Academic journal article Law & Society Review

According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander V. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family

Academic journal article Law & Society Review

According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander V. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family

Article excerpt

According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family. By Angela Onwuachi-Willig. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. 325 pp. $38.00 cloth.

Angela Onwuachi-Willig has written a compelling book about the significance that the Rhinelander v. Rhinelander annulment case has for modern day mixed-race families. It reads like two books in one, which if anything, allows it to bridge the stories of mixed- race families through time. Drawing upon evidence from the Rhinelander trial and other publicity regarding the case, she explains in part one, the pressures the parties were put through when they married across the color line. Decided almost 100 years ago, the case arose in a time when social boundaries between the black and white races were more fixed, and whites who married interracially faced far greater criticism and ostracism. Kip Rhineland, the son of a socially prominent and wealthy white New Rochelle family, claimed that his wife Alice, a working class mixed-race black woman, duped him into marrying her by identifying as white. He alleged that had he known her father was of black descent, he would have never married her. A tragedy all around, he lost the case; the jury did not believe he had no idea of his wife's race, and then he lost his marriage. Divorce was the only option available to them after the trial that tore them apart. Upon losing his marriage, he never married again, but lived as a recluse, cut off from his social class, only to die several years after the trial. Alice never married again, but she lived until 1989, only to use her married name on her tombstone: Alice J. Rhinelander.

The second part of the book assesses the issues raised in the Rhineland case, but asks them in the context of modern day mixed- race families: questions of acceptance by relatives; reactions from friends, colleagues, and strangers. This section's strength can be found in its reliance upon information provided by the author herself, as a black woman married to a white man, and from others: surveys and interviews with black-white mixed-race couples, both heterosexual and homosexual. Evidence is presented from black women married to white men, black men married to white women, black lesbians partnered with white women, and black gay men partnered with white men. …

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