One Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race By Yaba Blay Cover Image

One Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race (Paperback)

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Challenges narrow perceptions of Blackness as both an identity and lived reality to understand the diversity of what it means to be Black in the US and around the world

What exactly is Blackness and what does it mean to be Black?
Is Blackness a matter of biology or consciousness?
Who determines who is Black and who is not?
Who’s Black, who’s not, and who cares?

In the United States, a Black person has come to be defined as any person with any known Black ancestry. Statutorily referred to as “the rule of hypodescent,” this definition of Blackness is more popularly known as the “one-drop rule,” meaning that a person with any trace of Black ancestry, however small or (in)visible, cannot be considered White. A method of social order that began almost immediately after the arrival of enslaved Africans in America, by 1910 it was the law in almost all southern states. At a time when the one-drop rule functioned to protect and preserve White racial purity, Blackness was both a matter of biology and the law. One was either Black or White. Period. Has the social and political landscape changed one hundred years later?

One Drop explores the extent to which historical definitions of race continue to shape contemporary racial identities and lived experiences of racial difference. Featuring the perspectives of 60 contributors representing 25 countries and combining candid narratives with striking portraiture, this book provides living testimony to the diversity of Blackness. Although contributors use varying terms to self-identify, they all see themselves as part of the larger racial, cultural, and social group generally referred to as Black. They have all had their identity called into question simply because they do not fit neatly into the stereotypical “Black box”—dark skin, “kinky” hair, broad nose, full lips, etc. Most have been asked “What are you?” or the more politically correct “Where are you from?” throughout their lives. It is through contributors’ lived experiences with and lived imaginings of Black identity that we can visualize multiple possibilities for Blackness.

About the Author

Dr. Yaba Blay is a scholar-activist and cultural creative whose work centers the lived experiences of Black women and girls. She has launched viral campaigns including #PrettyPeriod and #ProfessionalBlackGirl and has appeared on CNN, BET, MSNBC, and NPR. Dr. Blay’s work has been featured in the New York Times, Ebony, Essence, and The Root. A thought leader on Black racial identity, colorism, and beauty politics, she is a globally sought-after speaker and consultant. Connect with her online at

Praise For…

“Black, beautiful, and bound to spark necessary conversations.”
Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“An inherently fascinating, insightfully articulate, and impressively informative compilation of photo essays on the subject of Race in America, One Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race is an extraordinarily thoughtful and thought provoking read from cover to cover.”
Midwest Book Review

“This book . . . powerfully delivers on its central promise to condense an extensive history of the battle for identity through skin color into a small space. Blay gives the reader time to digest the complex topic of Black identity and provides a catalyst for longer conversations among Black people of all shades, White people of all countries, and people of color everywhere.”
Los Angeles Review of Books

“A gorgeous and evocative book. Through personal narrative, photographic portraits, and an astute historical backdrop, the reader is brought on a journey exploring both the borders and the depth of the complicated racial category ‘Black.’ Tears, laughter, and life-transforming ideas blossom on page after page.”
—Imani Perry, author of Breathe: A Letter to My Sons

“Highlighting the impact of immigration, transnationalism, culture, ethnicity, and immigration on the alleged black-and-white-ness of the US racial narrative, these poignant testimonies reassert that the lived experience of Blackness is far more than a mere social construct.”
—Joan Morgan, cultural critic and author of When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down

“Blay broadens our ideas about what counts as Black and challenges readers to rethink Blackness not only as a category but as an experience. As a biracial Black woman, I think this book is not only a must-read but a must-share.”
—Amy DuBois Barnett, former editor in chief of Ebony

“When people ask, What does it mean to love Blackness, one answer is the work of Yaba Blay. . . . Yaba is one of the most brilliant and committed critics and advocates writing and thinking and working on behalf of Black people today.”
—Michael Eric Dyson, New York Times best-selling author

One Drop visually stuns while showing us the many different and often surprising faces of Blackness that make up the Americas. In a world that shreds Black women’s self-esteem in big and small ways every day, we depend on Blay’s writing, Instagram tutorials, and undaunted compassion to put us back together again.”
—Brittney Cooper, author of the New York Times bestseller Eloquent Rage

One Drop presents a nuanced exploration of racial identity that serves as a practical guide for thinking critically about what it means to be Black in the twenty-first century.”
—Tarana J. Burke, author, activist, and founder of the MeToo movement

“The one-drop rule has policed life both across and within the color line for centuries. Blay brilliantly and lovingly reframes our visions on the strength and vitality of our visual diversity."
—Mark Anthony Neal, Duke University

Product Details
ISBN: 9780807013212
ISBN-10: 0807013218
Publisher: Beacon Press
Publication Date: September 19th, 2023
Pages: 288
Language: English