Title: What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America, 
Author: Peggy Pascoe
Year: 2009
Categories: Anti-Miscegenation, Legal History, Race, The State, The American West, Civil Rights
Place: United States
Time Period: 1863-2000

Argument Synopsis
Peggy Pascoe writes a history of miscegenation laws in the United States and their role as a national project that laid the foundation for a broader project of white supremacy. Pascoe argues that more visible forms of white supremacy such as segregation, voting, or violence masked the central importance of miscegenation laws in creating a kind of legal laboratory for the state to produce race. She not only links miscegenation with racial categorization (and all of the messy contradictions that entailed), but outlines how sexualized this legal production was. At the core of miscegenation laws lay defining interracial relationships as unnatural and equating them with illicit sex (rather than marriage). This legal production occurred both visibly in the courts via legal cases and, just as importantly but more invisibly, at the bureaucratic level via the enforcement of these laws at the hands of local administrators and marriage clerks. Even more than judges handing down decisions, these day-to-day actions in defining and delimiting racial categories built up the idea of interracial marriage as unnatural and racial categorization as natural. Finally, Pascoe moves beyond a black/white binary in order to develop a multiracial framework for considering miscegenation laws, primarily by extending her analysis into the more multiracial American West where legislators and justices faced questions of how to categorize and restrict Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Mexicans, and American Indians.

Pascoe makes a number of secondary assertions as well. First, she notes that miscegenation law was very much up for debate during the Civil War and Reconstruction, pointing out how some white men were reluctant to give up their sexual access to black women's bodies. As miscegenation laws swept across the South and West during the later decades of the 19th century, Pascoe traces how justices tried to paper over the obvious contradictions and loopholes of a system based on racial categorization (for instance, the illegality of a Mexican-American woman, classified as white, marrying a black man). To do so they drew from a variety of sources, but most importantly from scientific literature delineating an intricate racial hierarchy. When that literature didn't suit the case, they turned to the burgeoning field of social scientists who stressed cultural attributes of race, or occasionally "common-sense" definitions of race. Legal challenges to miscegenation law only began in the 1930s, and it wasn't until the 1950s that the NAACP moved beyond a "politics of avoidance" that side-stepped the explosive conflation of interracial (particularly black) relationships with illicit sex, towards a legal strategy that stressed the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause. Their efforts culminated in the successive decisions of McLaughlin v. Florida (1964) and Loving v. Virginia (1967). Pascoe takes a cautious view of Loving, pointing out how it has become canonized by the liberal left (in particular advocates of same-sex marriage) but also co-opted by the conservative right in stressing the victory of colorblindness, which could actually mask persistent inequalities and be used to lobby against remedies such as affirmative action. 

Key Themes and Concepts
- Miscegenation as FOUNDATION of white supremacy (not just about segregation)
- Sexualization of miscegenation law - equate interracial relationships with unnatural, illicit sex rather than marriage
- Moves beyond black/white dyad to a multiracial framework - especially into the American West
- Legal debates over marriage as a civil or a natural right
- Miscegenation laws a kind of legal laboratory for the state to produce race
- Race produced not just legally in courts, but administratively in bureaucracies of local marriage licensers and officials
- Criticizes colorblindness - rise of "colorblind conservatism"

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U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries by Cameron Blevins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.