Cover image for One drop of blood : the American misadventure of race
One drop of blood : the American misadventure of race
Malcomson, Scott L.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.
Physical Description:
viii, 584 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E184.A1 M265 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E184.A1 M265 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ
E184.A1 M265 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Why has a nation founded upon precepts of freedom and universal humanity continually produced, through its preoccupation with race, a divided and constrained populace? Scott Malcomson's search for an answer took him across the country -- to the Cherokee Nation, an all-black town, and a white supremacist enclave in Oklahoma -- back through the tangled red-white-and-black history of America from colonial times onward, and to his own childhood in racially fractured Oakland, California. By not only recounting our shared tragicomedy of race but also helping us to own it -- even to embrace it -- this important book offers us a way at last to move beyond it.

Author Notes

Scott L. Malcomson has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and other publications. The author of two previous books, he lives in Brooklyn, New York.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Malcomson takes the lightning rod of race and looks at the challenges it presents to U.S. ideals of freedom and equality for all. He explores the historic and current race perceptions of black, Indian, and white communities, examining the social construction and reconstruction that demonstrates the fluidity of the supposed concreteness of race. Malcomson is strongest, if not most compassionate, in portraying whiteness as a New World phenomenon that allowed the shedding of former European classes of indentured servants, ex-convicts, religious zealots, and landless gentry. Whites have on occasion been known to "go native" and, in recent years, have made increasingly more claims to Indian blood. The Indians, for their part, historically have been differentiated as "civilized," nations with customs and practices similar to whites, versus "uncivilized." Yet, the net effect is to not differentiate between such statuses. Blacks, who have, at points, been enslaved by whites, Indians, and even other blacks, provide the "otherness" against which all races in the U.S. tend to be defined. The one-drop legal construct has held such sway in the U.S. that a straight-on examination of the complexity of race that it produces has been long overdue. Malcomson fills the void. --Vernon Ford

Publisher's Weekly Review

In a breathtaking and unusual treatment of the artifice and hypocrisy that has surrounded racial differences in America from its earliest settlement to the present, this massive work offers stunning insights with a subtle hand. The first three parts of the book deal with "indianness," "blackness" and "whiteness" respectively, followed by a fourth, which aims to reconcile the previous sections. The opening exploration of the opportunistic ways that philosophers, politicians and white society have defined Indian identity and land rights is haunting and powerfulDas is the chapter on "the Indian as slaveholder," which reveals the life of black slaves on a Cherokee reservation and their march on the Trail of Tears beside their "masters." But the rest of the book does not deliver upon the promise of the first 100 pages. Although the focuses on America, Malcomson journeys back into the medieval and the ancient world to find the defining moment when skin color was associated with good, evil and slavery. At times, this wide-ranging approach yields surprising insights (for example, Malcomson offers a thoughtful discussion of Shakespeare's outlook on blackness). However, he also includes long-winded digressions that are not securely anchored in his larger argument. Malcomson (Empire's Edge: Travels in South-Eastern Europe, Turkey and Central Asia) reveals the creation of "race" as a tool to obtain power, suppress the newly created powerless and justify immoral claims to land and property. Although not fully realized, his ambitious study of race and American identity is to be commended for dragging our racial conundrums further into the light of day. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Journalist Malcomson has written a book our diverse nation would be well served to read. His wide-ranging and self-critical account of our obsession with race sets an example not only for its engaging discussion but also by including Native Americans with African Americans and whites. Outlining the social construction of racial identities from John Locke to Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to Marcus Garvey, without resorting to esoteric terms or unsupported claims, he shows how politics and power mattered more than principle or biology. As he shows, European immigrants urged Native Americans to assimilate while resisting demands for equality from articulate Christian converts. More Native Americans supported the Confederacy than the Union, but they passed over time unwillingly into blackness. During the Civil War, "one could easily be antislavery and antiblack." White supremacists later could be relatively kind toward all-black towns, as "black separatism fit right into the Klan's plan." Malcomson concludes with his own fascinating story as a descendant of slave owners growing up among Asian Americans in Oakland during the Sixties. Highly recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/00.]DFrank H. Wu, Howard Univ. Law Sch., Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This is a fascinating meditation on the meaning of "race roles" in US history. Where most discussions of "race" focus on the binary opposition of black and white, Malcomson argues that conceptions about the Native Americans were constitutive in the formation of "white" identity. He suggests that white identity was triangulated as a double negation: not a black slave and not an "Indian." However, American identity has also been built on a myth of innocence, as people start "anew," as free individuals, unencumbered by any collective past. Consequently no one is responsible for anything that happened in the past. The book is part literary analysis, part psychology, part history. The author weaves together a rich, penetrating narrative that ranges from the biblical Ham to the stoic heroism of dying Indians, the Harlem Renaissance, and growing up in Oakland. Can Americans, who cherish the illusion that they are untouched by history, transcend the legacies of the past if they continue to pretend that they are immune to the burden of history? Reminiscent of Winthrop Jordan's The White Man's Burden (CH, May'74) and Jonathan Coleman's Long Way To Go: Black and White in America (CH, Jun'98). All collections. W. Glasker; Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Camden