More Than 100 Years Ago
Journalist Intrigued by “White Negroes”
Editor’s Note: This anonymous, syndicated article appeared in the Fort Worth Telegram, Sun., 8 May 1904. The original title appears as below:
WASHINGTON, May 7. The people termed and classed as “white Negroes” form one often interesting paradoxes in American life. The amalgamation of the white and black people of this country finds a prophetic suggestion in the constantly increasing numbers of “white Negroes.” This malad mixture of negro blood, though infinitesimal, works a terrible disinheritance for the man or woman, who, by every appearance and feature, is entitled to be a white person. They belong to no race and yet they must inherit all the disabilities suffered by the race to which they are least related and are denied all the advantages that might accrue to them from the white race. Amalgamation of the white and black races calls to mind some curious experiences connected with those who are already amalgamated that may be of interest. The complications and confusions resulting form the anomalous position of these people are often as amusing as a “Comedy of Errors” and as tragic as a well-planned drama. These people are not responsible for their anomalous position of being white in some communities and to some people, and negroes in other communities and other people.
The actual experience of many of these people in their efforts to live the double life into which they are forced would furnish the finest kind of material for fiction. To those who have studied appearances for the past thirty years, the Negro is not only bleaching out in complexion, but the number of those who are altogether white in appearance, yet are still classed as Negroes, is observably on the increase. There are but two courses open to these so-called “white negroes.” The one is to remain where American prejudice forces them to stay and heroically share the fate of their dark kindred, freely marry with those who are black, and in this way force each generation of the negro race to become of a lighter complexion. Or betake themselves to communities there they are not known and into the society of white people exclusively. Thus thousands of them, worn out with the ceaseless struggle against race prejudice, go where they are not known and pass for white.
In Washington here are more swell colored folks of the “white negro” variety, who are well educated and well to do, than in any other city in the world. They have their old families and their parvenus just like white society literary persons among them and statesman, too, and the life of the Afro-American four hundred in Washington is worth the pains of living. To begin with, the various sets and cliques in the social whirl are numerous, and even if all those who are equal mentally, morally and financially chose to join in one grand social union, it would be inconvenient to do so. It would be easier to locate the north pole than to find “the great and only” among numerous colored social circles of Washington. The old citizens think they are the elect, the chosen, and dare anybody to dispute it. They believe that longevity, coupled with culture and influence, should count for more than any other combination. So far as they can resemble that old Knickerbocker set in New York city into whose social sanctum the nouveau riche are not permitted to set their unhallowed feet.