An early morning phone call announcing his mother's accidental death and the coroner's inquiry regarding her race set Martin pondering the complicated mixed-race heritage of his family. His mother, who appeared white, was mixed, with white, black, and Seminole Indian blood. Living in Houston and Oakland, the family mostly associated with other fair-skinned blacks, holding themselves apart from whites and most black folks. Martin explores the tortured complexities of how the mixture of white and black was historically recorded and determined and eventually evolved into the one-drop rule. He recalls a great-grandfather so fair he lived as a white man. When it was discovered that he was black, he lost his status in the community, suffered lower wages and prospects, and eventually took to drink. Martin's mother was light enough to pass for white; instead, she navigated a balance between demanding respect and accepting any advantages that came with fair skin but also eventually became an alcoholic. Martin's recollection of his family history is a poignant example of the complexity and effect of racial designations in America.
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