Many residents in East Jackson were raised to identify as black even though its largely an inherited identity. So what dictates race: where you live, your DNA, the history youre taught?
The stale, smoky air around Clarice Shreck heaves. She takes a long hit of oxygen from the tube under her nose. She leans forward, shifting in her armchair, before releasing her raspy smokers laugh, which is smudged out a second later by her smokers cough.
The pale woman with frizzy grey-streaked hair commands her on-and-off partner of over 20 years, Jimmy who is from one of the few white families in East Jackson to fetch her purse. He plops it on to her lap; she struggles to get at an old piece of paper folded up in her wallet. She slowly unfolds it to present her birth certificate.
Negro, it reads, next to each of her parents names. She looks up triumphantly, victory in her periwinkle eyes. Its a legal document, she says.
The last known full-blooded black person in her family was her great-great-grandfather Thomas Byrd, her parents told her. Photos of them, who both look white, adorn the wooden walls on either side of Shrecks chair. Their stares follow her throughout their former home. They are the ones who told her she was black.
Im 53 years old, and thats all Ive ever been raised as: black, Shreck says. So if youre taught that from when Im old enough to understand, up to when youre a grown woman, then [its] born and bred in you and youre automatically black.
Most of Shrecks generation and the generations before her here in East Jackson, on the edge of Appalachian Ohio, were raised to believe they are black. Never mind that they might register to most as white by appearance, or that there is hardly a trace of black ancestry left in their blood. This inherited identity most East Jackson residents still cling to and fiercely protect is based on where they were born and who they were told they are. It comes from a history rooted in racism and an identity placed upon their ancestors and now many of them without their consent.