Created By: Antigone3 on January 3, 2015 Last Edited By: AHI-3000 on March 18, 2017
Troped

One Drop Rule

Character faces bigotry due to an ancestor's race/ethnicity

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
The YKTTW for Intergalactic One Drop Rule appears to have withered away. But I think there's something usable there, so I'm taking a shot at widening it. If this makes it to launch, it will go under Race Tropes, Interracial And Interspecies Love Index, and Mixed Ancestry.

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Interbreeding between ethnic groups within a race, or between multiple races in fantasy or science fiction, is a popular activity. But what happens when the resulting babies grow up and start breeding themselves? You might end up with a Heinz Hybrid, or just someone who's mostly A with a little bit of B.

Historically, the One Drop Rule assigned these people to the lower-status group. Someone in the American South who looked Caucasian but had a distant Negro ancestor would be classed as "black". On this wiki, the One Drop Rule expands to cover interracial as well as inter-ethnic lines of descent.

There are two features that must be present for a character to fall under the One Drop Rule:

1) The character's "other" ancestry should be distant — a grandparent at the most recent.

2) The character should be the target of bigotry/discrimination as a result of the "other" ancestry.

For example, Spock gets a lot of grief from Vulcans due to his 50% human family tree. But he's a Half-Human Hybrid, and would stay on that page instead of moving here. If Spock were to marry another Vulcan, his children and grandchildren note  would fall prey to the One Drop Rule.

Compare to Half-Breed Discrimination (when there's more than just one drop) and Uneven Hybrid (when the one drop doesn't result in any discrimination) . Contrast to But Not Too Black. Revealing that a character falls under the One Drop Rule can result in a Pass Fail.


Examples

Film
  • A parodic inversion in Blazing Saddles. When the foreman of the railroad gang says he wants "a couple of niggers" to check for quicksand, Bart points out that his grandmother was Dutch and therefore he wasn't entirely Black.

Literature
  • Ellery Queen's The Roman Hat Mystery. The murder victim had turned blackmail into a career. Which secret drove one of his targets to kill him? The revelation that he had a distant Negro ancestor.
    (He) has just a drop in his veins — just a drop, but it would have been more than enough ....
  • In the story "The Color of Honor" by Richard Connell, a Klan leader discovers that his grandfather had an affair with a "mulatto" woman, but passed the resulting pale baby off as the child of his lawful white wife. That baby was the Klansman's father, and therefore he himself is a Negro! And as such, he must now fight against the Klan, as is only honorable.
  • The original "one drop rule" kicks off the plot of Mark Twain's novel Pudd'nhead Wilson. A woman has enough white ancestry that she could have passed for white herself, but she's still confined to a life of slavery on a Southern plantation. She bears the plantation owner's son, who looks even whiter than she does — then she switches her son with the plantation owner's other, legitimate son, so that her boy can live a life of privilege.
  • Brother Paul, the hero of Piers Anthony's Tarot series, is one-eighth black and looks white. Part of his pilgrimage in the Tarot series is a realisation of his black ancestry and how racists blighted the lives of his immediate ancestors - and how his adoptive parents held it against him. It comes to the fore in one surprising way: he finds himself alone and friendless in a black ghetto, facing down people who refuse to believe he has any black ancestry at all and who are prepared to treat him as a white boy in the wrong part of town. He has to prove his credentials, and does so by winning a rapping contest.
  • Lampshaded and made a plot point in Sidhe Devil. The story kicks off with Doc being abducted for his seed because he's pure-blooded Daoine Sidhe and his half brother and step-mother, who are in on the plot, secretly aren't due to the one-drop rule.
    Doc: I cannot imagine being so devoted to a matter of race that you would lie about it for so many years and suffer to conceal some wayward drop of blood in your ancestry.

Live-Action Television
  • Invoked in one episode of All in the Family. Archie is recruited into a new social club that turned out to be a front for the Ku Klux Klan, and once he learns this he wants out. He eventually tells them he has "black blood"note .
    Mitch: There's a whole lot of us, Bunker.
    Archie: Well let me tell you there's a whole lot of us.
    Mitch: "Us" who?
    Archie: Us blacks.
  • Mixed-race Bette and fully black Yolanda on The L Word discuss racial politics, and at one point Yolanda brings this up to tell Bette why Bette is still considered 'black'. Bette retaliates by asking if she's going to let White America define her identity.

Newspaper Comics
  • Jazmine DuBois from The Boondocks, who's the daughter of a white mom and a black dad. She feels very confused and insecure about her biracial heritage, and so she's really annoyed by Huey Freeman immediately labeling her as only being "black". Later when her teacher and principal learn that she's mixed-race and they inquire further about it, they eventually come to the same conclusion as Huey.

