Everyone remembers the words of Martin Luther King: “I have a dream that one day our children will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Since those words were spoken roughly four decades ago, the United States has undeniably come a long way. Schools are no longer segregated. Fountains and buses are “marked” no more. The ban on interracial marriages is a thing of the past. We even have a Constitutional amendment that guarantees equal rights for every race. However, despite these advances, we cannot ignore the wide racial gaps that still exist in many areas. One of those areas is miscegenation, the existence of interracial romantic relationships (Lemire 5). Despite the aforementioned legalization of interracial marriages, surveys indicate that as much as one-third of the American population still views so-called “mixing” in a negative light (Martin, “Devoutly”). With progress comes inevitable setback, and the controversy of interracial relationships highlights the still-simmering racial tensions in our country. How has this contentious issue progressed in the legal world, and, perhaps more crucial, what ideals lie at its root, so that we may understand and further progress in the world at large?
Validation of interracial relationships has faced a long and protracted legal battle. Creation of anti-miscegenation laws were almost concurrent with the creation of America itself. When Maryland instituted the first such law in 1664, the practice soon spread to nearly every colony and eventual state. Prior to the Civil War, efforts to repeal these laws were only successful in one state, Massachusetts. Even after the war, Southern states only strengthened their anti-miscegenation laws as part of the discriminatory Black Codes, while Northern activists faced their own uphill battles. In court cases across the country, proponents of anti-miscegenation were successful in their arguments that interracial relationships should be illegal because such unions were “against God’s will” and immoral (Frederickson 103-109). In one Virginia court case, the state’s Supreme Court declared that “the moral and physical development of both races….require that they should be kept distinct and separate….that connections and alliances so unnatural that God and nature seem to forbid them, should be prohibited by positive law….” (Hollinger 1363). Nationwide, individuals found guilty of miscegenation were subject to criminal prosecution, and, in many tragic cases, death by lynching. Also, in three separate instances post-Civil War, opponents of anti-miscegenation even proposed a federal Constitutional amendment banning interracial marriage. Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, anti-miscegenation activists were successful in their efforts with the aid of state and even federal laws, such as 1924’s Racial Integrity Act (labeling individuals with even “one drop” of African blood as a minority). (Frederickson 108-109) These dictates were also long-lasting because of the enduring racial prejudices of a large percentage of the general population. Until the Civil Rights era, the majority of Americans supported anti-miscegenation laws, and pop culture vehicles (such as motion picture makers) prohibited the depiction of interracial relationships. In the mid-twentieth century, civil rights advocates began to make small steps of progress (Lemire 134-135).
The NAACP and ACLU were successful in bringing more cases into civil court, while the California Supreme Court struck a major blow to anti-miscegenation by declaring that state’s law unconstitutional in 1948. For the first time, interracial advocates were able to successfully use the Fourteenth Amendments “Equal Protection” clause to their advantage. Nearly twenty years after the California victory—during the heart of the Civil Rights era—the federal Supreme Court would follow suit in the landmark case of Loving v. Virginia. Although this case effectively ended the ban on interracial relationships, the last anti-miscegenation law would not vanish from state records until the turn of the century (Pascoe 48). Forty years later—post Civil
Rights era—why does this issue still inspire so much passion and debate?
Opponents of interracial relationships generally base their views on one of three factors. Arguably the most prevalent factor is religion. As demonstrated in the wording of the Virginia state court case, many individuals believe that miscegenation is strictly prohibited by God. In Alabama (the last state to remove anti-miscegenation laws from their state constitutions), research indicates that most miscegenation opponents consider themselves Evangelical Christians. While this correlation may certainly be influenced by other factors, the statements of opponents indicate a strong religious basis for their views. The words of one South Carolina state representative concerning interracial relationships echo the mindset of many of his constituents: “That’s not what God intended when he separated the races back in the Babylonian days. The races would be a lot better off if they stuck with their own kind” (Martin, “Devoutly”). Many religious leaders reinforce these beliefs. One Oklahoma minister said, “We’re friends. We play. We go together as a group, but we don’t date one another….I don’t think we ought to mix any of the races” (Martin, “Devoutly”). These types of beliefs are often based on interpretations of certain scriptural passages. For example, opponents of miscegenation understand a warning by Biblical figure Moses against sowing different types of seeds in the same fields and mixing different textiles as a symbolic prohibition against interracial “mixing.” Further, the tower of Babel incident—in which God scattered different races and cultures across the globe as a punishment—is also interpreted as a warning against interracial co-mingling (Lemire 278-279). The religion foundation of much anti-miscegenation belief is perhaps best symbolized by the case of Bob Jones University, a Christian institution which held strong to a ban on interracial dating for decades…..on the basis of Biblical teachings (Martin, “Devoutly”).
While religion plays a strong role in shaping the beliefs of many opponents, ideals of
cultural preservation run just as strong. In the era of Reconstruction post-Civil War, the intense Southern backlash against miscegenation arose partly out of a belief that African Americans would destroy the South’s proud heritage. White supremacist groups exploited these fears by calling for racial purity. Precious values and customs could not be endangered if Caucasian bloodlines remained “pure-bred.” Interracial relationships were a direct threat to this aim, and were therefore targeted (Hollinger 1363).
