Loving: Interracial Intimacy in America and the Threat to White Supremacy
By Sheryll Cashin
Review by David Wineberg
“It is stupid, how trapped this great country is, by the architecture of division,” says Sheryll Cashin in Loving. There appears to be no bottom to the depredations of American abuse of nonwhite non-Christians. Her book traces them from the naïve acceptance by natives of British “pilgrims” to the absurd cases where mixed race marriage was against the law, and into the future, when this nightmare might finally dissipate.
Until fifty years ago, it was illegal for whites to marry women of other races in 41 states. The states had to define what exactly white was, and what all the other colors were. For many southern states, a single drop of nonwhite blood in the veins was enough. And they kept records on every individual to prove it. Some states outlawed sex between races. It was only in 1967 that the Supreme Court called it what it really was – White Supremacy – and declared it illegal. It was the Loving case, where a couple by that name had to fight their way out of being exiled and banned from their home state of Virginia for 25 years. For the crime of marriage.
As outrageous as it might sound today, America was resplendent with such laws:
-Maryland law required a free woman marrying a slave to become a slave herself, along with their future children. And the owners were fined for good measure.
-Virginia law prohibited sex between the free and slaves, except for owners, who could fornicate at will. 20% of illegitimate children were mixed race.
-Ministers could be fined 10,000 pounds of tobacco for performing a mixed race marriage.
Cashin writes in a clear, direct style, massaging and rationalizing nothing. The unvarnished facts are offensive enough on their own. She is refreshingly candid without being vindictive. The book moves swiftly and effectively, revolting without overwhelming. Where it’s her opinion, she says so. Where it’s her own experience, she says so. Where it’s blatant stupidity, she says so. It is a swift, direct lesson in the depths, studded with stats and historical facts often in the form of absurd, racist laws beyond dispute. Racism is institutional in the USA. And it is ingrained in individuals today, even without their intent, as Cashin demonstrates.
Cashin’s grinding recital of moral failures comes out remarkably positive. Today, 3.3% of marriages in Virginia are black/white. It leads the nation. As more and more mixed race couples appear in television series and in commercials, as more and more university dorms force students to work and live with each other, mixed race families are becoming unremarkable. Online dating is melting the barriers. By 2050, 20% of Americans will be multiracial. Cashin hopes they become a major force for normalcy, much as same sex marriage has become acceptable of late. It is a surprisingly hopeful ending to a 350 year disaster.
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.