “spook”… have keyed my sisters car. Have punched me when i was trying to help them get up. Um.. this is really sad.. and has actually traumatised me somewhat.. naturally.. the English culture is really soft and gentle we wouldnt say boo to a goose excpet if you’re from east london ;)… I wouldnt dream of treating ANYONE differently becuase of how they looked or talked or danced or what music they listened too… !! How silly is that.. we’re all human!

    5) so my answer to your question is that its a cultural thing.. (hmm Is Whitney mixed race i wonder ? gosh there’s my curiosity going again). Microsignals . We dont necessarily read Whitney as being black but of being from an afro? american culture – whereas we (dismally) read Posh’s culture as being superficial er no .. er being Anglo- saxon. people will read different aspects of what it IS to be anglosaxon or african american or whatever else. In a way its less of a marginalisation and potentially more of a respect.. mixed in with a little prestige if you ask me. Look at mariah carey.. she calls herself black apparently. Everyone likes to be special and unique and different from all the rest just a little bit dont they? Like those millions of Irish Americans (hahaa ahh makes me laff becuase – whats wrong with being just American?!)

    6) at some point in the future though.. we are going to have to probably call a halt on old subcultures and make way for new ones.. i.e. regional ones rather than ones based on the long gone past.

    hope this has contributed in some small way.. (touch of english modesty for you.. i hope its contributed in some big way too! ๐Ÿ™‚ sorry bout typos and hope you liked my USA lingo (“slanging, guys, kids,”) ๐Ÿ˜€

  • emma says:

    I’m mixed race and British.
    This post brings up an interesting point that I’ve actually brought up to my family (I would never do it with friends though). I can’t understand why African Americans have to attach the prefix to their identity. It doesn’t make sense. They are American, and you’re point about African being much more diverse and complex is so true; it is ignorant to categorise everyone black into one group. White people hardly ever do it; if you were Swedish people might take note, but I wonder if you were from Tanzania or Bangladesh would they just categorise you as African or Asian? If that’s the case then that person has ultimately belittled your true identity.
    Being mixed race I only really identify myself as black in formal situations. Most of the time, I don’t try to categorise myself too much, there’s no point. I’m English and I’m certainly not white but nor am I black, so please be respectful of my identity and yes ask me what I am if you must but I will respond mixed race happily and proudly, because like the people from countries people cannot be bothered to identify, there is more to me than just my skin.
    btw I don’t mean to sound preachy, and the posts on here have actually mostly all been really thoughtful and positive but i’m happy that someone’s finally addressing this.