- Published: 25 June 2019 25 June 2019
Just as an historian of medieval France must keep in the front of her mind that in the Middle Ages there was no France, only a smattering of feudal lands that would one day become France, so a student of Reconstruction must be cognizant that the firm racial binary Americans accept to this day is a result of Jim Crow, not a cause of it. The one-drop rule--the concept that any trace of African ancestry at all makes an American "a negro"--was not even conjured until the 1850s and was not widely accepted until the early twentieth century. It is only bcause mixed-race activists were defeated in their valiant effort to stop a regime of race-based rights that contemporary Americans view society through the racial blinders that we do. Today, decades after the dismantling of Jim Crow, Americans still see our society and ourselves in binary terms of "white" and "colored." That our racial system is second nature to us but incomprehensible to the rest of teh world--even to people from other New World societies that once practiced slavery but never instituted Jim Crow--should highlight for us how peculiar it is.
--Daniel Brook, The Accident of Color: A Story of Race in Reconstruction (W. W. Norton& Company, 2019)