- Hardcover: 382 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 17, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674010337
- ISBN-13: 978-0674010338
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,650,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America
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From Publishers Weekly
In 1940, Romano notes in her prologue, interracial marriages were illegal in 31 of the 48 states. In the six decades that followed, they have been described as everything from "deviant acts of social and economic radicals," to "the true fulfillment of a quest for racial brotherhood," "the ultimate solution to the race problem," and as "a betrayal of one's race and one's community." In this "political, cultural, and social history," Wesleyan University historian Romano tracks popular representations of black-white marriage in everything from children's books (The Rabbit's Wedding) to Billie Holliday's "Strange Fruit," the Hepburn-Tracey vehicle Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and a variety of magazines (Ebony and Jet do yeoman service for the black perspective). The Hettie Cohen-Leroi Jones (now Amiri Baraka) marriage looms larger than that of Richard and Mildred Loving, who were the history-making test case. Romano reminds us that, although the 51,000 black-white couples in 1960 had become 363,000 by 2000, such marriages constitute a mere fraction of U.S. marriages today and occur at a rate that "lags behind that of other types of interracial marriage." Still, war brides, custody battles, mental health diagnoses ("being involved interracially became de facto evidence of mental illness"), beatnik acceptance, black nationalist hostility and "the erosion of the taboo against black-white marriage" as rendered in this heavily anecdotal account make fascinating and provocative reading. Taking in representations of socializing, dating and having a relationship, as well as marriage, this book makes a good companion to Randall Kennedy's recent Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption, which focuses more on legislative history.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Romano, a white professor of African American studies who is married to a black man, examines the deeply embedded taboo of interracial marriage in the U.S. Citing studies, surveys, court accounts, media coverage, and interviews with interracial couples, Romano explores how attitudes have evolved, eventually eroding that taboo, within the last 60 years. She notes that the nation's long-held policy of "prohibiting interracial marriages while condoning interracial sex between white men and black women reinforced gender and racial hierarchies." Romano outlines the forces that eventually led to the breakdown of the taboo, from the integration of armed services during World War II to the migration of southern blacks to the North for war-related jobs, exploring the political, cultural, and social history of black-white marriages since the 1940s. The interviews are particularly powerful in conveying the challenges of interracial marriages and the changes in social attitudes since the 1940s. But Romano cautions that the increase in black-white marriages does not signify the end of structural racial inequalities in American society. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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The 60s were a time of change, though. Between 1960 and 2000, the number of 'Black'/'White' marriages increased by 400%. Between 1860 and 1970, marriages between 'whites' and 'blacks' were a highly emotional political issue. Now, the political debate centers on how to rid ourselves of the taboo. In 1997, 61% of 'Whites' said they approved of mixed marriages. Given America's history of blood thirsty 'White' lynch mobs murdering random 'Black' males, one might conclude something very significant had happened.. The book wonders if the taboo will soon disappear.
The first descriptions of the monster are pulled from the 1930s and 40s. It is horrible. The text will bring many to tears. It is easy to imagine, but hard to believe. Quote by ugly quote, the US government, US judiciary and vast numbers of ordinary people are implicated in this American brand of torture. We start with the story of a war bride coming to America to join her husband. It's the perfect story of an American GI and English sweetheart, but the GI is 'Black' so every 'White' functionary (including taxi drivers) attempt to dissuade our fair Juliet from consummating her desires. The stories only get more and more tragic. One wonders how our heroic lovers persevered.
The next two chapters deal with the immediate post war era. One covers the 'white' attempt to make sure nothing changes. The second looks into the arrival of 'Black'-'White' marriages in traditionally 'Black' extended families. The 'White' reaction is only slightly less holocaust like than the pre-war stories. The stories are not quite as tragic, but still provide a shock per page. The 'black' version is one of ambivalence. This ambivalence will play a bigger role later when it sets the stage for black' interest in maintaining the taboo.
