In her new book, According to Our Hearts, Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Interracial Family, Angela Onwuachi-Willig brilliantly deconstructs and challenges the norm of the monoracial family — the idea that “normal” families are and indeed should be produced by heterosexual single-race couples. As Onwuachi-Willig explains, this norm fundamentally shapes American legal and social relations, including marriage and family formation. The social and legal challenges created by the norm of the monoracial family have long been a theme of Onwuachi-Willig’s work,1 but According to Our Hearts charts new territory by more clearly demonstrating the connection between racial formation and family formation. As a consequence, the book is destined to find fans among family law scholars, race discrimination scholars, and even lay readers interested in better understanding the role family connections play in triggering race discrimination.
Onwuachi-Willig uses the tragic love story of Alice Jones and Leonard “Kip” Rhinelander as a window into three key themes that she believes continue to inform discussions of the multiracial family today. The first theme, “interraciality,” allows us to explore the role that cross-racial family relationships play in triggering race discrimination. She argues that the study of race discrimination has largely neglected discrimination’s relational component. This relational component posits that discrimination may be triggered by others’ concerns about cross-racial intimate contact or family relations, rather than a single individual’s apparent racial status. The second theme is an examination of the fluid nature of racial identity in multiracial family units. Onwuachi-Willig explores the questions of power that emerge when the individual’s interest in defining her racial identity is juxtaposed against the competing interests of family members, the community, and the state. The book’s third, and perhaps most important theme is the racial hierarchy that exists between various types of interracial families, with black-white unions being the most disfavored. Onwuachi-Willig bravely takes on this hierarchy and deftly illuminates the hierarchy’s material and social consequences. Specifically, she suggests that the special disfavor saved for black-white marriages, particularly those involving black women and white men, ensures that wealth does not easily transfer through marriage and inheritance from white hands into black ones. Continue reading "Desegregating the Heart"