Interracialism: Black-White Intermarriage in American History, Literature, and Law

Interracialism: Black-White Intermarriage in American History, Literature, and Law

Interracialism: Black-White Intermarriage in American History, Literature, and Law

Interracialism: Black-White Intermarriage in American History, Literature, and Law


Interracialism, or marriage between members of different races, has formed, torn apart, defined and divided our nation since its earliest history. This collection explores the primary texts of interracialism as a means of addressing core issues in our racial identity. Ranging from Hannah Arendt to George Schuyler and from Pace v. Alabama to Loving v. Virginia, it provides extraordinary resources for faculty and students in English, American and Ethnic Studies as well as for general readers interested in race relations. By bringing together a selection of historically significant documents and of the best essays and scholarship on the subject of "miscegenation," interracialism demonstrates that notions of race can be fruitfully approached from the vantage point of the denial of interracialism that typically informs racial ideologies.


A marriage between a person of free condition and a slave, or between a white person and a negro, or between a white person and a mulatto, shall be null.

1786 Virginia bill, drafted by Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson 557, bill 86)

What is American about American culture? Many readers inside and outside of the United States are now suspicious of this line of questioning, for does it not exaggerate what distinguishes this country from other countries, and is this not an "exceptionalist" approach that stylizes the United States as unique? We have become skeptical of sweeping views of American history and literature that isolate the frontier or mobility, notions of virgin land and abundance, or peculiar forms of pastoralism as the distinguishing features of the United States. Instead, we have turned toward internationalist approaches and toward the study of regions and ethnic and gender groups to avoid generalizations about the United States.

One theme that has been pervasive in U.S. history and literature and that has been accompanied by a 300-year-long tradition of legislation, jurisdiction, protest, and defiance is the deep concern about, and the attempt to prohibit, contain, or deny, the presence of black-white interracial sexual relations, interracial marriage, interracial descent, and other family relations across the powerful black-white divide. Many fears have been attached to the formation of the otherwise ideal American social institution: the heterosexual family. Thus a complicated area defined only by the racial difference of bride and groom was designated where family founding was considered "null and void," and children of interracially married couples were deemed illegitimate. This focus on marriage, children, legitimacy, property, and family created a paradox in American society, idealizing the concept of family while destroying certain families.

The powerful black-white divide was mirrored in other interracial relationships. Prohibitions of other forms of interracialism in the United States, critics Eva Saks, Peggy Pascoe, and Randall Kennedy observe in this volume, have existed for long periods of time. Anti-miscegenation laws came to include, in various states, American Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiians, Filipinos, and other groups -- but all such laws restricted marriage choices of blacks and whites, making the blackwhite divide the deepest and historically most pervasive of all American color . . .

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