Black History Month Heroes: Mark Watson from "Soul Man"

One-drop makes C. Thomas Howell a Soul Man

Go to your kitchen and pour a tall glass of frosty white milk. Now pull out some chocolate syrup and squirt a few drops into that milk. Get a spoon and slowly stir the two liquids together, watching as a miniature whirlpool develops and ultimately a delicious mongrelization of flavor appears.

The amalgamation of milk and chocolate creates chocolate milk, a delectable beverage that wonderfully punctuates illustrates the concept of the “one-drop rule” that predominates the thinking of Black people.

What is the “one-drop rule”?:

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.[1] The one-drop rule was put into law in the twentieth century, for instance in Virginia under the Racial Integrity Actantebellum years free people could have up to one-eighth to one-quarter African ancestry (depending on the state) and be considered legally white.[2] Community acceptance, carrying out community responsibilities, and appearance were often the most important factors if a person’s racial status were questioned. of 1924 (following the passage of similar laws in numerous other states). Despite the strictures of slavery, in the

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.

The concept of the one-drop rule has been chiefly applied to those of sub-Saharan black African ancestry. The poet Langston Hughes wrote in his 1940 memoir:

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.

Take a look at that container of pristine milk that recently poured from and realize according to the idea of “one-drop” once even a mere squeeze of chocolate syrup is introduced into that milk it is changed forever. Halle Berry helps illustrate this point further, with her custody battle reigniting the notion of “one-drop“:

The Huffington Post and TMZ are reporting that Halle Berry and Gabriel Aubry have moved beyond just battling for custody of their daughter, Nahla. In the wake of Berry’s allegations that Aubry called her the n-word, they’re now in disagreement about their toddler’s racial identity.

According to TMZ, Berry told Ebony magazine, “I feel she’s black. I’m black and I’m her mother, and I believe in the one-drop theory.”

The one-drop rule, of course, is a historical concept that originally referred to the idea that a person with any trace of sub-Saharan ancestry, however small or invisible, could not legally be considered white, unless he or she could claim an alternative nonwhite ancestry.

Its roots are in slavery and segregation, but the racism behind those concepts isn’t necessarily invoked every time someone uses it. It’s been reclaimed to reflect what many African Americans see as a social reality. We at The Root don’t think its use is quite as scandalous as the mainstream media is making it out to be.

Meanwhile, TMZ has reported that Aubry insists Nahla is white and, according to sources, goes “nuts” anytime someone refers to her as black.

Black people, as we have discussed, love being Black. The “one-drop rule” was once used to vilify light-skinned Black people, castigating them to a lowly existence as a “negro” or a “colored” person. No longer is being Black seen as an impediment to success; instead it is viewed as a ticket to an assortment of incentives and programs not available to white people such as affirmative action and diversity mandates.

Though dark-skinned Black people might protest preferential treatment allotted to mulattoes or light-skinned Black people that are blessed with but a partial gift of the genetic “one-drop rule,” using the hand nature dealt you is a sure way to nurture a positive results for the future.

A competent, light-skinned Black person blessed with but a smidgen of the “one-drop” can write their own ticket to success in Black Run America (BRA) though they will incur the wrath from darker sisters and brothers.

Interestingly, many light-skinned biracial Black people are milking the system of preferential treatment to Black people in college admissions, hiring policies and race-based policies by siding with their chocolate half:

 A study of biracial people with black and white ancestry has found that many identify themselves solely as black when filling out college applications and financial-aid forms, raising new questions about the accuracy of educational statistics and research based on racial and ethnic data derived from students.

The study of 40 biracial people—all of whom reported having one black parent and one white one—found that 29, or nearly three-fourths, reported concealing their white ancestry in applying for college, scholarships, financial aid, or jobs.

How the respondents reported characterizing themselves elsewhere depended on the context, however, with 29 reporting that they “strategically” identified themselves only as black when they thought they would benefit from doing so. One respondent, whose name is given only as Natasha, told the researchers, “I know that if I say I’m ‘biracial,’ I will get certain things, and if I say I’m ‘black,’ I will get certain things.” Another respondent, Julie, said, “If I’m trying to get more money from the government, I am ‘African American.’ There is no white aspect to me.”

