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State antimiscegenation laws aimed to regulate white desire for black bodies
in an effort to preserve white racial purity and ultimately white supremacy.
Facially, these laws did not regulate intimate relations when such relations
involved only people of color. For example, state statutes typically did not
preclude a Native-American person from marrying an African-American person.
But a careful examination of the social and legal atmosphere that was
created by state antimiscegenation laws reveals that these state laws did
impact the desire of nonwhite people of color to marry black persons.
State miscegenation laws that ultimately permitted whites to marry Indians
aided the assimilation of Indians into mainstream white America by operating
as a form of racial rehabilitation. Indian assimilation, however, required
more than Indians intermarrying with whites; it required the total
indoctrination of Indians into the system of white supremacy. This meant
that Indians needed to adopt white sexual mores, including the aversion to
race mixing with blacks.
During the antebellum period, four of the tribes referred to by the federal
government as the “Five Civilized Tribes” adopted
miscegenation laws that attempted to preclude Indians from marrying or
having sexual relations with blacks. Through the regulation of Indian-black
sexual relations, the tribes sought to avoid mixed-race offspring and
thereby protect Indian identity from “corruption.” Indians
viewed themselves as a free and self-governing people, which was the basis
for claiming tribal sovereignty. This view of self was in contradistinction
to blacks who generally were not free, but bonded and without rights that
the white man was bound to respect.
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