Notes of a White Black Woman: Race, Color, Community

Notes of a White Black Woman: Race, Color, Community



While the "one-drop rule" in the United States dictates that people with any African ancestry are black, many black Americans have white skin. Notes of a White Black Woman is one woman's attempt to describe what it is like to be a "white" black woman and to live simultaneously inside and outside of both white and black communities.

Law professor Judy Scales-Trent begins by describing how our racial purity laws have operated over the past four hundred years. Then, in a series of autobiographical essays, she addresses how race and color interact in relationships between men and women, within families, and in the larger community. Scales-Trent ultimately explores the question of what we really mean by "race" in this country, once it is clear that race is not a tangible reality as reflected through color.

Scales-Trent uses autobiography both as a way to describe these issues and to develop a theory of the social construction of race. She explores how race and color intertwine through black and white families and across generations; how members of both black and white communities work to control group membership; and what happens to relations between black men and women when the layer of color is placed over the already difficult layer of race. She addresses how one can tell—and whether one can tell—who, indeed, is "black" or "white." Scales-Trent also celebrates the richness of her bicultural heritage and shows how she has revised her teaching methods to provide her law students with a multicultural education.

Publication Date



Penn State University Press


University Park




Law | Law and Race


Excerpted in Abby L. Farber et al., eds., The Matrix Reader: Examining the Dynamics of Oppression and Privilege (2008); Elizabeth Higginbotham and Margaret L. Andersen, eds., Race and Ethnicity in America: The Changing Landscape (2006); Jacqueline Jones Royster, ed., Critical Inquiries: Readings on Culture and Community (2003); Joan Ferrante and Prince Scholarly Brown, Jr., eds., The Social Construction of Race and Ethnicity in the United States (1998); Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, eds., Critical White Studies: Looking Behind the Mirror (1997); William C. Fischer, David A. Gerber, Jorge M. Guitart, Maxine S. Seller, eds., Identity, Community, and Pluralism in American Life (1997); Bonnie Szumski, ed., Interracial America: Opposing Viewpoints (1996).

Excerpt translated into Swedish and published in Kvinnotryck (Swedish magazine) (April 1998).

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Notes of a White Black Woman: Race, Color, Community