Theatre
  • Invoked in Show Boat. Steve is white, and his wife Julie is mixed-race, passing for white — their marriage was a crime in the South at the time. When someone tips the local sheriff off and he comes to arrest them, Steve quickly cuts Julie's hand and swallows her blood; when the sheriff arrives, he asks, "You wouldn't call a man a white man that's got Negro blood in him, would you?" He swears to having that blood in him, letting the sheriff assume this trope is in effect and Steve has been passing for white; the two are able to leave the boat, and the South, in peace

Video Games
  • In the Dragon Age universe, the offspring of an Elf and a Human is always a human. There is absolutely no difference between an "Elf-blooded" human and any other human being, but being Elf-Blooded is considered a major shame. So much so that when it's discovered that an Empress's personal Champion is Elf-Blooded, she exiles him before the scandal can damage her political career.

Web Comics
  • In Gunnerkrigg Court, Antimony Carver stopped being considered a human when it was revealed she had a fire elemental in her ancient ancestry. Subverted, though, since both "sides" want to claim her instead of rejecting her.

Western Animation
  • An episode of Family Guy has Peter discovering that he had a very distant ancestor that was black. Immediately afterwards he is harassed and mistreated by everybody in Quahog that is racist (including the police and Peter's father-in-law).

Real Life
  • Virginia's "Racial Integrity Act of 1924" split Virginians into "white" and "colored". And then the lawmakers realized they had a problem on their hands — many of the Virginia elite claimed descent from Pocahontas, and as written this law would have redefined them as "colored". In the "Pocahontas Exception", a person who was 1/16th American Indian was legally considered white. (The same fraction of any other ethnicity classed you as colored.)
  • Charles Drew, the man who revolutionised blood transfusions through his research into blood plasma, was one-sixteenth black. Photographs show a man who does not look African-American in any way at all. The story is that he died after a car crash in the Deep South because his one-sixteenth negro blood meant he could not be admitted to a whites-only hospital. This was referenced in an episode of M*A*S*H where a Southern racist soldier is objecting to receiving blood that might have come out of a donor with black, brown or yellow skin.
  • Under Nazi Germany's Nuremberg Laws, a person with one Jewish grandparent was Mischling Second Degree, with limited legal rights. The SS was even stricter — if you wanted to join, you had to prove that all your direct ancestors going back to 1750 were non-Jewish. Depending on how long one considers one generation to be, this could involve proving Aryan ancestry back 8 or 9 generations.
  • Northern abolitionists took advantage of this trope in the antebellum period. They would stage mock "fancy girl slave auctions", and gradually put lighter-skinned women on the "auction block" until finally they were showing off women who were outwardly pure Caucasian but had the necessary one drop of black ancestry to be classed as black in the slave-holding South.

Community Feedback Replies: 36
  • January 3, 2015
    randomsurfer
    • Invoked on All In The Family when Archie gets recruited into a new social club, the Kweens Kouncil of Krusaders. Once he realizes what they're up to he tries to get out of it; ultimately, he tells them that he has "black blood" (due to a blood transfusion during an operation the previous year - the donor was black). He then threatens to call on his "brothers" to run the Kouncil out of town if they don't do it themselves.
      Mitch: There's a whole lot of us, Bunker.
      Archie: Well let me tell you there's a whole lot of us.
      Mitch: "Us" who?
      Archie: Us blacks. [snip]] That gives me the right to call out a whole gang of my black blood brothers! To come with me, and back me up! And if we catch youse guys burning any crosses, we're gonna come up here, and we're gonna bust your honkie heinies.
    • Invoked in Showboat. Steve is white, and his wife Julie is mixed-race, passing for white—their marriage was a crime in the South at the time. When someone tips the local sheriff off and he comes to arrest them, Steve quickly cuts Julie's hand and swallows her blood; when the sheriff arrives, he asks, "You wouldn't call a man a white man that's got Negro blood in him, would you?" He swears to having that blood in him (and thus, he pretends to be passing for white); the two are able to leave the boat, and the South, in peace.
  • January 3, 2015
    marcoasalazarm
    An episode of Family Guy has Peter discovering that he had a very distant ancestor that was black. Immediately afterwards he is harassed and mistreated by everybody in Quahog that is racist (including the police and Peter's father-in-law).
  • January 3, 2015
    SKJAM
    • In the story "The Color of Honor" by Richard Connell, a Klan leader discovers that his grandfather had an affair with a "mulatto" woman, but passed the resulting pale baby off as the child of his lawful white wife. That baby was the Klansman's father, and therefore he himself is a Negro! And as such, he must now fight against the Klan, as is only honorable.
  • January 3, 2015
    Antigone3
    Do we need to adjust the trope description for the Showboat and All In The Family examples? Or did Archie let the Klan think his "black blood" came from this trope instead of blood tranfusion? (If I saw that episode, I don't remember it.)
  • January 3, 2015
    DragonQuestZ
    Let's have a better name, since there can be many forms of one drop doing things in fiction (such as one drop of something completely changes the entire body of another thing, even when in real life it wouldn't be enough).
  • January 3, 2015
    DAN004
    ^ dunno, One Drop Rule is already a well-known term.

