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

Custody battle underscores debate over racial identity in a biracial nation.

ByABC News
February 8, 2011, 4:53 PM

Feb. 9, 2011 — -- Halle Berry said she is in a war of words with her ex-partner, Gabriel Aubry, about their daughter's racial identity.

Berry, 44, is the daughter of a white mother, who was a psychiatric nurse, and a black father, who was a hospital attendant in the same ward. Aubry is French-Canadian and white.

The couple is in the middle of a bitter custody battle over their 2-year-old girl, Nahla.

"I feel she's black. I'm black and I'm her mother, and I believe in the one-drop theory," Berry said in an interview with Ebony magazine.

The "one-drop" rule refers to Jim Crow laws passed in the South during the 20th century to further disenfranchise African Americans.

It varied from state to state, but generally, if a person had "one drop" of black blood, they were forbidden to pass as white.

"I'm not going to put a label on it. I had to decide for myself and that's what she's going to have to decide -- how she identifies herself in the world," Berry told Ebony. "What I think is that that's something she's going to have to decide."

"And I think, largely, that will be based on how the world identifies her. That's how I identified myself," she said. "But I feel like she's black."

Berry's remarks underscore an ongoing debate about racial identity in a country that is becoming much more multi-ethnic.

One in seven new marriages is between spouses of different races or ethnicities, according to data from 2008 and 2009 that was analyzed by the Pew Research Center.

The United States is having a demographic shift driven by immigration and intermarriage, one that is expected to accelerate, according to a report in The New York Times.

Dionne Ford, a writer from Montclair, N.J., is black and her husband is white. Their two daughters, 11 and 9, consider themselves biracial.

"To some degree, we are shaped by society but ultimately how we see our identity ourselves is deeply personal to us," she said. "It's a journey and it evolves."

One of her daughters struggled with her racial identity when she was younger. "She decided she was white, but black in the inside," said Ford.

She described how she felt about her daughter's ambivalence in an essay, "Black on the Inside," that was published in Brain Child magazine.

"It was tough," said Ford. "I wanted her to identify with me, but I still had to respect her."

"With her butterscotch skin and thick copper-colored curls, it's easy to see that white is only half the story," wrote Ford. "Her father is white, with his Irish grandmother's freckled skin and red hair and his Finnish grandfather's long limbs and blue eyes. I am black, cocoa-colored like my grandmothers from Arkansas and Mississippi. I want Desiree, as a biracial child, to self-identify, to not let others box her into some container too small to hold all of her."