reflection anti miscegenation

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Questions/Goals for this :

  1. How did racial anxieties around the presence of early Asian communities, predominantly male in composition, result in the passage of anti-miscegenation laws?
  2. How does the history of anti-miscegenation laws deployed against Asian Americans reflect the social construction of racial categories?


Required Reading:

  • Volpp, Leti. uploaded

In this module, our attention turns to the passage of anti-miscegenation statutes and their significance in the Asian American experience. The term “miscegenation” itself refers to interracial marriage or relationships, and consequently, “anti-miscegenation laws” were historically designed to discourage interracial marriage. Keep in mind that anti-miscegenation laws — and the regulation of marriage in general — are determined at the level of the state. Similar to alien land laws, each state determined the necessity of having such legislation on the books, in response to the views of the state’s constituents. (For a more contemporary example, a good parallel is to think of how some states allowed same-sex marriage while others denied such unions until the Supreme Court of the United States struck down all state bans of same-sex marriage in 2015 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.).

The earliest attempts at regulating interracial relationships in America originates in the colonial era. Maryland, concerned about intermarriage with black slaves, was the first colony to pass a statute addressing interracial relationships in the 1660s. The legal language of the time specified:

“Foreasmuch as divers free-born English women, forgetful of their free conditions, and to the disgrace of our nation, do inter-marry with negro slaves…be it enacted: that whatsoever free-born woman shall intermary with any slave, from and after the last day of the presentassemb ly, shall serve the master of such slave during the life of her husband; and that all the issues of such free-born women, so married, shall be slaves.”

Other colonies, and later states, followed suit with various statutes of their own to regulate relationships between whites and blacks, and in both language and implementation, specifically targeted relationships between white women and black men. In the context of this course though, our focus is on how laws were implemented to target Asian communities, and an excellent case example is the state that saw the largest populations of early Asian immigrants: California.

California’s earliest anti-miscegenation statute in 1850 stated that “all marriages of whites with negroes or mulattoes are declared to be null and void.” However, the arrival of Chinese men in the 1850s and ensuing racial anxiety resulted in amended language in 1880 that prohibited “intermarriage of white persons with Chinese, negroes, mulattoes, or persons of mixed blood, descended from a Chinaman or negro from the third generation, inclusive.” Keep in mind that early Asian immigrant populations were predominantly male, and federal immigration law and policy often imposed limitations based on gender. Later, with the arrival of Japanese farmers and laborers, California once again revisited its anti-miscegenation statute to forbid marriages with “Mongolians” in 1905 — a broader racial categorization that not only maintained restrictions on Chinese from marriage with whites but now affirmatively included the Japanese as well. In “Asians and California’s Anti-Miscegenation Laws,” legal scholar Megumi Dick Osumi notes that a California Assembymember at the time testified his dismay at the sight of white girls “sitting side by side in the schoolroom with matured Japs, with base minds, their lascivious thoughts…”

In this climate of xenophobia and the sexual menace of Chinese and Japanese men, Filipino men became the next population of concern. One aggravating factor for nativists was that the Filipinos were American nationals — a status that Filipino laborers enjoyed because the United States retained territorial control over the Philippines. As American nationals, Filipinos were not constrained by the immigration laws that excluded other Asian groups. Moreover, not only were more interactions between Filipino men and white women due to a changing social climate in the early twentieth century, but there were also confounding questions as to how Filipinos should be racially classified, which complicated the deployment of anti-miscegenation statutes — the focus of this module’s primary reading.

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