What Comes Naturally: A Racially Inclusive Look at Miscegenation Law

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Law, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2014-01-16 17:12Z by Steven

What Comes Naturally: A Racially Inclusive Look at Miscegenation Law

Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies
Volume 31, Number 3, 2010
pages 15-21
DOI: 10.1353/fro.2010.0020

Jacki Thompson Rand, Professor of History; American Indian and Native Studies
University of Iowa

In What Comes Naturally Peggy Pascoe interrogates the U.S. racial regime through a study of civil marriage and miscegenation law. Her admirable work traces the development of legislation and court decisions about mixed marriage between White settlers and African Americans, Latinos and Latinas, Asians, and American Indians. Bans against mixed marriages, or miscegenation, between White men and women of color, Pascoe argues, served to protect White supremacy and heteronormative patriarchy. By maintaining boundaries between the races, and material consequences that favored men in land disputes and White relatives in estate disputes, for example, White men’s economic and social positions were reinforced while women’s positions were undermined. Pascoe includes American Indians in her study because their lands, unique relationship with the federal government, and kinship systems presented complications not found in other cases. Pascoe also briefly mentions tribal miscegenation laws among the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Cherokees, and Creeks.

Pascoe’s book and a recent special issue of the journal Frontiers, on interracial marriage and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century North American Indians, White settlers, and African Americans, complement each other in some ways. French fur traders in the Northeast and Great Lakes region and Spanish and Mexicans in the Southwest mixed with Native women long before the creation of the United States. The French were early astute observers of Native people and soon realized the crucial role kinship played in providing access to prime beaver-trapping grounds along rivers. French men married into Native groups to enhance their trade. By the nineteenth century White American men also sought Native women who held land as a way of gaining access to resources. The federal government looked upon such unions as a means to facilitate Indian acculturation and assimilation into White society, even well into the twentieth century. In many instances Native families saw the marriage of their daughters to White men as a means to enhance their access to trade goods and to a more secure life.

Pascoe treats miscegenation law that covered American Indians primarily in the case of Oregon. In fact, miscegenation law evolved from initially targeting White and African American unions to include White unions with other races, including American Indians. The creation and enforcement of laws that pertained to marriages with Native Americans, Pascoe notes, seemed to coincide with external or individual circumstances where the acquisition or loss of land was at stake. Like the unions of French men and Native women, many marriages followed the custom of the country, where the partners were bound to each other outside of civil law. In the mid-nineteenth century the Oregon Territorial Supreme Court heard a case to determine whether such marriages were legal under territorial law. Oregon settler land claims at that time were unstable, so it is not surprising that the court and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the custom of the country. While this chapter of American Indian history diverged from the history of barring mixed marriages, Pascoe demonstrates that the tolerance of mixed marriage between White men and Indian women also secured White male patriarchy. It was a variation on the theme of White supremacy.

Like settler regimes elsewhere White American society viewed race through a biological lens that assessed parentage, phenotype, and blood quantum. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries both the American and the Australian governments encouraged intermarriage to Whiten and eventually erase indigenous populations. The coexistence of miscegenation laws that pertained to Native peoples and assimilation proponents of interracial marriage arose from conflicting impulses. On one hand, intermarriage was objectionable on the grounds Pascoe depicts in her book: the progeny of mixed marriages challenged racial regimes, White supremacy, and White male privilege. But the federal government and settler society’s twin desires to avert an unaffordable war with Indians and to expropriate lands in Native possession weakened the resolve to bar mixed marriages. In the Frontiers special issue Cathleen Cahill explores the federal Indian Service as a site of applied assimilation policy where marriages between Whites and American Indians were made possible by putting numbers of White women in proximity to eligible Native men.

In the same period intermarriage could also serve as a vehicle for the expropriation of Native…

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Red, White, and Black: A Personal Essay on Interracial Marriage

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2014-01-15 23:11Z by Steven

Red, White, and Black: A Personal Essay on Interracial Marriage

Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies
Volume 29, Numbers 2 & 3, 2008
pages 51-58
DOI: 10.1353/fro.0.0021

Jacki Thompson Rand, Professor of History; American Indian and Native Studies
University of Iowa

About a month before my father died, a long-held question spilled out of my ten-year-old mouth. “Daddy, why do you hate colored people so much and love Mama?” The silence that filled the kitchen where my mother was cooking blocked out the evening news blaring from the television. It was another nightly report about the blacks’ grim battle for freedom from racial segregation. The March on Washington and rise of black power had energized their struggle, making for significant advances, but the struggle continued. My father’s routine rants against the “coloreds” had unexpectedly pulled the naïve question from my throat where it had been lodged for some time. My mother began to cry. I looked up into his usually loving face and saw cold silent anger. Somehow, I had intuited that it would be this way. For the first time in my life I was sent to bed without supper and told to stay upstairs until morning. My parents never brought up our exchange and several weeks later my father died of a heart attack in front of me. Some forty years later I asked my mother if she recalled that event and she looked at me levelly, “Why, yes, I certainly do.” The cold indignation in her eyes and my silence formed an unspoken agreement that we would not revisit the incident that took place in the kitchen in early 1967. In the intervening decades, however, I had given it much thought, peeling away the layers of my confusion about my experiences in a racially mixed household where black, white, and red shaped our familial relations, individual identities, and confused interpretations of how race had come to define us.

