(1)ne drop: shifting the lens on race

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12 stunning portraits from Dr. Yaba Blay and Noelle Théard’s (1)ne Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race project

How do you define a racial identity? Can “blackness” be defined simply by a person’s skin tone, hair texture and facial features? Can we define it by the way someone walks or the way they talk? Can it be a product of someone’s cultural affinities, regardless of what she looks like?

These are the questions that Dr. Yaba Blay and photographer Noelle Théard encourage us to wrestle with in (1)ne Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race. Featuring the perspectives of 58 people who identify as part of the larger “racial, cultural, and social group generally referred to and known as Black,” the book combines candid memoirs and striking portraits to explore the complexities of Black identity and celebrate an individual’s right to self-identify.

(1)ne Drop’s title derives from the “one-drop rule” — a (successful) attempt to define blackness in America as one drop, or at least 1/32, of Black ancestry for the economic, social, and political purposes of distinguishing a Black person from a White person. I say “successful,” because the one-drop rule still holds cultural weight today, especially with regard to how we value light and dark skin. For this reason, Dr. Blay aims to “challenge narrow yet popular perceptions of what Blackness is and what Blackness looks like.”

See more photos and the quotes from the above subjects

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I Got It Honest

by: Yaba Blay

Last night I gave a public lecture about my book, (1)ne Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race. The lecture was hosted by Delaware State University, the school where I began my college education, the school where my father, the original Dr. Blay, continues to teach. During the Q&A, we discussed a variety of related topics, including the seemingly tenuous relationship that we Black women have because of skin tone. Jigaboos vs. Wannabees. #TeamLightSkin #TeamDarkSkin “Oh, she think she cute!” You know the drill. A beautiful young woman, wearing the same skin as me, stood up and said, 

Speaking for dark-skinned women, I think we all probably grew up wanting to be light-skinned with long hair, and going through that period where we didn’t think we were pretty. How did you grow out of that? How did you become so confident?”

I had to pause before answering because nowhere in my recollection could I remember wanting to be light-skinned. In all fairness, I do remember wanting to be lighter than I was, but even that newfangled mirage was brown. As I looked out into the audience and gathered my thoughts, seeing my mother and father in the audience reminded me of how I got here. I’m here because of them.

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