But concerns about cultural decimation are not limited to white supremacists. Ironically, many individuals within minority groups hold similar objections and concerns as their nemeses. Even today, racial groups differ in everything from language “lingo” to hairstyles. Every culture has its own unique dictates, and many people (of all races) see “associating” with other cultures as a direct assault to that culture. Is the person involved in an interracial relationship “ashamed” of their own kind? Do they want to assimilate and “fit in” at the expense of their family and friends? As such, interracial relationships are often seen as a betrayal, particularly for those minority groups still dealing with the realities of racism and discrimination every day. Their loved one is a traitor, a casualty to the “us vs. them” mentality (Sullivan, “What?”). The old, but enduring, mindset of “lighter is better” that many minorities (women in particular) were instilled with through the dominant culture feeds these feelings of abandonment and betrayal (“Interracial Dating,” Associated). As one African American woman stated, “It’s simply unnatural for Black women to be involved in inter-racial relationships. Goes against everything that we were raised with in the community. I believe, that we see ourselves as the last breach of defense for the Black family, and if WE give up on the Black family, then all is lost.” The woman then laments the rising numbers of black men who seek out relationships with “lighter-skinned” females (“Interracial,” Mirror).
Despite the debates, does the question of miscegenation boil down to simple racism? After all, anti-miscegenation laws co-existed alongside other statutes designed to deprive minority groups of their civil rights. Slave owners often forced interracial relationships upon their slaves as a means of expressing domination and power (Hollinger 1363) Opponents from all racial groups still speak—and often act—as if “those other people” are aliens from another planet at best and terrorist invaders at worst. Educational institutions speak of “focus (ing)….on the things that unite us” and in the same breath “oppose….intermarriage because it breaks down the barriers God has established” (Martin, “Devoutly”). Multi-racial children are greeted to new neighborhoods not with the greeting of “How are you doing?” but rather “What are you doing here?” (Associated Press, “After 40 Years”) High school dances are fractured by color lines. Towns and cities nationwide are still divided by unofficial, but no less present, lines of segregation. And in the mult-cultural, “melting pot” twenty-first century, one-quarter to one-third of our populace still opposes mixing with “those other people” (Martin, “Devoutly”):
One frustrated African American summarizes the problem:
“Don’t shake my hand and act like you love me … as long as our children are little babies, but when they start to be teenagers and start getting eyes for each other, and they want to date, then you want to start acting funny. Be honest about it” (Martin, “Devoutly”).
Another concurs: ”I think that if you’re looking for the cause, it’s racism, pure and simple” (Martin, “Devoutly”).
? An estimated seven percent of marriages nationwide are interracial. (Associated Press, “After”)
? The number of black-white marriages alone has jumped a dramatic 667 percent in the last
three decades. (Yancey 197)
? 6.8 million American citizens identify as multi-racial. (Associated Press, “After 40 Years”)
? Although an estimated one-quarter of Americans are against interracial marriage, the strong
majority support such relationships. (Martin, “Devoutly”)
The above statistics are a testament to the progress that society has made. Likewise,
population genetic studies reveal the deep, if often hidden, presence of interracial relationships throughout history; studies estimate that upwards of thirty percent of the Caucasian population has African ancestry alone, while the average African American has a twenty-percent Caucasian ancestry (Yancey 208). One of our presidential candidates even proudly touts a multi-racial heritage. Obviously, interracial connections have and will continue to sustain, especially as younger generations become prominent in the dating and marriage arena. Numerous studies show a correlation between age and openness to interracial relationships. In fact, a campus study in conservative South Carolina revealed that almost half of the student population had dated an individual of a different race (Firmin 16).
However, progress still meets with resistance. One interracial couple documented how their move to a mostly-white neighborhood was punctuated by broken car windows and placement of “chocolate” milk cartons on their lawn. Another couple, recalling instances of subtle prejudice from both their respective racial groups, warns that, “We are sitting on a powder keg of racism that’s institutionalized in our attitudes, our churches, and our culture that’s going to destroy us if we don’t undo it. “ Mere minutes later, however, the same couple expressed their ultimate hope and optimism for the future: “I think the children of families like ours will be able to make a difference in the world, and do things we weren’t able to do” (Associated Press, “After 40 Years”). And, in regards to the accosted couple, they recall their community’s—their neighbors’—overall reaction: “It was very powerful to see how the community rallied around us” (Associated Press, “After 40 Years”).
No one will argue that true unity still has a long road ahead. Educational measures of
intelligence, job pay rates, and the hot-button issue of school choice still spark serious debates
about racial inequality. Caucasians and minority groups alike still hold deep anti-miscegenation
beliefs imbedded in ideals such as religion and cultural preservation. Law-makers still seek to
legislate love. But in the end, always, remains the one hope: “We see a blurring of the old lines,
and that has to be a good thing, because the lines were artificial in the first place”—Sociologist
Michael Rosenfield (Associated Press, “After 40 Years”)
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“Interracial Dating: Love Takes Time to Heal Wounds.” Associated Content. Copyright 2008.
Accessed September 27, 2008. Available http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/
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