The Historical Roots of Lesbian,
Gay, and Heterosexual
THE NOTION THAT INTERRACIAL couples are a symbol of racial progress is part of an ideological shift that occurred in the United States in the middle of the twentieth century. Older representations of interracial sexuality dating back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are strikingly different. In these other imaginings, sex and marriage between White and Black persons were characterized as dangerous, deviant, and—until 1967—criminal.1 Interracial sex between Black women and White men was almost always a form of sexual violence, more accurately described as “rape,” not “intimacy.”2 Even sexual encounters that were not violent took place within a context in which White men had power and authority and Black women did not. These old forms of racial thinking did not abruptly end as new racial logics took hold. Instead, shifts in racial ideologies have involved an overlap between old and new—or what Patricia Hill Collins has called “past-in-present racial formations.”3 Thus, any attempt to understand contemporary interracial experiences must take a longer, wider look back into U.S. history. Historical accounts of sexual relations between Blacks and Whites provide a structural and cultural context in which to understand the power differences that have long existed between interracial partners, as well as the interracial stigmas that linger even at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Exploring the history of gay and lesbian interraciality alongside heterosexual interraciality reveals a vastly uneven record. Heterosexual interracial sexuality has been the subject of political and legal discourse since the first laws against interracial sex, then more likely to be called “fornication,” were enacted in Virginia and Maryland in the 1660s. Gay and lesbian interracial sexuality, on the other hand, is barely perceptible within historical records before the end of the nineteenth century. As I explain