In retrospect it seems that both race and color were at the center of our family relations. My mother’s darkness was the basis of a terrible insecurity that played out in her comments about her children and about other dark-skinned people. Simultaneously, my father’s open racism against blacks contradicted his seeming blindness to my mother’s insecurity-inducing darkness. I recall my father’s special song for my mother. “Portrait of my Love,” a syrupy popular tune suggesting that extraordinary beauty cannot be captured by the artist’s brush. Their romanticized fraught defiance of convention became swept up in the growing momentum of the civil rights movement. Historically invisible dark people filled television screens, as well as white-sheeted Klansmen, water cannons, billy clubs, and jeering white crowds. Under the circumstances, my mother’s insecurity about her darkness intensified. Events taking place outside our family charged the dynamics among us. We all became actors on her stage, which she directed relentlessly to buffer herself against a pervasive racism that could easily and frequently did sweep her up in the net of all denigrated colored peoples.

My parents’ relationship married my mother’s ever-present awareness of her dark skin to my father’s insecurities about his origins and driven desire to escape them. He sought membership in the American middle class and spent his life accumulating what he believed were the essential requirements: comportment, a steady job, children, a home, and car. My father’s near-obsession with “good manners” and appropriate appearances was most evident in our relationship. My little brother and ally was a mute, invisible actor throughout our time with both parents, while I received the bounty of attention due a Southern princess. My parents insisted on tightly controlling how I wore my hair and how I was clothed. Trained as an excellent, creative seamstress, my mother made many of my clothes. My occasional effort to follow a fashion trend—one year it was empire waist summer dresses—was usually quashed by my father. (“Jean, that thing makes her look pregnant. Take it back.” I was probably all of eight or nine.) White anklets and some version of Mary Janes rounded out my outfits. As the only girl in the family with two brothers I seemed an inescapable target of monitoring and molding into Southern perfection. My mother was uncharacteristically unquestioning and compliant in these matters.

My parents were a striking, charismatic pair. My mother is the daughter of…

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Miscegenation and Race: A Roundtable on Peggy Pascoe’s What Comes Naturally [A Tribute]

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2010-12-06 18:43Z by Steven

Miscegenation and Race: A Roundtable on Peggy Pascoe’s What Comes Naturally [A Tribute]

Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies
Volume 31, Number 3, 2010
pages 1-5
E-ISSN: 1536-0334, Print ISSN: 0160-9009

Estelle B. Freedman, Edgar E. Robinson Professor of History
Stanford University

The following papers pay tribute to Peggy Pascoe’s [1954-2010] extraordinary book What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America, published in 2009 by Oxford University Press. They originated at a session held at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA) in January 2010 to explore the implications of Pascoe’s work for current histories of race and gender. Sitting in the audience, I enjoyed not only the roundtable but also the deep pleasure evident on Pascoe’s face as she listened to the presentations and to the discussion of the influence of her book on our scholarship and our teaching. Peggy Pascoe always makes us think harder, in her gentle and affirming ways. This session gave her a taste of the rewards sown by her latest scholarly achievement. I could sense that day that I shared with others in attendance a sense of pride and vicarious gratification that so treasured a colleague should be recognized in this way.

Both sweeping and detailed, What Comes Naturally constructs the dual histories of the criminalization of interracial marriage and the resistance to that process by individuals and social movements, spanning the century between the 1860s and the 1960s. Since its publication in 2009 the book has been widely honored. It has received both the Hawley Prize and the Levine Award from the Organization of American Historians, both the Dunning and the Kelly Prizes from the American Historical Association, and the Hurst Prize from the Law and Society Association. The range of subjects covered by these awards is telling: economy, politics, or institutions; cultural history; women’s history or feminist theory; American history; sociolegal history. In short, this is a book that has already had a profound effect on the profession across its many specializations…


Legal Fictions Exposed
pages 6-14

Eileen Boris, Eileen Boris Hull Professor and Chair of Feminist Studies
University of California, Santa Barbara

What Comes Naturally: A Racially Inclusive Look at Miscegenation Law
pages 15-21

Jacki Thompson Rand, Associate Professor of History; American Indian and Native Studies
University of Iowa

“The Relics of Slavery”: Interracial Sex and Manumission in the American South
pages 22-30

Jessica Millward, Assistant Professor of History
University of California, Irvine

Nikki Sawada Bridges Flynn and “What Comes Naturally”
pages 31-40

Valerie J. Matsumoto, Professor of History
University of California, Los Angeles

Therapeutic Culture and Marriage Equality: What Comes Naturally and Contemporary Dialogues about Marriage
pages 41-48

Kristin Celello, Assistant Professor of History
City University of New York, Queens College

Social Movements, the Rise of Colorblind Conservativism, and “What Comes Naturally”
pages 49-59

Matt Garcia, Associate Professor of American Civilization, Ethnic Studies and History
Brown University

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