Live and Let Love: Self-Determination in Matters of Intimacy and Identity (Reviewing Randall Kennedy, Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity and Adoption, 2003)
24 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2010
Date Written: 2003
Are you free to choose the race of your spouse, . . . of your child, . . . of yourself? Historically, the legal and social answer to these questions was No. Matters of racial identity and interracial intimacy were strictly circumscribed by ideologies of racial essentialism and separation, ostensibly rooted in science, morality, and religion. In contrast, according to Professor Randall Kennedy in his new book, Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption, the answer to all three questions should be a resounding yes. The exclusive source of racial identification and intimacy should be individual choice, free from legal and social interference. The reality today is somewhere in between. In matters of sexual and marital intimacy, the law takes a neutral posture, but significant social constraints remain. And in matters of adoption and racial identity, both law and social norms continue, albeit with decreasing fervor, to restrain individual choice in service of collective notions of racial appropriateness.
Kennedy challenges remaining obstacles to individual self-determination in matters of interracial intimacy and identity. He takes a candid look at America's historical and continuing aversion to intimacy between people of different races, an inquiry that reveals the deep and pathological nature of America's racial ideology. He also considers the meaning of race and the burdens imposed by essentialist definitions of race on the identities and intimate relations of those who would live otherwise. Finally, Kennedy criticizes America's continued resistance to interracial adoption, particularly involving black and Native American or Indian children, a resistance that, in Kennedy's view, favors culturalist agendas at the expense of children's welfare.
The book is not, however, pessimistic. It is inspiring. Although opposition to interracial intimacy has reflected a repugnant and often brutal ideology of racial hierarchy, interracial relationships have always developed, revealing the indomitable power of human intimacy. Moreover, significant progress has occurred in the direction of racial tolerance. Kennedy hopes this progress will continue, aided by his book, which aims to “mov[e] interracial intimacy to center stage as a necessary focus of inquiry for anyone seriously interested in understanding and improving American society” (p. 12).
Interracial Intimacies also has important implications beyond race. The principles advanced by Kennedy in defense of individual freedom and self-determination in matters of intimacy and identity afford a basis for evaluating social and legal restrictions on the intimate relations of homosexual people. The human ideals of love, trust, and compassion that Kennedy advocates and celebrates arguably should extend to those members of our community who happen to fall in love with people of the same sex. Accordingly, in addition to promoting racial tolerance, the lessons of Interracial Intimacies counsel greater tolerance for intrasexual intimacies.
In Part I, in addition to describing the book, I identify and analyze Kennedy's core claims about the legitimate role of the state and social groups in matters of interracial sex, marriage, identity, and adoption. Although I agree substantially with Kennedy's perspective, I question his quite radical position that racial identity should be exclusively a matter of personal choice. His position, I argue, is unrealistic at the present time and, more importantly, threatens to undermine efforts to remedy the effects of past racial discrimination and to deter present discrimination. I also criticize Kennedy's opposition to race matching in adoption as too extreme, in that he would oppose consideration of race even if evidence persuasively demonstrated that same-race placements were in general better for black children. I broaden my focus, in Part II, to intimacies between people of the same sex. I argue that the principles on which Kennedy relies for accepting interracial intimacies support the acceptance of intrasexual intimacies.
Keywords: interracial marriage, race relations, marriage, racial identity
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