Halle Berry Cites 'One-Drop' Rule in Battle Over Whether Her Daughter Is Black or White

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"There was so much intermixing going on that it got to the point where it was easy for people who didn't have much black blood to pass as white," said Ford. That was the case with her grandfather, who "looked totally like a white man."

"When I asked him if he was white, he was very clear that he would not have ever called himself biracial or anything like that. One has to understand he came up in a time that if he had tried something like that there would have been a punishment for being caught passing."

Sometimes, he pretended to be white to get better-paying jobs. "Not as a CEO job, but for his dignity, so he could walk through the front door," she said.

Ford is critical of the racial tug-of-war between Halle Berry and her husband.

"When a child sees how inflamed either parent gets about her race, that sends a message that something is wrong," she said. "There is always potential damage to the child, getting the message that it's not OK to be either black or white."

Ford's husband, Dennis Kurrti, said he doesn't "draw a line in the sand" about his children's racial identity the way Halle Berry did.

"They probably qualify as black by any census," Kurrti, a 52-year-old property manager, said of his girls. "I tell my daughters, it's ridiculous to assume everybody doesn't have blood from everybody else."

Halle Berry Raises Questions About Biracial Children

Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University, was raised in a racially charged South. Her mother was white and her father was black.

"I was born fewer than 10 years after the 1965 Voting Rights Act," she said. "My mother was from the West and when she first came, she said, 'Why are there two pools?' My father said, 'Jim Crow, Diana, Jim Crow.'"

The term biracial was unheard of then. Today, Americans come in all colors and ethnicities. But the word "biracial" is "meaningless because race and culture and language and identity are all a social construct," said Harris-Perry.

The "most contested" biracial construct is being black and white," she said. "This sounds nuts, but it's impossible to achieve whiteness."

"When people passed at the turn of century, it was because there were real and violent and political consequences to being a person of color," she said. "They passed with great danger and fear and cost. You risked everything -- marriage, job and economic security. You can't just tick off white as an identity that has been protected and policed and legislated for hundreds of years. It carries with it a package of privileges and opportunities."

Linda Tropp, associate professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts with a specialty in prejudice and group relations, recognizes that African-Americans still struggle with race, but that one day it might change.

At one time during the 20th century, the Irish were considered the "missing link" between apes and humans, a attitude that was described in the book, "How the Irish Became White," said Tropp.

Italians and Jewish Americans faced similar attitudes.

"In the future, when we become more a multiethnic and multifaceted society, there might not be a term white -- or it won't mean the same thing as it does now."

"I'm not being overly optimistic or blind to reality," she said. "But the significance and rigidity may change over time."

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