“What are you doing with that white woman?” was the racist question hurled at Jeffrey Wellmaker, an African American man out walking in Phoenix, Arizona with his girlfriend, described only as a”39-year-old white female.” After two unidentified assailants asked this, they pursued Wellmaker and his girlfriend, then shot them both. Wellmaker survived the shooting. His girlfriend did not.
While this may sound like something out of the 19th century south, this is present day, in a large city, in the sunbelt of the southwestern U.S. As one researcher suggests: “ Although interracial (hetero)sexual relations are no longer illegal, and the number of visible, consensual interracial partnerships has increased, there still remains a discourse against these social arrangements circulating in the United States that continues to bear the traces of the history of antimiscegenation.”
“Antimiscegenation” is rooted in several equally incorrect beliefs: 1) that race is some inherent, biological quality; 2) that race, specifically the white race, can in some way be “pure,” and 3) that “mixing” races, that is by people of different racial or ethnic backgrounds having sexual contact will result in a diminishing of the “purity” and good qualities associated with whiteness.
This is complete balderdash not supported by any kind of research. In fact, if you’d like to read some good research on the origins and meanings of the development of antimiscegenation laws, I recommend Elise Virginia Lemire’s “Miscegenation” : making race in America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002) as a good starting point. As Lemire notes, discussion of “miscegenation” as a threat emerged in the years between the Revolution and the Civil War, as the question of black political rights was debated. As the debate over whether or not blacks were, in fact, human beings deserving of human rights grew more vociferous, descriptions and pictorial representations of whites coupling with blacks proliferated primarily in the North. Novelists, short-story writers, poets, journalists, and political cartoonists imagined that political equality would be followed by widespread interracial sex and marriage, and with it, the supposed decline of the white race.
Yet, some people (@CaptainChaos in the comments thread here) and the gunman in the assault in Arizona, continue to believe this sort of thing. And, unfortunately, a woman has lost her life because of it.