From New World Encyclopedia

Frederick Douglass with his second wife Helen Pitts Douglass (sitting) who was white, a famous nineteenth century American example of "miscegenation." The woman standing is her sister, Eva Pitts.

Miscegenation (Latin miscere "to mix" + genus "kind") is the mixing of different races, especially through marriage. Often referred to in the context of black and white people, miscegenation occurs between all races, regardless of skin color. Although it has been controversial and often illegal throughout human history, many nations and peoples have begun to accept, and even promote, miscegenation as a natural result of interpersonal relationships. In an increasingly globalized society, where different cultures are constantly interacting with one another, miscegenation provides a process for linking the lineages of all aspects of humankind together inextricably, and harmoniously, laying the foundation for the emergence of a world of peace.

Etymological history

"Miscegenation" comes from the Latin miscere, "to mix," and genus, "race" or "kind." While the etymology of the term is not pejorative, historically, "race mixing" between black and white people was widely taboo. In much of the U.S. South, miscegenation was illegal when the term was introduced in 1863.[1] The term frequently was used in the context of ethnocentric or racist attitudes and in laws against interracial sexual relations and intermarriage. As a result, "miscegenation" is often a loaded word in English-speaking countries and may be considered offensive. While the English word has a history of ethnocentrism, the Spanish, Portuguese, and French words—mestizaje, miscigenação, and métissage—connote a positive ethno-cultural "melting-pot."

The term "interracial marriage" may be more common in contemporary English usage. Interracial marriage occurs when two people of differing races marry. Interracial marriage is a form of exogamy (marrying outside of one's social group) and can be seen in the broader context of miscegenation.

When referring to miscegenation, some sources use "interracial" and "interethnic" interchangeably. However, "miscegenation" implies more than just different ethnicities, since ethnicity can differ within the same race (Italian, Polish, and Irish people belong to the same "race") or between religions within the same country. The distinction between endogamy and exogamy relates to the issue of marrying—respectively—inside and outside of one's "group." In this case, "interethnic" would be the more appropriate descriptor for the union.

Miscegenation in the United States

Colin Powell, the 65th United States Secretary, is of mixed race and ethnicity

The word "miscegenation" was first used in an anonymous propaganda pamphlet printed in New York City in late 1864, entitled, Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro. The pamphlet claimed to support the "interbreeding" of "whites" and "blacks" until the races were indistinguishably mixed, claiming that this was the goal of the United States Republican Party. The actual authors were David Goodman Croly, managing editor of the New York World, a Democratic Party paper, and George Wakeman, a World reporter. Republican supporters soon exposed the pamphlet as an attempt to discredit the Republicans, the Lincoln administration, and the abolitionist movement by exploiting the fears and racial biases common among white people. Nonetheless, this pamphlet and its variations were reprinted widely in communities on both sides of the American Civil War by Republican opponents.

The word miscegenation quickly entered the common language of the day and became a popular "buzzword" in political and social discourse. For a century, white segregationists often accused abolitionists—and, later, advocates of equal rights for African Americans—of secretly plotting the destruction of the white race through miscegenation.

The promulgation of the "one-drop theory," which held that any person with so much as "one drop" of African blood must be regarded as completely "black," served as one important strategy intended to discourage miscegenation. The one-drop theory served as a political tool throughout the Antebellum period of the United States because it could classify any person with one black ancestor as a slave. Following the American Civil War, the "theory" served as a means of promoting segregation. After World War II, white segregationists commonly accused the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr., of being part of a communist plot funded by the Soviet Union to destroy the “white United States” through miscegenation.

In a 1948 publication, Gunnar Myrdal[2] ranked the reasons for racial segregation according to Southern whites, in the 1930s and 1940s, in order of increasing importance: Jobs, courts and police, politics, basic public facilities, “social equality” including dancing, handshaking, and most important, marriage. Segregation in basic public facilities was abolished with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The most important reason for segregation, marriage, was not fully overcome until the last anti-miscegenation laws were struck down later, in 1967.

