‘You don’t have to look black to be black’: The complex racial identity of a tiny Ohio town

‘You don’t have to look black to be black’: The complex racial identity of a tiny Ohio town


With a lot of the people that live out here,
you probably wouldn’t take them to be black people. You might not look black
but you got the black blood into you. My name is Roberta Jeannette Oiler but I
go by Bert for a nickname. I’ve lived here all my life. On my job that I had worked at,
they took me to be white and my best friend
she took me to be white. She was shocked when I told her I’m not white. I am black. I am a black person. And it was, ‘Well you’re not that,
you think you are’, ‘No I know I am, I was raised that way,
but I was also raised, as Mom would say,
‘It doesn’t matter what colour your skin is we all serve one God.’ Now as you know, this is my home. Over here is my daughter’s home, Jessica. Everybody else in here, we’re all kin
folks. That’s how this community got to be mixed with white and black. It was from the black children,
our children going out marrying white and bringing them in. A lot of them was as light as I am but we still said we were black, and then we
had some real dark ones but that’s OK. They were black, we were black. So that’s how this all got started. My grandma, she was half
Turk [Native-American], half black. My grandpa was a white man. My mom registered me as black. My mom was a … she wasn’t as fair
complected as I am. She was a light tan brown. My dad, he has German, Irish, white … While his mother was a white woman. His dad was a coloured man,
and then as I grew older and I got married and I had my children, I registered
my children as black. Most of them in this area goes as black. We’ve got maybe two,
three families that consider themselves being white, but the rest of
us in here, we consider ourselves being black. You know this country is prejudiced, always has been and it never will grow out of it. I was in the service in ’66 and I circled,
‘black, Negro.’ He said,
‘You can’t circle that’, I said, ‘That’s what I am.’ Well, he kind of smiled and he said, ‘Circle this.’ I said, ‘OK, which meant Caucasian.’ I didn’t show my colour but I know what I
was and I’m not going to deny my race. My mom raised me as Negro. Oh I had a lot of
people ask me say, ‘Why did your mom raise you as a Negro?’ I said, ‘That’s what I am.’ They said, ‘Yeah but you don’t show it.’ They said, ‘There will come a time where whites won’t accept you and the Negroes won’t accept you.’ I said, I’ll wait it out. It’s about all you can do. Growing up I was always taught
that I was black. I started into school and didn’t really think much about it until
I got into the elementary, I’m going to say around about third or fourth grade,
that’s when I started noticing the difference. I started noticing I was
being taught that I was black but I didn’t look black. Other children didn’t
view me as black, even some of those other kids made fun of me because, ‘Why are you saying you’re black when you’re white.’ It was until I reached about
junior high and then I realised I’m white. That is what I am. Yes, I know I was
raised black and was told I was a black, but I am white. What black person has blond hair, blue eyes
and fair complected and can hardly tan besides burning? I’m white. You don’t have to look black to be black. I know she don’t look black
but she has got black in her … She’s right, she’s got a lot
of different kind in her but I am her mother, I stand on the black. She did not stand,
only for so long of a time she stood as for black. When she got into
school, into Waverly school, she let the people in Waverly change her thinking,
her feeling. I didn’t. I still stood for what I was,
what my mother told me I was. I didn’t care what I had to go through,
I still stood for it. When I finally made
the decision to go as white, I did feel guilty about it, it did in a way break my heart … It’s nothing against my family and it doesn’t mean that I don’t like black
people or love black people or care for black people. I do and like I told her, I
can’t be racist and I know that and I would never want to be even if even if I
chose to be, I couldn’t. I don’t want that for myself or for my children. You’re never going to get to the top
of that mountain, I’m telling you. The black blood in you
it’s going to stay there, and whether you want to accept it or not
there is going to be people to pick it out of you, whether you mention East Jackson or not. I went to a doctor in Waverly a couple good years back,
and on that application it asked my race and I put black. The woman come out
and said to me, how can you be black? And I kind of stared at her
because she throwed me off. She said, ‘I have never seen a black person, fair
complected, blue eyes, freckles and red hair.’ I said, ‘Well surprise, you see her now.’ And she wanted to change my race. She was aiming on marking
out the black and putting white and I told her, ‘Don’t you do
that, I know what I go by, I know what I am, you leave it there.’ I will never ever, ever deny my race for what my mother had brought me up
and raised me and had put me as. I will always be that until the day I leave this earth.