In defining themselves as black, the study respondents “are not necessarily challenging contemporary social norms which arguably define them as black anyway,” the article says. Nonetheless, it says, the study’s findings “raise broader questions about who should benefit from affirmative-action programs,” and whether beneficiaries should be required to have two black parents or whether the “one-drop rule” should be applied to people with biracial or multiracial backgrounds.

Black people couldn’t be bothered with harboring inadequate feelings about having “one-drop” in them to qualify and earn their Black card. A Black card, even if it is only “one-drop” is a ticket to unbelievable riches.

A light-skinned Black person can claim to be a Republican and with just enough adherence to the party line could probably run for president in 2012. Fortune 500 companies will bend over backwards to promote a competent Black person just to spurn those who say the hire was merely to reach a predetermined quota of Black employees because this light-skinned Black person might pass for white.

Though they completely repudiate any of their genes and adhere to the notion of “one-drop” these light-skinned Black people aren’t hampered with dark Black skin that causes whispers to be heard around the water cooler and questions to be asked in E-mails about that persons qualifications.

The “one-drop rule” was on hilarious display in the 1980s comedy Soul Man, starring a tanned C. Thomas Howell. Blood truly is thicker then water and though Howell’s character Mark Watson was just a white boy with a lot of tanning cream, he passed as a light-skinned Black person thanks to “one-drop“:

Soul Man is a comedy film made in 1986 about a man who undergoes racial transformation with pills to qualify for an African-American-only scholarship at Harvard Law School. It stars C. Thomas Howell, Rae Dawn Chong, Arye Gross, James Earl Jones, Leslie Nielsen, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

The movie’s protagonist is Mark Watson (Howell), the pampered son from a rich family who is about to attend Harvard Law School along with his best friend Gordon (Gross). However, all of a sudden his father’s neurotic psychiatrist talks his patient into having more fun for himself instead of spending money on his son. Faced with the horrifying prospect of having to pay for law school by himself, Mark decides to take up a scholarship, but the only suitable one is for blacks only. So he decides to cheat: by using tanning pills in a larger dose than prescribed to appear as an African-American, he sets out for Harvard, naïvely believing that blacks have no problems at all in American society.

However, once immersed in a black student’s life, Mark finds that people are less lenient than he imagined and more prone to see him as a black person instead of a fellow student. He meets a young African-American student named Sarah Walker (Chong), whom he first only flirts with; gradually, however, he genuinely falls in love with her. As it turns out, she was the original candidate for the scholarship which he had usurped, and now she has to work hard as a waitress to support herself and her son George while studying. Slowly, Mark begins to regret his deed, and after a chaotic day – in which Sarah, his parents (who are not aware of his double life) and his classmate Whitney, who is also his landlord’s daughter (Melora Hardin), drop in for surprise visits at the same time – he drops the charade and openly reveals himself to be white.

The film ends with Mark declaring to his professor (Jones) that he wishes to pay back the scholarship and do charity work to make amends for his fraud, and Sarah decides to give him another chance.

In a country that is increasingly hostile to white people and codifying laws to ensure those hampered by disparate impact get a leg up over the competition and a nation that values diversity as the ultimate ideal, trying to pass oneself off as a light-skinned Black person with but a kiss of “one-drop” makes a lot of sense.

If the movie came out today, Watson could apply for a Gates Foundation Scholarship since those are only available to non-whites. Or he could have gotten into the Naval Academy. Or… okay, that list is long and distinguished.

Black Fictional Month Heroes includes Mark Watson from the fine film Soul Man, as his character helps poignantly showcase the beauty of the “one-drop rule” and how Black people will rally around one another when put into situations that require Blackness to overcome a milky white world.

Plus the “one-drop rule” in Soul Man shows how just a little Black can get you a free ride into Harvard Law School.

Watch Soul Man here. See C. Thomas Howell become Black here.


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