Mixed Blood: Intermarriage and Ethnic Identity in Twentieth-Century America [Review: Diner]

Mixed Blood: Intermarriage and Ethnic Identity in Twentieth-Century America [Review: Diner]

American Historical Review
Volume 96, Number 2 (April 1991)
pages 624-625

Hasia R. Diner, Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish History; Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies
New York University

Paul R. Spickard. Mixed Blood: Intermarriage and Ethnic Identity in Twentieth-Century America. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. 1989. Pp. xii, 532 pages.

Paul R. Spickard has performed a tremendous service to historians and other students of ethnicity in writing this study of the historic patterns and changing meaning of out-group marriage. In focusing on the experiences of those Japanese Americans, American Jews, and African Americans who chose to wed nongroup members, and conversely on the experiences of white, Christian Americans as they took spouses from these three minority groups, the author seeks to link social structure and cultural constructs as explanations for particular patterns.

Spickard ought to be credited for authoring the first serious historical hook on the subject and for taking this extremely important topic out of the sole domain of sociologists, who are eager to build models and are therefore oblivious to subtleties of time and place. Indeed, the sociological generalizations about who has intermarried and why provides Spickard with the departure point for this analysis. He ultimately tests the extant models and asks which ones work under which circumstances. No historian before has tackled this issue, and, where they have attempted to address it, they have subsumed it under the rubric of a study of one group without any benefit of comparative analysis. The fact, for example, that intermarriage rates and patterns for Americans of Japanese ancestry and Jews resemble one another discounts, according to Spickard, the importance attributable to color and physical appearance as a barrier to romance across group lines. On the other hand, among African Americans and Jews the dominant pattern of minority-group men marrying majority-group women—rather than conversely—indicates that out-group marriage patterns can, under certain circumstances, be linked to social and economic mobility.

This study also takes the issue of intermarriage out of the hands of group activists, leaders, and apologists who are concerned about the implications of intermarriage rates for group solidarity. By offering a dispassionate and comparative study of the topic, analyzed historically and oriented toward looking for change over time, Spickard adds a note of clearheaded rationality to an otherwise intensely emotional subject. He convincingly proves that marriage outside the group does not always mean a loss to the group or a severing of the bonds between the out-marner and the community of his or her birth. Intermarriage, according to Spickard, has different meanings under varying circumstances. Spickard in no place denigrates the passionate feelings of group members worried about intermarriage or its implications for ethnic cohesion; he offers instead an alternative, cooler way of looking at the issues.

In several other ways, this book ought to be commended and recommended. For one, he treats the issue in its complexity rather than simplicity. To really study intermarriage, the scholar must recognize that members of two groups are involved, and the behavior and attitudes of both are crucial to a thorough analysis. Second, marriage involves both genders, and a study that does not take cognizance of differences in attitude, expectations, and social positions of men and women would not adequately cover the problem. But Spickard addresses these issues and provides historians of ethnicity, gender, and race with a thoroughly researched, sophisticated analysis that should displace the usual sociologically based, model-oriented generalizations that have dominated the field.

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