A Racial Rohrschach Test

Life magazine, back when it was in very large format, printed an article on Dwight David Eisenhower, 34th President of the U.S. Included was a full-page portrait of his parents. When you show the photo to people, their reactions differ. Blacks ask who the sister is, b/c Eisenhower’s mother was clearly Black and the clothing identified the picture as having been taken around the turn of the last century or earlier. Whites vary in their response.
When informed of their identify, the reaction, again, varies, with Blacks saying they are not surprised and Whites expressing surprise and often doubt. Having looked at standard biographies of Eisenhower, it is nowhere mentioned that his mother was Black, but her biographical sketch provides a typical social context for people passing. I believe I laid that out in another post. What is interesting to me is that the identification of the woman as Black does not vary among Blacks, who have had to be very alert to finding allies in a crowd, even one who is passing. Whites, OTOH, doubt such a marriage would have taken place or survived in those times, typifying the presentism we all practice: if interracial marriages were uncommon 50 years ago, they must have been uncommon before that.
Not so. The marriages may not have been legal and many were “arrangements”, but they were often solid, producing children, manumission, inheritance, and other accoutrements of marriage. What is revealed in this Rohrschach test are the expectations people have; OTOH, Blacks know that all sorts of things went on between Blacks and Whites and OTOH, Whites have been fed baloney in the form of the American narrative in which the “races” remained separate.
A light-skinned Black woman could pass if she left the area where she and her family were known and a powerful White man could marry her and fend off questions about her appearance.
What is silly is to say that such issues of color do not matter.

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