Daily Kos: Slippin’ into whiteness: Melungeons and other ‘almost white’ groups

Daily Kos: Slippin’ into whiteness: Melungeons and other ‘almost white’ groups.SUN JUL 01, 2012 AT 01:00 PM PDT
Slippin’ into whiteness: Melungeons and other ‘almost white’ groups
byDenise Oliver VelezFollowforDaily Kos

Arch Goins and family,
Melungeons from Graysville, Tennessee
“Whiteness” in the U.S. has value. It is no surprise that in a society that has historically oppressed, scorned and demonized “blackness” (as if blacks were almost an untouchable caste), some sub-cultural groups scattered across the nation sought refuge in elaborately constructed “not black” clusters. The United States government, mandated by the Constitution to collect census data that included “race” as a category, created much of the confusion, with shifting classifications over time, using terms like mulatto, octoroon, mestizo, and mixed. Some states also classified those people who were “not white” and not enslaved simply as “free people of color,” which at times included Mexicans and Native Americans.

Clusters of people who were designated “not black,” but historically “not white,” were scattered across the U.S. All of these groups, dubbed by anthropologists and sociologists as “tri-racial isolates,” or “maroons,” are an interesting part of our troubled racialized history and current notions of “race,” “ethnicity,” ancestry, and genetics.

One maroon group that has fascinated both social scientists and genealogists were named by outsiders (as a slur) and they now dub themselves with the same name: Melungeon. Their history and self-constructed folk mythology has been re-visited in recent years due to the advent of modern DNA research.

I first encountered their stories when I came across a book called Almost White by Brewton Berry (1963, McMillan), when I was beginning to explore some of my own family history. Berry described maroon communities, which I pursued an interest in researching, who were given pejorative names like Jackson Whites, Pooles, Brass Ankles, Redbones, Gouldtowners, and Melungeons.

Some like the Lumbee Indians of North Carolina have forcefully rejected “othering” and “whiteness,” and though many tribe members have visible African ancestry, they have fought for their identity as Native Americans.

There are now numerous websites dedicated to the exploration of “race,” racialism, “mixed race” identity, and genetics—the most popular is historian Frank Sweet’s Backintyme site. Sweet has also authored a series of computer animations for YouTube on “the study of racialism,” which explores the data from his site.

(More on the link above)

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