For much of American history, the most salient ethnocultural boundary has been the one separating blacks and whites. Now, however, people of Mexican origin outnumber the descendants of American slaves, Hispanics writ large outnumber non-Hispanic blacks, and people of Asian origin represent a growing share of the population, and a faster-growing share of our elite strata, as defined by income, wealth, and occupational prestige.
Does it really make sense to lump all of these groups (plus indigenous peoples) together on the grounds that all minorities have been victimized by a hegemonic white majority? This notion that we should plays a central role in contemporary cultural politics. So it’s worth reflecting on where this “one hate rule” comes from.
I owe the term “one hate rule” to the intellectual historian David Hollinger, who wrote about it in a 2005 essay for Daedalus. He described the relationship between the “one hate rule” and the better-known one-drop rule, i.e., the historical practice of counting as black any individual with any black ancestry. Hollingers argues that the two concepts work together to perpetuate inequality.
One hate — the term “hate” being used in the same sense as “hate crimes” or “hate speech” — is the lumping together of all non-European minority groups into one category that is thought to experience white racism in the same way, regardless of history and present circumstances. “One hate” was already part of American political practice as early as the 1960s, when affirmative-action programs were opened to both African Americans and to other minority groups such as Asian Americans and Hispanics.
For a time, non-black minority groups resisted such groupings. But “one hate” gained traction in the 1980s, as officials and then activists “came to understand that by applying ‘the black model’ to their own group they had a better chance of getting the sympathetic attention of officials and courts” — witness the increasing use of the catch-all term “people of color.”
The problem, Hollinger contends, is that “one hate” was conceived at a time when the African-American population vastly outnumbered the populations of other non-European minority groups. But as immigrant Latin American and Asian populations boomed in the 1970s, so did the number of people who were eligible for benefits under the “one-hate” system. “The number of new immigrants between 1970 and 2000 who were eligible for at least some affirmative action benefits came to about 26 million, the same number of eligible African Americans as measured by the census of 1980.”
In other words, programs meant to make up for centuries of slavery and other discrimination suddenly found themselves catering to people whose needs had little in common with the descendants of enslaved Americans. “More strikingly yet,” continues Hollinger, “many of the new immigrants and their children proved able, especially in the Asian American case, to make their way around racist barriers in education, business, and the workforce that continued to inhibit the progress of African Americans.”
This is not to suggest that Asian Americans or non-black Hispanics don’t face any discrimination, or that either group is monolithic. Non-black Hispanics are a particularly interesting case, as they’re divided between affluent and educated individuals living in integrated environments, many of whom are assimilating into “whiteness,” and working-class individuals in segregated environments, many of whom are isolated from the American mainstream. But any analogies between these experiences and the “hypodescent racialization” of African Americans will be imperfect to say the least. Thankfully, the one-hate rule seems to be fading, and not a moment too soon.