February 22nd, 2012
02:59 PM ET

Rareview: finding a place for Yiddish

What happens to a language that has no land?

American Yiddish speakers are asking that about the once popular Jewish language with roots in Hebrew and German.

As some wrestle with this loss –and how it defined who they are and where they come from– a small movement looks to find a new space for their displaced language.

January 29th, 2012
05:34 PM ET

Don Lemon: Legacy of 'one drop' rule inspires search for family history

Editor's note: Don Lemon anchors CNN Newsroom during weekend prime-time and serves as a correspondent across CNN's U.S. programming. He is the author of the memoir "Transparent."

This is  final installment of  a three-part series about the 1ne Drop Project. Read Don Lemon's column, "It only takes one drop," and Yaba Blay's column, "What does Blackness look like?"

The video above contains offensive language. Viewer discretion is advised.

By Don Lemon, CNN

You never know from where inspiration will come.

I am often envious of my friends who can recite stories about ancestors that have been handed down through generations. I can’t do that. As a descendant of slavery in America, that hasn't felt possible for me. Truthfully, I didn’t think about it much until a few weeks ago, after I was asked by CNN’s In America team to write about the impact of a mixed racial background on my life, the idea that "one drop" of black blood makes you black.

In that article, I wrote about how my aunt and grandmother in Louisiana often were mistaken for white. I wrote about the extremes they went to in order to protect their husbands, who were black, from beatings by white men, or worse.

As I began to write the article, I sent a text message to my mother asking that she email photos of my aunt and grandmother. She sent me what she had, but asked why I wanted them. I told her I’d call to explain once I got home that evening.

When I finished the draft of the article, I zipped off a copy to her via email. A few minutes later, as I was driving home from work, my phone rang. When my mother began to tell me the stories of my aunt and grandmother, I had to pull over in a parking lot to take it all in. Some of it I knew. Much of it I didn’t.

My mother said, “Don, your aunt and grandmother really are quintessential ‘one drop’ Americans.”

“Why, mom?” I asked.

“I know you overheard some of this as a child, but your aunt’s father was a white man,” she said. “Your grandmother’s father was a white man.”


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Filed under: Black in America • Discrimination • History • How we look
January 21st, 2012
05:00 AM ET

Opinion: What does Blackness look like?

Editor's note: Yaba Blay, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Africana studies who teaches courses at Lafayette College. Her research focuses on black identity, with specific attention to skin color and hair politics. She is the recipient of a 2010 Leeway Foundation Art and Change Grant through which she embarked upon the book project, (1)ne Drop: Conversations on Skin Color, Race, and Identity.

This is part of a three-part series. Read Don Lemon's column, "It only takes one drop."

By Yaba Blay, Special to CNN

I always thought I could spot a Black person anywhere. My eyes were trained in New Orleans – home to a historically preeminent group of folks who self-identify as “Creoles.”   Many of them would make it a point to announce that they are different—not White, not Black, but “Creole.”  A mix of African, Native American, French, and sometimes Spanish heritage, some Creoles are light-skinned enough to be mistaken for— or “pass”—for White people. We call them “passé blanc.”

One of my favorite pastimes as a youth in New Orleans was “picking out Black people” – people whom everyone else might have thought were White or “something else,” but whom I knew for a fact were Black. Somehow. Without even knowing it at the time, I had blindly accepted the “one-drop rule,” the early 1900’s law turned social rule that held that anyone with 1/32 of “African Black blood” was Black. And somehow I made it my mission to identify that “one-drop” any chance I could get. Maybe it was my way of retaliating against those who didn’t want to be associated with my kind – those whom I felt were somehow rejecting their own kind.

In my limited experiences, it seemed that people whose physical appearance gave them the “option” to be something else, chose to be something else.  So in my adult life, when I left New Orleans and began to meet people who were very adamant about their black identity, even though they could have easily identified as “mixed” or “Latino” or “Creole” or could have even “passed” for white, I found myself intrigued. On one particular occasion, I was on a panel hosted by the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI); and for as “learned” and as well-versed as (I thought) I was in global skin color politics, I found myself somehow taken aback each time either of my co-panelists, whom I would have identified as “Latino/a,” self-identified as “Black” and “African.”  In that moment, I felt ashamed of myself for questioning their identities based upon the stereotypical visions of "Blackness" that lived in my head. Afterwards, as I continued to struggle with myself, I knew that I wanted to do something with my feelings that could be useful to others like myself. I wanted to explore the “other” sides of Blackness.

So began my journey into the (1)ne Drop project.


January 15th, 2012
12:13 PM ET

Don Lemon: It only takes one drop

Editor's note: Don Lemon anchors CNN Newsroom during weekend prime-time and serves as a correspondent across CNN's U.S. programming. He is the author of the memoir "Transparent."

This piece is part of a three-part series tied to the (1)ne Drop Project.

By Don Lemon, CNN

(CNN) - For years, the woman on the left in the photograph below could not be friendly to her own husband in public. She would pretend she didn’t know him or tell people he was her driver. She didn’t want him to be beaten in public as he had many times before.

She learned that particular survival technique from the woman in the photograph on the right, her mother and my grandmother, who had to use it from the 1930s until my grandfather died in the 1960s. Both women were often mistaken for white. And for whatever privileges my aunt and grandmother might have received for their light skin, their husbands paid for it by beatings or threats from white men. One handed-down family story that sticks with me is how my uncle was lucky to have survived a savage throttling in the 1950s after exiting a ferry crossing the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to Port Allen. Apparently, he and my aunt had let down their guard. They never did it again.

Heck, as a child, I wasn’t even sure about my grandmother or my aunt. “Is Aunt-ee Lacy white?” I’d ask. “Lacy’s black,” an adult would say. Of course the reply was followed by a big laugh and a phrase I’d never forget: “It only takes one drop.” Meaning it only takes one drop of “Negro” blood to make you black.