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Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption

Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption

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by Randall Kennedy

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From the author of Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word and Race, Crime, and the Law—a tour de force about the controversial issue of personal interracial intimacy as it exists within ever-changing American social mores and within the rule of law.

Fears of transgressive interracial relationships, informed over the centuries by ugly racial biases and


From the author of Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word and Race, Crime, and the Law—a tour de force about the controversial issue of personal interracial intimacy as it exists within ever-changing American social mores and within the rule of law.

Fears of transgressive interracial relationships, informed over the centuries by ugly racial biases and fantasies, still linger in American society today. This brilliant study—ranging from plantation days to the present—explores the historical, sociological, legal, and moral issues that continue to feed and complicate that fear.

In chapters filled with provocative and cleanly stated logic and enhanced by intriguing historical anecdotes, Randall Kennedy tackles such subjects as the presence of sex in racial politics and of race in sexual politics, the prominence of legal institutions in defining racial distinction and policing racial boundaries, the imagined and real pleasures that have attended interracial intimacy, and the competing arguments around interracial romance, sex, and family life throughout American history.

In Interracial Intimacies, Randall Kennedy offers nothing less than a bracing, much-needed ethic of multiracial living.

Editorial Reviews

It has been almost half a century since 14-year-old African American Emmett Till was tortured and murdered in Mississippi for the "crime" of whistling at a white woman. In the intervening years, the implicit rules of interracial intimacies have changed, but the boundaries remain. In this measured and thoughtful book, Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy charts the tangled web of biases and fantasies that still complicate racial relationships in America.
The Los Angeles Times
Kennedy, a Harvard Law School professor, relies heavily on case law but uses journalism, letters, novels, films, folklore and even personal ads — "SWM seeks SBF" — to draw a fascinatingly detailed portrait of a nation that remains conflicted and enthralled by crossings of the color line. His chapters on race mixing and children, particularly a long discussion of "passing," take us into a surreal and heartbreaking world where, because of race, children have denied their parents, parents have denied their children and the heavy hand of governmental authority still uses color to decide who can be a family. — Kate Manning
Paul Evans
Harvard law professor Kennedy recently attracted national attention with Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, a linguistic-political study that became a bestseller. Kennedy's latest cultural critique concerns interracial unions between blacks and whites. Noting that mixed marriages remain statistically rare in the United States (.6 percent of total marriages in 1998), he plunges deeper into questioning why the idea of such intimacies remains so provocative. Kennedy analyzes portrayals of interracial unions in literature and film, from James Baldwin's Another Country to Spike Lee's Jungle Fever, and spotlights notable real-life relationships, including Thomas Jefferson's exploitative affair with slave Sally Hemings and abolitionist Frederick Douglass' marriage to a white woman. Though it occasionally suffers from an overwhelming density of facts and a sterile prose style, the book's encyclopedic coverage of race relations in the bedroom and beyond is impressive.
Publishers Weekly
Does a biracial child from Louisiana belong with the black family who wants to adopt her or in the indifferent foster care system that has classified her as white? Kennedy, who created a media storm with Nigger, begins his third book about race with an obscure 1952 legal case that addresses this question, then traces the customs, laws and myths surrounding interracial relationships that came before and after it. As in Nigger, Kennedy's controversial examination of the taboo word, much of this book centers on legal actions and court rulings. It is laced with enough anecdotes and pop culture references, however, to make it an accessible, compelling read for anyone. The Harvard law professor even wrote to people who placed what he calls "racially discriminatory" personal ads (SWM seeks SWF, for example), asking them to explain themselves (few did). For the most part, the book stays focused on black and white relationships, and Kennedy dutifully but unremarkably covers well-known examples such as the slavery era's Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings and the 20th century's O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson. He is at his best and most instructive tackling issues like racial passing (he devotes an entire chapter to a mid-20th-century interracial couple and their daughter's Imitation of Life-like attempts to pass for white) and interracial adoption (he deplores race matching as "a destructive practice in all its various guises"). While Kennedy points out that race relations have made huge strides since the 1952 Louisiana adoption case, he also openly conveys his disappointment at how America remains "a pigmentocracy" influenced by white supremacist notions. The book provides plenty of examples to back up this assertion, but stops short of offering tangible solutions. (Jan.) Forecast: While it will pick up readers primarily in the aftermath of Nigger, this book probably won't raise hackles to the same level. Look for national review coverage and a solid initial sales spike. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This hefty study unpacks the social, legal, and literary history of black/white personal relations in America, including miscegenation, racial identity and "passing," parenting, custody, and adoption. Kennedy (law, Harvard; Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word) surveys 400 years of interracial intimacy, from the knotty relationship between master and slave to recent adoption reforms and the politicization of multiethnic people, and interweaves a compelling argument for racial egalitarianism and against race matching in adoption. Short on jargon and full of fascinating illustrative anecdotes, his book will appeal to both general readers and scholars. Other notable works include Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History, edited by Martha Hodes; Gail Steinberg and Beth Hall's Inside Transracial Adoption; and Sandra Patton's Birthmarks: Transracial Adoption in Contemporary America. Painstakingly researched and documented with copious reference endnotes and content footnotes, Kennedy's book is essential for libraries where the above titles circulate well and is warmly recommended for any collection.-Janet Ingraham Dwyer, Worthington P.L., OH
From the Publisher
“The best book written on the subject, an exhaustive source of deep, rich scholarship and surefooted brilliant analysis.” —Seattle Times

