Interracial Intimacies

Randall Kennedy, an African American professor at Harvard Law School, has previously published Race, Crime, and the Law (1998) and Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word (2002). In Interracial Intimacies, as in his previous works, Kennedy emphasizes the law and individual legal cases, while he also examines non-legal materials, including autobiographies, novels, films, newspaper stories, and essays. He writes in an engaging style that is enhanced by the skillful use of anecdotes.

Kennedy demonstrates that interracial sexual intimacies in America have been widespread and quite diverse. Under slavery, he acknowledges that such relationships were commonly exploitative and based on coercion, although he finds evidence that they were sometimes consensual and involved mutual affection. Among other topics, he discusses myths about black sexuality, Jim Crow as a form of “pigmentocracy,” the “one drop rule” and other forms of racial classifications, the rise of the “new amalgamationism,” and both the problems and triumphs of multiracial households. His four chapters on the history of miscegenation laws and “racial passing” are especially interesting.

Kennedy is optimistic about the possibility of greater racial harmony and egalitarianism in the future, and he strongly opposes all public policies that directly or indirectly encourage racial segregation. He is especially critical of the practice of race matching in child adoptions and foster-home placements. He goes so far as to argue that adoptive agencies should not be allowed to take race into consideration. Although Kennedy endorses limited programs of affirmative action, he writes that he would be willing to dismantle all such programs if necessary to end race matching in child placements.