The next three chapters cover the 50s to 60s. In this case, we pick up the notion of a emerging culture of artists, primarily musicians, and rebel intellectuals rejecting conventional society's taboos. Simultaneously, the colleges of America offer debates over various social programs. Meanwhile, the 'Black' soldiers returning from the war were organizing social revolution. Each setting provides case studies for 'Black'-'White' love stories from the era.
As we enter the late 70s we are told the story of 'talking black and sleeping white.' Now that the battle for voting rights had been won, and the Supreme Court has tossed out 'black-white' marriage prohibitions, the white participants in 'black' 'white' marriages suddenly discovered the Black side of the family isn't as ambivalent as 20 years before. If fact, there are some new issues to address. 'Black' pride suddenly emerged. 'Black' women objected the common sight of famous 'Black' athletes marrying 'White' brides.
And, here we end our tale. Oddly confused. The taboo, whatever it is or was, may have mutated!
To conclude, Prof Romano suggests the taboo is too difficult for mere individuals to overcome. "Indeed, interracial relationships today are increasingly being heralded as a sign of the country's success in overcoming racial inequality. Yet, the significance of the transformation that has occurred since the 1940s must be kept in perspective. Although the growing numbers of black-white couples demonstrate that the color line in the United States has become considerably more fluid, to take these marriages as proof that racism has disappeared or that race no longer carries much significance in American life oversimplifies the current racial situation. The taboo against interracial marriage has eroded significantly since World War II, but the increased social acceptance of interracial relationships does not necessarily mean the structural and institutional race inequalities no longer exist."
So, in the end, we are delivered a political message. I guess with something so mysteriously persistent, we all end up grasping at straws. It's kind of a screwy change of pace, but this opens the 'epilogue': Is love the answer?
In short, Prof. Romano answers 'no.' "There is no question that interracial love will become more common and even more accepted as racial barriers erode in American society, but it will take more than love to break down those barriers. Old hierarchies must be dismantled for new attitudes about interracial love and marriage to flourish.'
While interesting, I don't find Romano's political argument well developed. She's got it backwards and her stories demonstrate this fact, old hierarchies are nothing when compared to the force of nature represented by a man and a woman who happen to want each other's company in the most intimate and complete manner possible.
For a version of the 'love solves all' perspective, see Mulatto-Nation. Rather than starting at a 1940s cross burning, Mulatto-Nation starts with a detailed description of white slavery prior to the civil war. According to the book, a majority of Americans are already mulatto, biologically and socially. We just haven't accepted it psychologically.
Black men were often lynched for reasons other than an interracial union, including the attempt at voter participation as well as owning successful businesses. After the Civil War and during Reconstruction, more than ten thousand black men were lynched by "white mobs". Very few were ever arrested or brought to trial for their actions. That's a fact, not a statement issued out of racist motivations or lack of historical study.
Black men were lynched, meaning severely beaten, hung and their genitalia cut off at even the HINT of an interracial union between a black man and a white woman. In 1955 one of the most infamous lynch incidents occurred and was in newspapers and magazines across the nation. Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old boy who called a white woman "baby" was kidnapped that same day by the woman's husband and brother and was severely beaten and shot. The mother held an open casket because she wanted to show what they had done to her son who made the mistake of crossing the line.
Often, White men raped black women without provocation and these women had no recourse or protection of the law. The sexual exploitation of both black men and women began under slavery through forced breeding and the rape of black women. Law forbidding interracial unions preserved the taboo of interracial relationships and upheld the racial hierarchy in this country.
Romano focuses on Black male/White female unions because it was the most taboo and is still considered the most controversial interracial union. Interracial unions occurred, but they were often outside the bounds of marriage and were not commonly accepted, if and when, they were voluntary. During the early 90s, both white and black people married same race over 90% of the time. The trend has not changed very much since then, although more white men are marrying/dating Asian women. In fact, it is the largest demographic for interracial unions currently.
For anyone interested in this period of time, this is a good read about a subject that is often the source of controversy.