AskDefine | Define miscegenation

Dictionary Definition

miscegenation n : reproduction by parents of different races (especially by white and non-white persons) [syn: crossbreeding, interbreeding]

User Contributed Dictionary



From miscere + genus



  1. a mixing or blending
  2. the mixing or blending of race in marriage or breeding

Related terms


the mixing or blending of race

See also

Extensive Definition

Miscegenation (Latin miscere "to mix" + genus "kind") is the mixing of different racial groups, that is, marrying, cohabiting, having sexual relations and having children with a partner from outside of one's racially or ethnically defined group.


The term "miscegenation" has been used to refer to interracial marriage and interracial sex, and more generally to the global process of racial admixture that has taken place since the Age of Discoveries, particularly through the European colonization of the Americas and the Atlantic slave trade. Historically the term has been used in the context of laws banning interracial marriage and sex, so-called anti-miscegenation laws. It is therefore a loaded word and is considered offensive by many.
Today, the word miscegenation is avoided by many scholars, because the term suggests a distinct biological phenomenon, rather than a categorization imposed on certain relationships. The word is considered offensive by many and other terms such as "interracial," "interethnic" or "cross-cultural" are more common in contemporary usage. However, the term is still used by scholars when referring to past practices concerning multiraciality, such as anti-miscegenation laws that banned interracial marriages.
In Spanish, Portuguese and French, the words used to describe the mixing of "races" are mestizaje, mestiçagem and métissage. These words, much older than the term miscegenation, are derived from the Late Latin mixticius for "mixed" and from the Spanish word mestizo. Portuguese also uses miscigenação, derived from the same Latin root as the English word. These non-English terms for "race-mixing" are not considered as offensive as "miscegenation", although they have historically been tied to the caste system (Casta) that was established in Latin America during the colonial era. However, some groups in South America consider the use of the word mestizo offensive due to the fact that it was used during the times of the colony to just refer to the mixes between the conquistadores and the indigenous people. Today the mixes among races and ethnicities are diverse so it is preferable to use the term "mixed-race" or simply "mixed" (mezcla).
The concept of miscegenation is tied to concepts of racial difference. As the different connotations and etymologies of miscegenation and mestizaje suggest, definitions of race, "race mixing" and multiraciality have diverged globally as well as historically, depending on changing social circumstances and cultural perceptions. Thus, mestizo are people of mixed white and indigenous, usually Amerindian ancestry who do not self-identify as indigenous peoples or Native Americans. In Canada however, the Métis, who also have partly Amerindian and partly white, often French-Canadian, ancestry, are a constitutionally recognized aboriginal people.
The differences between related terms and words that encompass aspects of "racial" admixture show the impact of different historical and cultural factors leading to changing social interpretations of race and ethnicity. Thus the Comte de Montlosier, in exile during the French Revolution, equated class difference in eighteenth century France with "racial" difference. Borrowing Boulainvilliers' discourse on the "Nordic race" as being the French aristocracy that invaded the plebeian "Gauls", he showed his contempt for the lowest social class, the Third Estate, calling it "this new people born of slaves ... mixture of all races and of all times".

Etymological history

Miscegenation comes from the Latin miscere, "to mix" and genus, "kind". The word was coined in the U.S. in 1863, and the etymology of the word is tied up with political conflicts during the American Civil War over the abolition of slavery and over the racial segregation of African-Americans. The reference to "genus" was made to emphasize the supposedly distinct biological differences between whites and non-whites. In fact, all humans belong to the same genus, Homo, to the same species, Homo sapiens and to the same subspecies, Homo sapiens sapiens.
The word was coined in an anonymous propaganda pamphlet printed in New York City in December 1863, entitled Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro. The pamphlet purported to be in favor of promoting the intermarriage of whites and blacks until they were indistinguishably mixed, claiming this was the goal of the Republican Party. The pamphlet was revealed to be a hoax written by Democrats David Goodman Croly, managing editor of the New York World, a Democratic Party paper, and George Wakeman, a World reporter. (New York City at the time was a place where people often criticized the ongoing American Civil War, to the point of rioting against that war in a massive brawl that had racial overtones.)
The anonymous pamphlet was later exposed as an attempt by Democrats (the so-called Copperheads) to discredit the Republicans, the Lincoln administration, and the abolitionist movement by exploiting the racist fears common among whites. The pamphlet and variations on it were reprinted widely in communities on both sides of the American Civil War by opponents of Republicans. Only in November 1864 did it become known that the pamphlet was a hoax. By then, the word miscegenation had entered the common language of the day as a popular buzzword in political and social discourse. The issue of miscegenation, raised by the opponents of Lincoln, featured prominently in the election campaign of 1864.
In the United States, the concept of miscegenation has been used to focus primarily on the intermarriage of white people and non-whites, and especially black people. Before the publication of Miscegenation, the word amalgamation, borrowed from metallurgy, had been in use as a general term for ethnoracial intermixing. A contemporary usage of this metaphor was Ralph Waldo Emerson's private vision in 1845 of America as an ethnoracial smelting-pot, a variation on the concept of the melting pot. Attitudes in the U.S toward the desirability of such intermixing, including that between white Protestants and Irish Catholic immigrants, were divided. The term miscegenation was coined to refer specifically to the intermarriage of blacks and whites, and with the intention of stirring up debate over what was at the time a controversial issue.

