What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America (Review)

What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America (Review)

Law and Politics Book Review
American Political Science Association
pp. 218-220

Mark Kessler, Chair of the Department of History & Government and Professor of Government
Texas Woman’s Univeristy

What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America. By Peggy Pascoe. (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 2009. 404 pages. Cloth ISBN13: 9780195094633, ISBN10: 0195094638)

In this highly original and important book, Peggy Pascoe describes and analyzes three centuries of laws in the United States prohibiting interracial marriages and sexual relations. In perhaps the most comprehensive and systematic study of legal marriage and sex prohibitions to date, Pascoe argues that these laws were central ideological tools used in constituting and reproducing white supremacy in the United States. Placing her study in its broadest context, she argues that examining the rise and decline of these laws “provides a locus for studying the history of race in America” (p.2). Pascoe’s study demonstrates how historical research, combined with critical cultural theory and analysis, may shed new light on significant questions regarding the power of law and legal interpretation in constructing and reconstructing social reality.

Throughout this work, the writing is admirably accessible, while the analyses and arguments are deeply nuanced. Pascoe begins many of the eleven chapters with stories describing the people and circumstances involved in miscegenation cases throughout history. These stories are carefully selected to show the great variation in characteristics of participants, laws, and regions of the country in which the cases arose, and to help address the broader questions of nation-building and nation-formation that emerge from this study. Pascoe uses these very human stories, along with landmark appellate court decisions and local legal practices, to explore the many and varied ways in which social and political relations based on race, gender, and sexuality illuminate the rise and fall of miscegenation law in the United States.

Pascoe’s narrative begins in the Reconstruction era, when the term “miscegenation” was first invented and applied to interracial marriage and sex. Her discussion focuses on the ways in which judges, legislators, and lawyers employed notions of what is “natural” and “unnatural” in conventional cultural discourses about sex, gender, and sexuality to create and apply laws prohibiting interracial marriage and sex. Such laws emerged first in the South and North and typically applied exclusively to relations between those categorized racially as “white” and as “black.”…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , , ,