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According to Our Hearts

According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    According to Our Hearts
    Book Description:

    This landmark book looks at what it means to be a multiracial couple in the United States today.According to Our Heartsbegins with a look back at a 1925 case in which a two-month marriage ends with a man suing his wife for misrepresentation of her race, and shows how our society has yet to come to terms with interracial marriage. Angela Onwuachi-Willig examines the issue by drawing from a variety of sources, including her own experiences. She argues that housing law, family law, and employment law fail, in important ways, to protect multiracial couples. In a society in which marriage is used to give, withhold, and take away status-in the workplace and elsewhere-she says interracial couples are at a disadvantage, which is only exacerbated by current law.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16688-0
    Subjects: Sociology, History, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    My husband, jacob, and i must have been told “You have to seeA Bronx Tale” ten times before we actually figured out or, rather, saw why. Often, when given this recommendation, Jacob, a white man, and I, a black woman, would respond, “Really? What’s the movie about?” Usually, the reply was something along the lines of: “You just have to see it.”

    Then one day, as Jacob and I were using the remote control to flip through television channels—one of our favorite pastimes—we came across the movie and it all became clear. Released in 1993,A Bronx...


    • 1 A Beautiful Affair
      (pp. 25-39)

      The fairytale romance of the working-class Alice Beatrice Jones and the wealthy Leonard Kip Rhinelander began against the backdrop of 1920s New York society. During this era, formal Jim Crow laws did not exist in New York, but strong beliefs in the inferiority of blacks prevailed. The fear of passing blacks polluted the air among white citizens.¹ Some whites feared the very idea of being surrounded by blacks who passed as white. This fear caused many whites to cling even more dearly to the idea of race as biological, clear, and visible.

      Additionally, racial segregation in homes persisted. As Professor...

    • 2 Openings and a Closing: Shutting the Door on Reconciliation
      (pp. 40-61)

      As shown in chapter 1, even after Leonard filed his lawsuit for annulment, Alice believed that Leonard would return to her one day. Indeed, she described this desire to aChicago Defenderjournalist, proclaiming: “We [Leonard and I] love each other. I have known him for nearly four years and kept steady with him until we married last October. We were engaged for three years. It did not make any difference to him about my color then, and it doesn’t now. We were happy together until his parents had to interfere. He did not care anything about what society said,...

    • 3 Testimonies
      (pp. 62-88)

      After both leonard’s lead attorney, Isaac N. Mills, and Alice’s chief attorney, Lee Parsons Davis, finished explaining their strategies to the jury, the two men and their legal teams began a month-long trial in which they worked to fulfill the evidentiary promises they made during their opening statements. In this chapter, I describe the evidence that Leonard set forth in proving his case to the jury as well as the evidence that Alice presented in her defense. Specifically, I describe the evidence that Leonard’s attorneys used to try to demonstrate their claim that Alice used sexual conduct to gain control...

    • 4 A Verdict against the Heart
      (pp. 89-118)

      Toward the end of the trial, Leonard successfully fought to add to his Complaint an allegation that Alice had defrauded him by remaining silent about her racial background when she had a duty to inform him of it before the marriage. This amendment by Leonard marked the second time that he had modified his Complaint since filing his lawsuit. Prior to this amendment, Leonard had alleged only that Alice explicitly had misrepresented her race to him.

      On December 2, 1925, Leonard served this Second Amended Complaint on Alice, and on December 3, 1925, Alice responded with an Amended Answer that...


    • 5 Understanding the Black and White of Love
      (pp. 121-155)

      Although occurring almost a century ago, the lives of Alice and Leonard Rhinelander remain relevant in today’s society. In addition to teaching us about the various struggles that can occur in defining one’s own racial identity, especially for multiracial individuals like Alice, theRhinelandernarrative forecasts a strong lingering taboo against interracial marriage in general and black-white marriage in particular. More so, the story of the Rhinelanders provides us with many important lessons about how law and society have often functioned together to frame the normative ideal of family as monoracial, both in our history and in our present.


    • 6 Living in Placelessness
      (pp. 156-198)

      Just as therhinelandertrial teaches us much about the black and white, or ranking, of love, it also provides us with significant lessons about the social and legal advantages and disadvantages that can exist at the intersection of race and family. Much like privileges may attach to membership in the dominant racial or gender group in the United States, privileges also may attach to the lives of heterosexual, monoracial couples and their families, even as those privileges may vary based upon the shared races and socioeconomic classes of those couples and families. Indeed, the loss of privileges that can...

    • 7 Collective Discrimination
      (pp. 199-232)

      As seen in chapter 6, individuals in intimate, interracial couples often experience daily disadvantages and microaggressions as well as blatant and subtle forms of actionable discrimination in their private lives as a result of their union. Punishments for crossing racially defined boundaries of intimacy through family and familial-like relationships can extend beyond the more private realms of discrimination and harassment in residential neighborhoods and into more public and social areas. One such location in which these punishments can and do occur is in the workplace, the very space in which people earn money to financially support themselves and their families....

    • 8 Reflections in Black and White, and Where We Go from Here
      (pp. 233-268)

      So far in this book, i have utilized the lives of Alice and Leonard Rhinelander as a window into understanding how law and society have functioned together to frame the normative ideal of family as monoracial (and heterosexual), both historically and presently. Through their tragic love story, Alice and Leonard have provided us with a critical vantage point for seeing how far we have come with regard to race, intimacy, and family. They also have provided us with important lessons about law’s invisible role in reifying race and racial hierarchies among individuals and families at home, in the workplace, through...

  7. Afterword
    (pp. 269-280)

    A critical component of the desire to have a home and employment is the need simply to have a place in society as well as the means and capability to find a safe place for housing family and, in particular, children. Alice and Leonard Rhinelander not only never really had a home of their own; they also never had children. Often when I tell the story of the Rhinelanders to others, people ask, “Did they have children?” When I respond “No,” I usually hear a sigh of relief. That reaction invokes mixed emotions in me.

    On the one hand, I...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 281-316)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 317-325)