Live and Let Love: Self-Determination in Matters of Intimacy and Identity

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 cboice in service of collective notions of racial appropriateness. Kennedy challenges remaining obstacles to individual selfdetermination 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 Indian2 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).