Anti-miscegenation laws

United States

In the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, many American states passed anti-miscegenation laws, often based on controversial interpretations of the Bible, particularly the story of Phinehas. These laws prohibited the solemnization of marriages between people of different races and prohibited the officiating of wedding ceremonies, typically making miscegenation a felony. Sometimes the individuals attempting to marry would not be held guilty of miscegenation itself; felony charges of adultery or fornication would be brought against them instead. Vermont was the only state to never introduce such legislation. The 1883 U.S. Supreme Court case Pace v. Alabama upheld the constitutionality of anti-miscegenation laws. The Motion Picture Production Code of 1930, also known as Hays Code, explicitly forbid the depiction of miscegenation. In 1965, Virginia trial court Judge Leon Bazile sent an interracial couple who had married in Washington, D.C., to prison, writing:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay, and red, and he placed them on separate continents. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

This decision was eventually overturned in 1967, 84 years after Pace v. Alabama, when the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled the following in Loving v. Virginia:

Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival … To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law.

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional, 16 states still had laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Those laws were not completely repealed until November 2000, when Alabama became the last state to repeal its anti-miscegenation law:

after a statewide vote in a special election, Alabama became the last state to overturn a law that was an ugly reminder of America's past, a ban on interracial marriage. The one-time home of George Wallace and Martin Luther King Jr. had held onto the provision for 33 years after the Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. Yet as the election revealed—40 percent of Alabamans voted to keep the ban—many people still see the necessity for a law that prohibits blacks and whites from mixing blood.[3]

South Africa

South Africa's Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, passed in 1949, under Apartheid, forbade interracial marriages. The next year, the Immorality Act was passed, which made it a criminal offense for a white person to have any sexual relations with a person of a different race. Both Acts were repealed in 1985. Two decades later, the intermarriage rates between the two races remained lower than in Europe and North America.


In Germany, an anti-miscegenation law was enacted by the National Socialist government in September 1935, as part of the Nuremberg Laws. The Gesetz zum Schutze des deutschen Blutes und der deutschen Ehre (Protection of German Blood and German Honor Act) forbade marriage and extra-marital sexual relations between persons of Jewish origin and persons of "German or related blood." Such intercourse was marked as Rassenschande (lit. race-disgrace) and could be punished by imprisonment or even by death.


Under Israeli law, Jews and non-Jews cannot marry.[4] Authority over all issues related to marriage falls under the Orthodox Rabbinate which prohibits civil unions and marriage through non-Orthodox Rabbis. The Justice Ministry is proposing a bill to allow civil unions of Jews and non-Jews, to allow them the same rights afforded to married Jews. According to a Haaretz article, "Justice Ministry drafts civil marriage law for 'refuseniks,'" 300,000 people are affected.[5] Given the existing difficulties in defining a "Jew" as opposed to a "non-Jew," controversies of interpretation inevitably ensued.


Halle Berry, American film star, is half black and half white

A mulatto (also mulato) is a person of mixed ancestry, a child of miscegenation, specifically with an African and a European parent (half black and half white), the offspring of two mulatto parents, or a person with a mixture of African/European ancestry. Mulatto was an official census category in the United States until 1930.[6]

The origin of the term given by most dictionaries is mule, from the Latin mulus, or from the Spanish and Portuguese mulo, once a generic designation name for any hybrid. Because of this, some English-speakers consider the term offensive, whereas speakers of Spanish or Portuguese often consider the term acceptable.[7] The former might prefer terms like "biracial" or "mixed" instead.

In the United States, the term was in the beginning also used as a term for those of mixed white and Native American ancestry. In the south of the country mulattoes inherited slave status if the mother was a slave, although in French-influenced areas of the South prior to the Civil War (particularly New Orleans, Louisiana) a number of mulattoes were also free and slave-owning.

Mulattoes represent a significant portion of various countries in Latin America: Cuba (approx. 51 percent), Brazil (approx. 38 percent), Colombia, Venezuela, Panama (approx. 14 percent), Costa Rica (approx. 5 percent), Honduras, Nicaragua, and Puerto Rico.[8]

The roughly 200,000 Africans brought to Mexico were for the most part absorbed by the mestizo populations of mixed European and American Indian descent. The state of Guerrero once had a large population of African slaves. Other Mexican states inhabited by people with some African ancestry, along with other ancestries, include Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Yucatan. The African and mulatto populations were even more absorbed after the abolition of slavery. The blending of Native American, European, and African elements over four and a half centuries produced new cultures reflective of the mixing of these peoples.

