Martha Hodes’ White Women, Black Men captures interracial relationships in U.S history, noting specifically the toleration of these couples and changes that resulted in interracial marriage prevention laws. One reason stemmed from “black male sexuality” paired with racial stereotypes and hierarchy that promoted fear regarding these types of relationships (19).
Specifically in Chapter 2 and 3, Hodes follows the story of Nell Butler and Charles in 1681 which shocked the locals and promoted further discussion over interracial marriage laws, as well as other couples. However, this was largely accepted compared to previous relationships in the South and the lack of “public” exposure, as these were kept secret (21). Hodes explains many reasons why Nell and Charles’ relationship made more sense at the time, including class boundaries, “freedom suits,” and the American Revolution (23, 37, 66). However, in general, people “gossip[ed]” about the relationship and subsequent relationships in the future that were similar, especially with the evolution of marriage laws (27). In fact, their granddaughter had to file for freedom and actually did win in 1787, over 100 years later (35). Overall, the conflict between viewing enslaved people as “property and human” resulted in these complex situations and how they would be handled throughout time, especially in the south (59).
Chapter 7 and 8 focused on racial hierarchy and illicit sex that marked a start contrast in the acceptance of white and make relationships. Specifically, black liberation and racial mixing were noted as two main contributors to this change that caused whites to rethink interracial relationships (147). This “era of terrorism” was marked by extremists in the KKK and locals taking the matter into their own hands, causing a shift in social perspective that resulted in preventative laws (148). I thought it was so interesting that the author makes a note that these were not initially based on race but based on the validity of marriages or relationships as a means to separate each race, and that laws got more specific overtime based on her research (149-152). Stories of white and black relationships were dismissed entirely and the blame was placed on black participants in these relationships. For example, Elvira Corder was told to be “influenced” by her father’s laborer, Jordan, who was a black man, and their relationship was deemed completely non consensual (182). Thus, he was lynched. Other relationships were deemed non consensual and portrayed the black male as a rapist. Stories like theirs are not few and far between, because many people fell in love, but the differences between how this was handled compared to Butler and Charles Is worth noting.
I think the most interesting aspect of the reading was Poly and Jim and how the blame was shifted to her when they claimed rape. I thought this was extremely interesting when you think about how easy it was to frame black men and use the history of police violence/racism as a death sentence. However, the courts actually put more blame on her and didn’t believe the story (46). The reason I was shocked by this story in particular is due to the way the public continued to defend Jim’s character and trash hers. Regardless of what truly happened, locals viewed this woman with suspicion. I cannot tell if this is primarily based on victim blaming and sexism already present in society (Hodes mentions that briefly) or if this is an extremely rare case where people genuinely knew the man and respected him. Hodes does include, however, that pregnancy was thought to be indicative of consensual sex, so maybe that is the basis for their argument, but I was shocked regardless. This relates to the issue of “white women’s agency” and the ways in which female sexuality was controlled and manipulated as a means to justify racist attacks on interracial couples (194). I was thoroughly confused when I attempted to understand why themes of “race and manhood” also contributed to these racist attacks when in reality, people generally minded their business (196). Perhaps finding an outlet to express white male frustration allowed for an opportunity to place blame on others and police white women’s sexuality as well as black men’s autonomy (free or enslaved). Overall, I absolutely loved this reading and learned a lot about a pretty significant aspect of our nation’s history that has continued to define many interracial relationships. In fact, when we think of Loving V Virginia and how recently that happened just her sin Virginia, it makes you contemplate how far we actually have come and what legal and societal barriers are still in place.
Additionally, this reading reminded me of Angry White Men and the ways in which historic realities influence our lives now and our contemporary understandings of race, class, gender, and privilege. No one ever doubted white male behavior when they targeted interracial couples and made examples out of them, or when they manipulated the courts or local authority figures into believing entirely false rape allegations. Everyone took their word for it and just continued about their day, using false accusations of violence to justify real violence. I know many people, including myself, who had negative reactions from others based on the races in their relationships (obviously faced homophobia for me personally as well), and that breaks my heart. While it is not comparable to the struggle of BIPOC in general, many mixed kids also feel entirely left out because their racial identity is essentially erased one way or the other depending on how they look. For example, my friend is black and white and she looks Hispanic. People treat her as a brown person, just not as black. My other friend is darker than her half siblings who are fully black, but her mom is white. Everyone in America seems to see things through a very racialized, black and white frame (connection to framing from last class) and how that can alter our perceptions of people/interracial couples. Gatekeeping race has to be one of the many contemporary issues I cannot even begin to understand. Luckily, much of the discrimination my friends and my exes have faced was relatively “minor” in their words, but that doesn’t erase the racism or their trauma responses in those situations. I can only hope that things continue to improve and fight for an America where everyone is free to love who they want and are RESPECTED—regardless of gender, race, class, or sexuality.