"Lemire opens new paths of inquiry into the invention of race and of whiteness, as well as into the history of love and sexual desire in the United States."—Martha Hodes, New York UniversityIn the years between the Revolution and the Civil War, as the question of black political rights was debated more and more vociferously, descriptions and pictorial representations of whites coupling with blacks proliferated in the North. Novelists, short-story writers, poets, journalists, and political cartoonists imagined that political equality would be followed by widespread inter-racial sex and marriage. Legally possible yet socially unthinkable, this "amalgamation" of the races would manifest itself in the perverse union of "whites" with "blacks," the latter figured as ugly, animal-like, and foul-smelling. In Miscegenation, Elise Lemire reads these literary and visual depictions for what they can tell us about the connection between the racialization of desire and the social construction of race.
"This is an exciting book. Lemire convinces the reader that the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed an often shrill argument for intra-racial, as opposed to interracial, coupling in the northeastern United States. Making love across the racial divide between black and white thus came to appear as a contradiction in terms, since only making miscegenation was possible."—Werner Sollors, Harvard University
"The sexualizing of race and the racializing of sex have shaped U.S. society in powerful and destructive ways. Lemire's brief, well-researched, and thoughtful book illustrates how key components of this protean process became part of the worldview of nineteenth-century white society."—Choice
Previous studies of the prohibition of interracial sex and marriage in the U.S. have focused on either the slave South or the post-Reconstruction period. Looking instead to the North, and to such texts as the Federalist poetry about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans, Edgar Allan Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue," and the 1863 pamphlet in which the word "miscegenation" was first used, Lemire examines the steps by which whiteness became a sexual category and same-race desire came to seem a biological imperative.
Elise Lemire, Professor of Literature at Purchase College, State University of New York, is the author of Black Walden: Slavery and Its Aftermath in Concord, Massachusetts, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.