Hidden in plain sight: defying juridical racialization in Rhinelander v. Rhinelander

Hidden in plain sight: defying juridical racialization in Rhinelander v. Rhinelander

Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies
Volume 1, Issue 4 (2004)
Pages 313-334
DOI: 10.1080/1479142042000270458

Nadine Ehlers, Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies
Georgetown University

This article examines the intersectionality of law and race to argue that law, in its broadest understanding, has played a pivotal role in the performative constitution of racial subjects. This disciplinary regulation, which has operated to “fix” an individual within a racial status under law, has augmented the production of the individual as a raced subject. An analysis of Rhinelander v. Rhinelander, however, illuminates that a defiance of racial performative dictates can render “race” hidden in plain sight. This rendering represents an escape from the regulatory mechanisms of law, posing a counter-power that threatens to disturb hegemonic whiteness.

…By prohibiting inter-racial sex and marriage, and generating and enforcing racial classification based on fractions of “blood,” racial purity laws served to chart and maintain racial boundaries in order to “keep” whiteness “pure.” Peggy Pascoe has noted that this racial separation was established and maintained through recourse to an alleged “truth” that could be established in “[g]enealogy, appearance, [social]claims to identity, or that mystical quality ‘blood’.” All such efforts, however, positioned the body as that which articulated this racial ontology. As more than merely the mapping of racial peripheries, I argue that these laws provided two primary mechanisms that operated in tandem to discipline and, subsequently, racialize bodies. These efforts worked at one level to regulate the production of race in that these attempted to patrol what kinds of racial subjects were produced (in a literal capacity) through discursive definition. On a second level, these laws have sought to regulate the take-up of race; that is, they have governed the manner in which racial subjects can come to operate in the world. Put another way, law can be seen to generate “knowledge” pertaining to the meaning of supposedly disparate bodies and,in attaching this meaning to the corporeal, has contributed (1) to what kinds of racial subjectivities emerge and (2) to the regulation of “appropriate” articulations of racial subjectivity based on the designation of racial status. Ultimately, this juridical policing of “racial borders” has rendered “race” a literal and figurative vehicle of containment. This containment has been executed through constraining the possible interpretations and articulations of racial subject-hood—constraints that have functioned to call into being or produce the very racial subjects that legislation and legal judgments have claimed only to classify and keep separate…

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