    If you insist though, maybe Small Bad Gene Discrimination?
  • January 3, 2015
    JonnyB
    Blazing Saddles has a parodic inversion of this trope. When the foreman of the railroad gang says he wants "a couple of niggers" to check for quicksand, Bart points out that his grandmother was Dutch and therefore he wasn't entirely Black.
  • January 4, 2015
    Snicka
  • January 4, 2015
    Arivne
  • January 4, 2015
    Antigone3
    @Dragon Quest Z — we already have an established term for this situation (namely, One Drop Rule), why not use it?

    But would you be happier with Ancestor Discrimination?
  • January 4, 2015
    randomsurfer
    @Antigone1: He makes it quite clear that it's from a transfusion. Here's the episode and the discussion starts at about 21:21. I snipped the portion partly because it's kind of wordy and also because it's got some standard AITF humour that's beside the point of the trope. But for the record:
    Mitch: There's a whole lot of us, Bunker.
    Archie: Well let me tell you, there's a whole lot of us.
    Mitch: "Us" who?
    Archie: Us blacks.
    Gordie: What are you talking about?
    Archie: I"m talking about my gall bladder operation last year. When I had to take one of them transflusions [sic] there, and they pumped me full of blood.
    Gordie: What blood?
    Archie: Black blood, buddy! A whole lot of it. I think maybe enough to fill up a six pack.
    Mitch: So that's what's wrong with you.
    Archie: Ain't nothing wrong with me. Hey, I notice I can sing and dance better. But the main thing that that does see, that gives me the right to call out a whole gang of my black blood brothers! To come with me, and back me up! And if we catch youse guys burning any crosses, we're gonna come up here, and we're gonna bust your honkie heinies. And now, as my people say, "feets, do your stuff." [Archie hightails it out of there]
  • January 4, 2015
    Chabal2
    Averted in Final Fantasy X: Yuna is half Al Bhed, a tribe looked on with distrust by Yevonites due to their embracing technology (which is forbidden by Yu Yevon because it seems to attract a giant monster called Sin). Despite this, her ancestry is never brought up to to her being the daughter of the last Summoner and this generation's Summoner (every Summoner pulls a Heroic Sacrifice along with one of the True Companions in order to placate the Sin for a few years).
  • January 4, 2015
    DragonQuestZ
    ^^^ It's the misuse potential from people thinking it's about actual liquids that is the concern. "Well in the Doctor Who special The Waters of Mars there is alien water that acts like a zombie virus and one drop can affect an entire human or even an entire ocean"
  • January 4, 2015
    JonnyB
    Compare Pass Fail
  • January 4, 2015
    rodneyAnonymous
    ^^ That is a stretch. Why are we catering to people who add examples without reading the article?
  • January 6, 2015
    MetaFour
    Literature:
    • The original "one drop rule" kicks off the plot of Mark Twain's novel Pudd'nhead Wilson. A woman has enough white ancestry that she could have passed for white herself, but she's still confined to a life of slavery on a Southern plantation. She bears the plantation owner's son, who looks even whiter than she does—then she switches her son with the plantation owner's other, legitimate son, so that her boy can live a life of privilege.
  • January 7, 2015
    Larkmarn
    One Drop Rule is a preestablished term to a ridiculous degree. Seriously, it's a perfect name.

    That said, I feel like they shouldn't necessarily have to feel discrimination, but still qualify if they're considered the "drop" race. People seeing someone as their ancestor's race seems equally notable.
  • January 7, 2015
    DAN004
    What DQZ said about "one drop of something that turns something bad" sounds like a trope of its own, though.
  • January 7, 2015
    SolipSchism
    ^ I don't know if I'd call that trope One Drop Rule though.

    Although, now I'm suddenly thinking of examples of that, like the glistening oil from MTG that turns you into a Phyrexian if you touch so much as a drop.

    Maybe this could use a different title, not to avoid confusion, but to avoid taking up a name that would be much better suited to a different trope.