“We urgently need Kennedy, his courage and his convictions. . . . For some time [he] has been a member of that small coterie of our most lucid big thinkers about race.” —Washington Post

“[A] vibrant, wieghty examination. . . . Kennedy writes eloquently about the violence, sadness, and warped legacy of the past, but then goes looking for intimacy anyway—instances in which some mutual feeling may have arisen across the racial divide.” —Los Angles Times

“As definitive as it is defiant. . . . One of the most important books on race in recent memory.” –Columbus Dispatch

Product Details

Knopf Publishing Group
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6.82(w) x 9.04(h) x 1.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

The author lives and trains in California. Len has earned 5th Dan Black Belts in Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do and 3rd Dan Black Belt in Soo Bahk. Len has been learning martial arts since he joined his first Tae Kwon Do class after graduating college. Len began teaching martial arts just prior to earning a Cho Dan (1st degree) Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do styles almost simultaneously. Len has been using aspects of martial arts in his own life to bring order, understanding and self-awareness. Len augments his martial arts with meditation, strength-based weight training, boxing skills including the hand speed, heavy bag, heavy bag and long distance running. Meditation keeps his body-mind-spirit in-tack, allowing him to train at higher levels of performance while minimizing injuries. Len has written and published may martial arts magazine articles and books. Writing and publishing more than 20 articles related to martial arts for several martial arts magazines including the prestigious Tae Kwon Do Times, Black Belt and the Mudo Dojang. Many of Len's articles illustrate the forgotten history and evolution of Korean martial arts. For this reason, Len's books and articles are often republished in other countries because of their excellent historical content, unavailable otherwise. Len's articles also appear on many martial arts web sites around the world. Len has also published 20 books on Korean martial arts. One of Len's books for choosing the right style for children has earned the Good Housekeeping magazine's Seal of Approval. Len currently has more than 25 years of martial arts experience. Academically, Len has earned three A.A. degrees, two B.S. degree in Physics and Mathematics, an M.S. and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and an M.A. degree in Education. Len had worked professionally as a Teacher, Physicist, Astrophysicist, Nuclear Physicist, a Mechanical Engineer, an Aerospace Engineer and an Electrical Engineer designing spacecraft and rockets for NASA and the U.S. military space programs and has been an executive at companies in several different industries. The author was responsible for winning the funding by the Pentagon for the Air Force's Global Positioning System constellation of MEO satellites.

Meet the Author

Randall Kennedy is the author of Nigger and Race, Crime, and the Law. He received his undergraduate degree from Princeton and his law degree from Yale. A Rhodes Scholar, he served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He is a professor at Harvard Law School and lives in Dedham, Massachusetts.

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Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I cannot recommend reading this book more. If you are a family in any stage of adoption, an adoptee, or a relative involved in adoption, this book can give you background history and help prepare you for the societal issues to be faced when others around you are confronted with difference. Beautifully and thoughtfully written in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with lots of specific illustrative cases. Makes the case for a common human thread that transcends race using intelligence, wit and moral argument. Drives home the message that love and relationships do not have to be 'color blind' or 'see past' race, so much as embrace its realities and see them clearly without blindness. Excellent!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author pulls the mirror up to our faces and makes us confront our own prejudices today and mourn our prejudices of the past. Of all the things I come away with in this book, I wholeheartedly support the author in his view that race matching in adoption is a destructive practice in all its various guises. Yes, ¿it ought to be replaced by a system under which children in need of homes may be assigned to the care of foster or adoptive parents as quickly as reasonably possible.¿ We have several couples in our neighborhood who have adopted children of other races. This is real progress. Gisela Gasper Fitzgerald, author of ADOPTION: An Open, Semi-Open or Closed Practice?