One of the more interesting bits of knowledge that has emerged from the Psychoanalytic study of the mind over the last century is that unconscious conflicts can often be expressed in two diametrically opposed outcomes. The classic example is of the young child's hatred toward a new baby who displaces him form the center of his mommy's universe. The child would like to kill the baby (loving feelings toward a sibling develop much later and sometimes never develop at all) and often makes aggressive actions toward the intruder. There is a reason that wise parents do not leave 2 year olds alone with newborn siblings. Very quickly the young child learns that aggression toward the sibling is met with disapproval by the parents. The aggression must first be suppressed. The child denies he hates his baby brother; in fact, he might "love him to death" and occasionally hug his new rival just a bit ore strongly than is comfortable for the newborn. Recognizing that the leakage of aggression is met with displeasure, the mind must then exercise a more effective defense; a "reaction formation" occurs in which the hatred is turned into its opposite and buried underneath affection. "I don't hate my new sibling, I love him!" Eventually, when the defense works, the youngster believes it and in fact does come to love his sibling.
On a larger level society often has difficulty coming to terms with conflicted beliefs. The Civil war was fought because society came tot he understanding that slavery is a moral blight and that no man could be held in bondage in a nation which purported to celebrate Freedom. The legal freeing of the slaves required a war but the conflicted feelings toward the Negro persisted (and persists.) In the hundred years after the Civil war it was widely accepted that Negroes were inferior. One reflection of this belief was the "One Drop Rule" which held that anyone with even one drop of "Negro blood" was considered a Negro.
The one-drop rule is a historical colloquial term in the United States for the social classification as black of individuals with any African ancestry; it is an example of hypodescent, the automatic assignment of children of a mixed union between different socioeconomic or ethnic groups to the group with the lower status. The one-drop rule was put into law in the twentieth century, for instance in Virginia under the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 (following the passage of similar laws in numerous other states). Despite the strictures of slavery, in the antebellum years free people could have up to one-eighth to one-quarter African ancestry (depending on the state) and be considered legally white. Community acceptance, carrying out community responsibilities, and appearance were often the most important factors if a person's racial status were questioned.
Similarly in the United States, people of partial Native American descent were usually classified as Native American. In the early years of these types of unions and marriages, the fathers were usually European and the mothers Native American. Most Native American tribes had matrilineal descent systems, so within those communities, they also considered the children to belong to the mother's people.
You see, unfortunately, I am not black. There are lots of different kinds of blood in our family. But here in the United States, the word 'Negro' is used to mean anyone who has any Negro blood at all in his veins. In Africa, the word is more pure. It means all Negro, therefore black. I am brown.
The One-Drop Rule reflected the idea that Negro blood was tainted and that its inclusion in a person's ancestry represented contamination of a more idealized form by a devalued. Negroes who passed as white were law breakers; anti-miscegenation laws remained on the books until 1967!
In the 1960's the Civil Rights movement removed the last vestiges of legal discrimination from Black (née Negro) Americans. The Black Power movement and the increased status of the American Negro enabled the type of psychological jujitsu that America thrives upon; the formerly devalued morphed into its opposite and became idealized. The Black American experience was more authentic than the bourgeoisie white suburban experience. Black slang and fashion became big business. Entire genres of music became dominated by Black artists (making immense fortunes for white businessmen.) Rappers and ghetto style weer the new authenticity.
The election of Barack Obama, with a Black African father and white mother, represented the apotheosis of this transformation. After a youth spent being "white" Barry, using all the privileges accorded Black Americans by white elites, he became the Black Barack Obama of his young adulthood. His early adulthood was spent acquiring and developing his "authenticity" as a Black man. Yet rather than finally lay to rest our obsession with race, the One-Drop Rule has now become farcical:
Berry, 44, is the daughter of a white mother, who was a psychiatric nurse, and a black father, who was a hospital attendant in the same ward. Aubry is French-Canadian and white.
The couple is in the middle of a bitter custody battle over their 2-year-old girl, Nahla.
"I feel she's black. I'm black and I'm her mother, and I believe in the one-drop theory," Berry said in an interview with Ebony magazine.
This is a fascinating bit of cultural development. Halle Berry would no more raise her child and send her to a "Black" primary school than would Barack and Michelle Obama. Their "Blackness" is an affectation rather than an identity forged in the "authenticity" of the streets.
In an NPR discussion of race this morning, one commentator pronounced that we will never be free of the racism of our society until we no longer have 30% of al blacks living in poverty. Nowhere in the learned discussion that followed was there any sense of awareness that so much of the pathology of the Black American community is a result of cultural pathologies (children raised by single mothers, often with multiple half-siblings, substance abuse, irresponsible behavior, the conscious devaluation of education in much of the community, and a host of other ills.)
For the record, the poorest American Blacks would be considered middle class in most of the world. They lag in comparative terms (and the definition of poverty increases every year) with white (and Asian) Americans and all of the efforts for the last 50 years, the "War on Poverty", have done nothing to shrink the gap (though more and more Black Americans enter the middle class each year; the single best predictor of a Black child becoming middle class is an intact family. Try to find that data point in liberal discussions of Black poverty.)
The sad fact is that Black American communities remain deeply troubled and as a result, devalued, even as they are idealized by our cultural elites.
Psychological defenses are wonderful things. They protect us against unpleasant realities and from the awareness of our own shortcomings. They can preserve self-esteem even when such elevated self-esteem is not supported by any actual accomplishments. By idealizing the "ghetto" we are helping keep far too many Black Americans trapped in the ghetto, a place few people, Black or white, would prefer to live.