100 thoughts on “‘You don’t have to look black to be black’: The complex racial identity of a tiny Ohio town

  • I'm on this boat. My grandma was a pacfic islander who looked Fijian( very dark; virtually black) and my dad looked fully Samoan. I'm "72%" percent European and get bombarded with 100 by African-Americans in the south

  • I think this is what alot of U.S. Hispanics/Latinos go through in a sense regarding "whiteness". I'm 73.4% European a quarter of that being Spanish and then broadly European. I'm 26.6% American from the original Americans of the Southwest predominantly of the New Mexico, Chihuahua, Texas region of North America. I was raised in European culture, I speak European languages, had a European identity instilled in me. I am just now at the age of 35 learning about Native American cultures and American languages and while very interesting, they feel and seem foriegn to me and yet I'm a quarter Native American but it feels as if I'm learing about somebody elses' culture. I think racial/ethnic identity is a very personal thing and while it is ludicrous for someone who has no Asian ancestry to identify as Asian or someone with no European ancestry to identity as white or someone with no African ancestry to identify as black. I think it isn't so farfetched with someone who is predominantly this or that to identify more closely with that higher percentage or maybe even in perhaps this case identify so much more with a lower percentage because that's the part that rings louder and truer. I have a bestfriend who is blonde hair blue eyed and so is his family and they are die hard Native Americans until the day they die. Racial/ ethnic identity is a very personal thing and perhaps if we didn't live in this race/ethnic obsessed country that is the U.S. perhaps none of this would even be a thought or an issue or what-have- you but it is. At least for right now.

  • LOVE this ladie's pride though. She don't let the whiteness overpower her hertiage one bit. I need her attitude for real:" Who cares what I look like, my blood is real." 5:56💯💯

  • honestly she is not really genetically black, not by a high percentage, i personally think maybe itd be more fitting for her to identify is multiracial but i cant tell her what to do. shes definitely culturally blck though. is it possible to be of certain ethnicity but be culturally a different race? because if so i think thats wht she is. seems like her mother really wanted to respect what her ancestors went through and therefore raised her as culturally black even tho genetically she didnt have much black in her. interesting story.

  • Everybody is just a genetically mutated black person. Black left Africa & filled all the Islands out to Fiji below Asia. These aborgines hit land & all non SSA were south asians who developed genes mutations for climate based on their migraton up to Asia and then America right & Europe left.

  • Well back in the day once you had 1% African in you you were black. Didn't matter you looked like… lol. According to tanty we are all God's children so the colour of our skin should not matter!

  • I don’t believe in the one drop rule. You need at least one parent who is at least half Black before you get to claim the black community.

  • The woman is not albino. And regardless of whether she has black blood relatives, she clearly is white no matter how many times she said she’s black.

  • She's literally both. Why cant she be happy being white and black? She's mad at her daughter for saying she identifies as white well she herself only identifies as black. They're mixed. Fair skined but mixed. Be happy to be everything that you are. You cannot pick and choose because if one thing wasn't there she wouldn't be on this earth

  • i think the mother is still considered black bc shes like 1/4 but once u get to less than that im pretty sure youre just white

  • She is albino, in JA they called you dundus. This is the way it is. and nothing can change it. Yes lady stay in your lane..

  • American needs to reclaim biracial identity. Mixed race people identifying as black is confusing things for fully black people.

  • Part of the black experience is being discriminated against based on skin color. Unless you are Albino, ya’ll are NOT black. Sorry.

