Bela August Walker recently posted her fascinating article, “Fractured Bonds: Policing Whiteness and Womanhood Through Race-Based Marriage Annulments” (forthcoming DePaul Law Review) on SSRN. In it she explores the role of law in shaping stereotypes. Here’s the abstract.
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In the hundred years before the United States Supreme Court declared miscegenation statutes unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia, state courts decided thirteen recorded race-based annulment cases. This article presents a unified analysis of all race based annulment cases for the first time. Simultaneously public and private affairs, these dramas impacted far more than the individual couples or courtrooms, sending out shockwaves that reverberated beyond their points of origin. The results of the cases are startling and contrary to previous work on the subject.
Using this unique set of cases, this article argues that while declaring these women white appears like a deviation from white supremacy, the courts’ decisions were used to preserve white racial dominance. Through the annulment case decisions, the court stepped in to protect women with a taint of blackness, declaring them pure and worthy of the mantle of whiteness. By legally erasing the women’s potential racial taint, the court seemingly chooses to protect obedient women against their husbands, affirming marriage and domesticity over racial prejudices. In contrast, the court acted to protect the ideology of whiteness. To preserve notions of white womanhood, this status had to be defended, even as it violated standards of racial purity.