Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America.
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Author:||Crowley, Jenette Wood|
|Publication:||Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2007 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529|
|Issue:||Date: Winter, 2007 Source Volume: 41 Source Issue: 2|
|Topic:||NamedWork: Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America (Book)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: Romano, Renee C.|
Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America. By Renee C.
Romano (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. xiii plus 368
In Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America Renee C. Romano traces the changes that contributed to the erosion of social and cultural hostility towards black-white marriages in the United States following World War II. She persuasively argues that over the past sixty years, the majority of Americans have shifted their positions on interracial marriage from intolerance or ambivalence to tolerance and acceptance. Romano makes her argument by investigating race relations during World War II, the Civil Rights movement, and the rise of black nationalism through the lens of interracial marriage. She gives voice to participants in black-white marriages, their families, and other witnesses of interracial marriage through a wide range of sources including statistics, personal accounts, magazine articles, fictional representations, and examples of high-profile interracial marriages, like that of NAACP executive secretary Walter White to Poppy Cannon in 1949, and that of Dean Rusk's daughter to Guy Smith in 1967.
Romano begins by illustrating how the Second World War forced Americans to think about interracial marriage more than they ever had before. The U.S. armed forces took steps to maintain Jim Crow overseas while at the same time fighting a war against the Nazi ideology of oppression and racism. This irony was not lost on black men who served in Europe, married white women while abroad, and returned stateside where laws made their marriages illegal based on race alone. Romano argues that in the wake of the war "the stage was set for a fundamental reckoning with the status accorded the miscegenation taboo in national political discourse" (43).
According to Romano, many of the black and white Americans who fought for racial equality during the 1950s were ready to include interracial marriage in their vision of a less racist America. Romano argues that though the black community was united in their fight for desegregation, antimiscegenation laws were not chief among their concerns. In part, this was because white segregationists often listed "racial amalgamation" among their top anxieties should schools and other public institutions desegregate. Because they believed it would justify white fears, black and white supporters of integration did not challenge antimiscegenation laws in the South. At the same time, many black leaders believed that maintaining an ambivalent position on interracial marriage would hurt the overall fight for desegregation. Therefore, at a time when "miscegenation" was still illegal in several states and when whites defended segregation as a guard against racial mixing, "many blacks who supported the cause of integration felt compelled to condemn barriers on interracial marriage" (95).
Attitudes towards interracial marriage began to radically change during the turbulent 1960s. There was no organized resistance when the Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia (1967) that antimiscegenation laws were racist to the core and therefore unconstitutional. Most of America accepted the decision as just another gain for the Civil Rights movement. As Romano illustrates, interracial marriage was redefined as "a courageous act of a strong individual able to free him- or herself from rigid racial thinking" (210). Popular movies such as Guess Who's Coming to Dinner represented a public refutation of the long-accepted white position on interracial marriage. Such films showed Americans that interracial marriage could be healthy and "placed whites who opposed interracial relationships in the wrong" (204). At the same time, interracial marriages exemplified the changing gender relations within American families. Romano argues that by the late 1960s, it could no longer be safely assumed that a daughter would ask permission of her father to marry. With several convincing examples Romano explores the anxiety this loss of familial authority caused both black and white American parents. They either had to shift their positions on issues of race when a son or daughter entered an interracial marriage or risk losing their relationship with their child.
At the end of the 1960s and throughout the 1970s, Romano demonstrates that black nationalists altered the meaning of intermarriage by arguing "interracial relationships signaled a devaluation of the black race and black women" (222). She explains that at this time, many women advocates of Black Power rejected intermarriage due to an "emerging gender imbalance, coupled with a growing sense that intermarriage represented a way to leave the group behind" (232). Their concerns also had roots in the history of interracial sexual interactions. For black men, white women had long been depicted as the "forbidden fruit," while black women were never forbidden to white men. The long history of sexual exploitation of black women by white men, Romano argues, made many black women wary of relationships with white men. Black nationalist concerns made the private a very public matter when they openly attacked black power leaders who had married interracially. Many leaders had to choose between their leadership positions and their white spouses. These views did not go unchallenged, however. Romano shows that other black leaders saw this attitude toward interracial marriage as evidence of the limitations of black nationalism.
This laudable history will be useful to students of race relations in the United States, but of lesser use to those looking for a theoretical conceptualization of race as a social construction that varies over time. Romano does an excellent job of demonstrating how prohibitions against black-white marriages have signified racial hierarchies and power structures throughout history and how the taboo against interracial marriage was crucial to the creation of the American racial order. Indeed, she claims that "without such a taboo, the very categories we now think of as 'black' and 'white' would not have existed in the same way" (3). But Romano does not show how these constructions of race changed over time--the categories of white and black are rigid throughout her account of interracial marriage over the past sixty years. This criticism should not, however, detract from a very balanced and praiseworthy history of the social, cultural, and political evolution of interracial marriage in the United States.
Jenette Wood Crowley
|Gale Copyright:||Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.|