Preserving Racial Identity: Population Patterns and the Application of Anti-Miscegenation Statutes to Asian Americans, 1910-1950
40 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2004 Last revised: 14 Apr 2011
Date Written: April 14, 2011
This essay explores the relationship between Asian American population and applicability of anti-miscegenation laws to that group in the first half of the 20th Century, testing legal scholar Gilbert Thomas Stephenson's theory that racial restrictions would arise whenever non-whites of any race exist in considerable numbers. Several states prohibited Asian-white intermarriage even though the Asian American numbers failed even remotely to approach those of the white population in those states. These anti-miscegenation statutes were unique in the Jim Crow regime in the degree of specificity with which they defined the racial categories subject to the restrictions, using precise terms like Japanese or Mongolians, rather than broad terms like colored. Further, the number of statutes applicable to Asians more than doubled between 1910 and 1950, even though census data shows that the proportion of Asian population was stable or declining in these states, and in any event tiny.
The proliferation of anti-Asian miscegenation laws raises important questions about the racial landscape of our country during this period. Correlating census data with the development of anti-miscegenation statutes suggests that population does have an impact on whether states would restrict Asian marriage, but in a more complex way than Stephenson proposed. In all states in which Asian-white marriage was restricted by race, so too was African American-white intermarriage; no statutes targeted Asians alone. But in virtually all states restricting African American intermarriage where there was a discernable Asian population - 1/2000th or more - Asian intermarriage was also regulated. The combination of a state's inclination to segregate, plus a visible Asian population, reliably predicts when Asians would be covered by a statute. This suggests that in the states where racially diverse populations were seen as threats appropriately subject to legal regulation, the nature of the problems presented by the various races was the same.
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