“I have rape-colored skin,” begins the powerful essay by Caroline Randall Williams, a poet, in the June 28 Sunday Review section of the New York Times. It’s headlined “You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is a Confederate Monument.” Williams goes on to say: “I am a black, Southern woman, and of my immediate white male ancestors, all of them were rapists. My very existence is a relic of slavery and Jim Crow.” And she concludes that the monuments to the Confederacy—the vast majority of which were erected between 1890 and 1950, during the Jim Crow era, and which glorify not fallen soldiers but leaders of the Confederacy—“must come down.”
One word in Williams’s second paragraph jumped out at me, because I’d never seen it before: hypodescent. Williams writes:
According to the rule of hypodescent (the social and legal practice of assigning a genetically mixed-race person to the race with less social power) I am the daughter of two black people, the granddaughter of four black people, the great-granddaughter of eight black people. Go back one more generation and it gets less straightforward, and more sinister. As far as family history has always told, and as modern DNA testing has allowed me to confirm, I am the descendant of black women who were domestic servants and white men who raped their help.
Where does hypodescent come from, and how long has it been in use?