  • Damn!..A proud black family!…….. That looks white with black features that sounds southern white!🤔… She's a strong black woman tho!

  • Genes know nothing about race. Race is a tool of destruction and oppression. Let's take away the brain fog. People's families often come from more than one gene pool or country. Humanity has always mingled. And national origin is no guarantee of what a person's genetic origin is. Purity is just another human self-deception.

    Why should this family be forced to give in to that poison? Why should anyone?

    For certain I may discover the cruelties of slavery or other atrocities and I cannot fix the world, but I refuse to deny any of my origins.

  • That one drop rule has her STUCK, I’m mixed, a mulatto and that’s what I say I am. Claiming one part of your heritage is hella weird proud to be black and white

  • So basically they are genetically white with a little black but they were all raised by biracial moms who raised their kids as black so now they identify as black which is FINE. They aren’t like woah Vicky or Rachael dolzeal who just claim they are black when they probably aren’t or we’re not raised black at all but they saw maybe 0.05% on a dna test so now they’re black lmfaoo.

  • This is silly. It’s just the results of mixed people having children. My mom is Nicaraguan and my dad is white. I don’t think my child would feel as connected to his Hispanic roots the way I do, and that’s okay. So long as he has a respect for his ancestry, which is how the daughter of this lady seems to be. No big deal. People take this sort of thing way too seriously.

  • I genuinely don't understand this. Their skin is white. Is "black" now a way to be raised? Is it not a skin tone? I genuinely am so confused. Can someone please explain? I would really like to understand this.

  • its weird that ur denying the existence that ur also white as well. Ur not just a black person, ur a mixture. Its incredibly stupid. If someone looked black and was raised to be white people would riot.

  • I do think that the "one drop rule" the US has is interesting. In France, if you're mixed, it's as if you're undefined, if your skin looks tanned you're obviously not white, but rarely would black people consider you black. You're just mixed. With all the different complexions existing, that's a lot of categories to classify people into, and that's just so weird to grow up into.

  • We come in all shades, from the lightest of the light. To the darkest of the dark. It really blows my mind that some people don't understand that. Know your history and not what schools and teachers taught.

  • If they had as much Native American ancestry as they do black ancestry, they likely wouldn't be allowed to call themselves Native American.

  • All these people are white …it's like when white people say they are native American with blonde hair and blue eyes and white skin . These people take the one drop rule too seriously.

  • Black is a social construct not a race and it has no standing in law. The title was created to remove the rights from Aboriginal people who are actually American(Amarucan)and Whites are Europeans., Note: Civil human beings come attached with their country of origin, places that actually exist on Earth. Germany-German, Senegal-Senegalese, Irish-Ireland, Britain-British…etc,

  • Why is she denying being white cuz she obviously has way more white in her and people treat her like a white person. Moreover, your upbringing does not define your race!

  • Technically, white but you have a drop of black. It’s nice that you own it though. It’s kinda like when black people say we have Indian in us. We still know we black but we have Indian in us. And that’s that.

  • Get a DNA test. Job done. This race obsession in America has become so tiresome. When will they just let it go and get on with life?

  • This is the 21st century. Take a DNA test to find your ancestry percentages & be done with it. Goddamn! Like by now these people are probably 25% or less, but if they still wanna identify as black American culturally, I can understand

  • Am Black English Caribbean and I don't see any of these people as Black as i am I see these People as albinos or people who may have a tad bit of black blood in there ancestry they was to come over here to London England they will be seen as as all as North American Caucasians

  • I'm glad that the young lady knows where she comes from and knows the history, but she also knows that no matter what the world sees her as white.

  • It’s kinda odd for your parents to raise you only as one race when you’re mixed and then do the same to your kids.
    Like I’m mixed. I grew up in Hawaii and grew up with the Hawaiian/Filipino/Chinese side of my family and that’s pretty much all I knew. Like I don’t identify with only one, I just kinda embrace being mixed.

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