In the Dominican Republic, the mulatto population has also absorbed the small number of Taíno native people once present in that country. A 1960 census included color categories such as white, black, yellow, and mulatto. Since then, any racial components have been dropped from the Dominican census.

In Haiti (formerly Saint-Domingue), mulattoes represented a smaller proportion of the population than in many other Latin American countries. They made up a class of their own. Often they were highly educated and wealthy. Many Haitian mulattoes were also slaveholders and as such actively participated in the suppression of the black majority. However, some also actively fought for the abolition of slavery. Distinguished mulattoes such as Nicolas Suard and others were prime examples of mulattoes who devoted their time, energy, and financial means to this cause. Some were also members of the Les Amis des Noirs in Paris, an association that fought for the abolition of slavery. Nevertheless, many mulattoes were slaughtered by African Haitians during the wars of independence in order to secure African political power over the island. Earlier some African volunteers had already aligned themselves with the French against the mulattoes during the first and second mulatto rebellion. In Haiti, mulattoes initially possessed legal equality with the unmixed French population. This provided them with many benefits, including inheritance. In the eighteenth century, however, Europeans fearful of slave revolts had restricted their rights, but they were successfully reclaimed in 1791. Mulattoes made up about 10 percent of the Haiti's population at the end of the twentieth century.

Promoting miscegenation

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, an interracial couple

Miscegenation was commonplace in the Portuguese colonies; courts even supported the practice as a way to boost low populations and guarantee a successful and cohesive settlement. Thus, settlers often released African slaves to become their wives. Similarly, as exemplified in Goa, Portuguese soldiers were encouraged to marry native women to ensure their conversion to Catholicism. Some of the children were guaranteed full Portuguese citizenship, possibly based on lighter skin color, but not necessarily race. Mixed marriages between Portuguese and locals in former colonies were very common. Miscegenation remained common in Africa until the independence of the former Portuguese colonies in the mid-1970s. Some former Portuguese colonies such as Brazil, Cape Verde, and São Tomé e Príncipe continue to have large mixed-race populations.

Asian Indian men, longtime traders in East Africa, have married many African women. The British Empire brought workers into East Africa to build the Uganda Railway, and Indians eventually populated South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Rhodesia, and Zaire. These interracial unions continue to be mostly unilateral marriages between Asian Indian men and East African women.[9]

The number of interracial marriages in the United States has been on the rise: 310,000 in 1970, 651,000 in 1980, and 1,161,000 in 1992, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census 1993. Mixed marriages represented 0.7 percent of all marriages in 1970, 1.3 percent in 1980, and 2.2 percent in 1992. However, black-white marriages still tend to be the most controversial in the public eye. Marriage between white people and Asians, particularly light-skinned North East Asians such as Chinese, is often looked upon as being the non-controversial interracial pairing in the United States and is becoming somewhat common. People cite the similarity in skin color and low instances of racial strife between white people and Asians in the U.S. since World War II as reasons for the widespread acceptability of such unions.


  1. Tom Kinsella, Antebellum Words: A Treasury. Retrieved January 15, 2007.
  2. Gunnar Myrdal, "Social Trends in America and Strategic Approaches to the Negro Problem." Phylon, Vol. 9, No. 3.
  3. Suzy Hanson, Mixing It Up. March 8, 2001. Retrieved January 15, 2007.
  4. Daniel J. Elazar, How Do the Issues in the Conversion Controversy Relate to Israel? Retrieved January 15, 2007.
  5. Yuval Azoulay, Justice Ministry drafts civil marriage law for "refuseniks." Retrieved January 15, 2007.
  6. usa.impus.org, 1930 Census: Enumerator Instructions—Personal Description. Retrieved January 16, 2007.
  7. Vania Penha-Lopes, "What Next? On Race and Assimilation in the United States and Brazil," Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 26, No. 6, 809-826.
  8. Frank F. Sweet, The Heredity of “Racial” Traits, Essays on the Color Line and the One-Drop Rule. Retrieved January 15, 2007.
  9. Color Q World, Jotawa: Afro-Asians in East Africa. Retrieved January 15, 2007.

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External links

All links retrieved November 9, 2022.


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