    But then, "we shouldn't use this name because another trope might use it" is kind of Insane Troll Logic.
  • January 7, 2015
    DAN004
    I'll call that trope Single Drop Of Corruption or something.
  • January 7, 2015
    DragonQuestZ
    ^^ It doesn't matter what you personally would call it. What matters is the confusion and misuse from others.
  • January 8, 2015
    AgProv
    Literature:
    • Brother Paul, the hero of Piers Anthony's Tarot series, is one-eighth black and looks white. Part of his pilgrimage in the Tarot series is a realisation of his black ancestry and how racists blighted the lives of his immediate ancestors - and how his adoptive parents held it against him. It comes to the fore in one surprising way: he finds himself alone and friendless in a black ghetto, facing down people who refuse to believe he has any black ancestry at all and who are prepared to treat him as a white boy in the wrong part of town. He has to prove his credentials, and does so by winning a rapping contest.
  • January 8, 2015
    AgProv
    Real Life:
    • Charles Drew, the man who revolutionised blood transfusions through his research into blood plasma, was one-sixteenth black. Photographs show a man who does not look African-American in any way at all. The story is that he died after a car crash in the Deep South because his one-sixteenth negro blood meant he could not be admitted to a whites-only hospital. This was referenced in an episode of MASH where a Southern racist soldier is objecting to receiving blood that might have come out of a donor with black, brown or yellow skin.

    "Unknown troper". Don't know what hsappened here. it was me, Ag Prov!
  • January 8, 2015
    SolipSchism
    ^^^ Way to read between the lines.

    Or anything other than the first sentence of my post.

    If you're going to dismiss other people's opinions because they're stated as opinions, then maybe you shouldn't be discussing an inherently subjective topic like art and fiction.
  • January 8, 2015
    Antigone3
    Randomsurfer: unless we widen this trope description, I don't think the All in the Family example fits — right now we're sticking to descent. (Showboat works here because nonwhite ancestry is implied; Steve doesn't tell the sheriff he just ran a DIY transfusion on himself.)

    Chabal2, it sounds like Yuna is a classic Half Breed Discrimination rather than this trope.
  • January 8, 2015
    SolipSchism
    ^ The AITF example is obviously not a straight example, but it's certainly Invoked.
  • January 8, 2015
    KingZeal
    • In the Dragon Age universe, the offspring of an Elf and a Human is always a human. There is absolutely no difference between an "Elf-blooded" human and any other human being, but being Elf-Blooded is considered a major shame. So much so that when it's discovered that an Empress's personal Champion is Elf-Blooded, she exiles him before the scandal can damage her political career.
  • January 17, 2015
    Antigone3
    ^ Just to clarify — Elf-blooded covers everyone with an Elf ancestor, right?
  • January 17, 2015
    SvartiKotturinn
  • January 19, 2015
    randomsurfer
    ^^^^^Also in the AITF example the KKK guys take it as a given that Archie has been changed due to his transfusion - that he has beomce black in some fashion or another. When Mitch finds out about it he responds "so that's what's wrong with you."
  • January 24, 2015
    sablesword
    • Lampshaded and made a plot point in Sidhe Devil. The story kicks off with Doc being abducted for his seed because he's pure-blooded Daoine Sidhe and his half brother and step-mother, who are in on the plot, secretly aren't due to the one-drop rule.

    Doc: I cannot imagine being so devoted to a matter of race that you would lie about it for so many years and suffer to conceal some wayward drop of blood in your ancestry.
  • August 20, 2016
    DAN004
    I think there could be a variant where, even with "one drop" of distant ancestry, someone would gain some Superpowerful Genetics from said ancestry.
  • August 21, 2016
    PaulA
    Literature

    • A Civil Campaign has a subplot in which Count Vorbretten learns from a gene test that his great-grandfather was one of the Cetagandans who invaded Barrayar. This results in social difficulties, and also a practical problem of succession, since his right to be Count depends on his descent from the man he thought was his great-grandfather. It's noted that, as the type of gene test in question becomes more common, it's likely that other Barrayarans will be making similar discoveries.
  • August 21, 2016
    KingZeal
    See also Superpowerful Genetics.

    Historically, this trope has been a racism pyramid with Black Is Bigger In Bed, Where Da White Women At, Black Gal On White Guy Drama, and Chocolate Baby, all of which worked to treat Black and White mixed marriages as "naturally destructive" to White (and other) racial purity.
  • September 15, 2016
    AHI-3000
    Bump.
  • March 18, 2017
    xxlogos
    Yeah I've been interested in the one-drop rule. especially since I am mixed myself and have Quadroon cousins. Hell anyone that is at bare minimum less than 37.5%(just my Opinion) of a race should fall under the one-drop rule because you naturally have to be an Uneven Hybrid for it to apply to someone.

    What most people fail to realise is that Alexandre Dumas is 1/4 Black he clearly has his caucasian facial features stand out more than his African feature, his Father, Thomas Alexandre Dumas was mixed. And nowadays People think that he is a 100% black when he is not. in other words. he is an example of modern useage of the one-drop rule.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=rwzh7q7owumoretrmnc8ve77