Title: Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America (ISBN 0674010337)
Author: Renee C. Romano
Review Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Summary: As discussed in the Prologue, the subject of this book seeks to understand the paradox of social acceptance of interaction between Blacks and Whites in public venues while disapproving (or even denouncing) of this same interaction in one of the most private, but sacred of American institutions, marriage. The author, herself involved in an interracial marriage, discusses her desire to understand the assumptions and consequences of her marriage living within that paradox. Being a history professor, she sought the answer in the place most likely to have the answer, America’s past. Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America (2003) looks at the historical, legal, and social consequences of interracial marriage through the late 1940’s up to until the 1990’s. Through the process, she details through interviews and historical accounts about the struggles, obstacles, and triumphs of interracial marriages through these years.
In the first chapter “The Unintended Consequences of War”), the author makes her argument that World War II unleashed an array of events that began the process of several increasing interaction (and subsequently) marriage between Blacks and Whites. The horrors inflicted on others in the names of racism in World War II, the efforts of several activist groups, changes in laws and social mores, and literature sympathetic to the cause of interracial marriage, forced many Americans to re-evaluate their own stance on the subject. While this did not cause an overwhelming majority to want to end segregation, these factors helped to decrease slightly some of the more overt forms of racism in some sectors of American life. Interracial marriage, however, was still something that the majority of White Americans at that time remained adamantly against.
In the next chapter titled “The Dangers of ‘Race Mixing’, Romano (the author) covers White society’s attempts to discourage and decrease the slow, but steady growth of interracial marriages. Parents disowned children or had them committed under the assumption that interracial relationships were deviant and aberrant. Literature and films discussed the dangers of the “black man and his seed” and the need to “protect the white woman” from the sexually lascivious man. Black women were portrayed as morally loose and White men who married them were assumed not to have real marriages with them. Particularly in the South, those Whites and Blacks who were interracially married faced legal, physical, and social harassment.
The turbulent changes in the 1950’s and 1960’s with the civil rights movement, women’s rights movement, increasing mobilization, and changing social mores from a younger generation gradually gave way to a more permissive society that opened the possibility for more acceptance of the consequences of segregation. There were still vehement responses in defense of segregation, in particular school segregation, which many white Americans (especially the South) was the key “battleground” to maintain the racial status quo.
For Black Americans, Romano argues, interracial marriage was a little more nuanced. The next chapter titled “Ambivalent Acceptance” details a condition that Romano feels characterized interracial marriages from the Black point of view in which interracial marriage was not actively encouraged but not positively condoned (though she notes that Black Americans, as a whole, were overwhelmingly more accepting than White Americans of interracial marriages). Romano contends that Black Americans, like other Americans, strongly believed in the private decision to marry whomever they want; however, they also stressed the desire for their children to marry within their own race.
The gains 1960’s Civil Rights and Black Power movements brought about a new renaissance of “black pride”, which led to some Blacks basing their racial identity in part on their marriage partner. This lead to some Blacks questioning loyalties of both the Whites and Blacks who racially intermarried. The author deals with at length with this issue in the chapter who married “which the author discusses at length in the chapter titled “Talking Black and Sleeping White”.
In either case, whether from the Black or White point of view, continued pressure from activists, changing social mores, and legislation lead the final few chapters where America finally relinquishes the miscengenation (laws against racial intermarriage) and develops a growing acceptance of interracial marriage. The author ends with stories of couples in the 90’s who state that they have seen received less overt harassment, although they have received the same or even more subtle types of harassment. She ends the book with a cautious optimism that maybe “love is really the answer”; however until learn to see people as individuals rather than as a member of a race discrimination and judgment will continue.
Commentary: Overall, this was an incredibly eye-opening book. As a Black American, I was aware of some of the harassment faced by Blacks and Whites in marriage during this period; however, I was not aware of the extent or even questioned the thought process behind it all. One of the best parts of the book is that this book deals with a heavily historical subject in a way that is personal and intimate. Romano carefully selects family stories and provides anecdotes that keep you reading. On one page, you might become embittered by the pain of prejudice and warmed the stories of love in the face of it.
Another strong point to this book is the author’s interest in uncovering the thought process behind the “taboo” of interracial marriage. Most books cover this history as well, but few seek to understand why this taboo is in place. The author provides several perspectives on why all ranging from the fear of loss (of the social system, of control of children, etc.), but no conclusive all-encompassing factors. Regardless of the factors causing this taboo, the book asserts that this “fear” of interracial marriage led to many latent social consequences for both Black and White Americans who dated or even attempted to date, let alone got married. For Black Americans, interracial marriage could mean lynching, being arrested for miscegenation laws, or being harassed for being caught with a White woman. For White Americans, this could lead to being socially ostracized, attacked, or even sexually assaulted. The book tells this story through families, which makes it poignant. The fact that many people continue to hold this “fear” today makes it even more poignant.
In short, this book is a great read if you are interested in learning more about the nuances that made up American marital history. You will encounter bitter testimonials like the parents who disowned biracial children or forced their daughter to have an abortion if the child looked “too black” or rejection if the child looked “white”. Yet, you will also read of families that willingly defied the taboo and received the support they needed. The book is a long read (295 pages) due to the amount of information covered, not to the overall page count. Still, once you start, you will immediately want to continue. Overall, you learn that the decision to marry may be individual, but the impact of that individual decision is influenced and influences more people than one can ever imagine.