Laws banning miscegenation

Laws banning "race-mixing" were enforced in Nazi Germany, in South Africa during the Apartheid era and in individual U.S. states from the Colonial era until 1967. All these laws primarily banned marriage between spouses of different racially or ethnically defined groups, which was termed "amalgamation" or "miscegenation" in the U.S. The laws in Nazi-Germany and South Africa under Apartheid, and many of the U.S. state laws, also targeted sexual relations between such individuals.
In the United States, the various state laws prohibited the marriage of whites and blacks, and in many states also the intermarriage of whites with Native Americans and/or Asians. In the U.S., such laws were known as anti-miscegenation laws. From 1913 until 1948, 30 out of the then 48 states enforced such laws. Although an "Anti-Miscegenation Amendment" was repeately proposed in United States Congress, in 1871, in 1912-1913 and in 1928, a nation-wide law against racially mixed marriages was never enacted. In 1967, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Loving v. Virginia that miscegenation laws are unconstitutional. With this ruling, these laws were no longer in effect in the remaining 16 states that at the time still enforced them.
The laws in Nazi Germany, South Africa and in U.S. states all based themselves on concepts of racial purity and white supremacy. The Nazi ban on interracial marriage and interracial sex, part of the Nuremberg laws, classified Jews as a race and based itself on the racist concept of the superiority of Germans as members of the "Aryan race".
Enacted by the National Socialist government in September 1935 as part of the Nuremberg Laws, the Gesetz zum Schutze des deutschen Blutes und der deutschen Ehre (The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour) forbade marriage and extramarital sexual relations between persons of Jewish origin and persons of "German or related blood". Such intercourse was marked as Rassenschande (lit. race-disgrace) and could be punished by imprisonment (usually followed by the deportation to a concentration camp) and even by death.
The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act in South Africa, enacted under Apartheid in 1949, banned intermarriage between whites and non-whites. The Immorality Act, enacted in 1950, also made it a criminal offense for a white person to have any sexual relations with a person of a different race. Both laws were repealed in 1985.

History of ethnoracial admixture and attitudes towards miscegenation

United States

Historically, "race mixing" between black and white people was taboo in the United States (see also Racism in the United States). In the past, the taboo centered more on white-black marriages than on sexual relations between whites and blacks, because most white Americans refused to accept African-Americans as social equals. Today, a majority of Americans are not against black-white marriages. In a recent poll of 1,314 Americans of all ethnic groups, 3 in 10 people were opposed to white-black marriage, and a smaller proportion were opposed to white-Hispanic or white-Asian marriages.
The taboo among American whites surrounding white-black intermarriage can be seen as a historical consequence of the oppression and racial segregation of African-Americans. In many U.S. states interracial marriage was already illegal when the term miscegenation was invented in 1863. The first laws banning interracial marriage were introduced in the late seventeenth century in the slave-holding colonies of Virginia (1691) and Maryland (1692). Later these laws also spread to colonies and states where slavery did not exist.
It has also been argued that the first laws banning interracial marriage were a response by the planter elite to the problems they were facing due to the socio-economic dynamics of the plantation system in the Southern colonies. The bans in Virginia and Maryland were established at a time when slavery was not yet fully institutionalized. At the time, most forced laborers on the plantations were indentured servants, and they were mostly white. Some historians have suggested that the at-the-time unprecedented laws banning interracial marriage were originally invented by planters as a divide and rule tactic after the uprising of servants in Bacon's Rebellion. According to this theory, the ban on interracial marriage was issued to split up the racially mixed, increasingly mixed-race labour force into whites, who were given their freedom, and blacks, who were later treated as slaves rather than as indentured servants. By forbidding interracial marriage, it became possible to keep these two new groups separated and prevent a new rebellion.
During and after slavery, most American whites regarded interracial marriage between whites and blacks as taboo. However, during slavery many white American men and women did conceive children with black partners. These children automatically became slaves if the mother was a slave or were born free if the mother was free, as slavery was matrilineal;. Sometimes freed from slavery by their slave holding fathers or bought to be emancipated if the father was not the owner. Many children of these unions formed enclaves under names such as Colored and Gens de couleur, etc. Most mixed-raced descendants merged into the African-American ethnic group during Jim Crow, while over the centuries a minority of mixed-raced Americans passed and became white, and others exist to this day in small mixed enclaves of Mestees such as the Melungeons, Redbone (ethnicity), Lumbee, Jackson Whites, etc. Although this is not widely known, genetic research suggests that a considerable minority of white Americans (estimated at 1/3 of the population by some geneticists such as Mark Shriver) has some distant African-American ancestry and the majority of African Americans have European ancestry. Interestingly, while marriage records have been consistent in showing a marriage rate of 60/40 White female/White male in inter ethnic marriages with African Americans, mitochondrial DNA confirms that only 40% of the European contribution to the African American genetic pool is from females.
After the Civil War and the abolition of slavery in 1865, the intermarriage of white and black Americans continued to be taboo, especially but not only in the former slave states. The Motion Picture Production Code of 1930, also known as Hays Code, explicitly stated that the depiction of "miscegenation... is forbidden." One important strategy intended to discourage the marriage of white Americans and Americans of partly African descent was the promulgation of the one-drop theory, which held that any person with so much as "one drop" of African "blood" must be regarded as completely "black". This definition of blackness was encoded in the anti-miscegenation laws of various U.S. states, such as Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924.
For a century after the Civil War, it was common for white segregationists to accuse abolitionists, and, later, advocates of equal rights for African Americans, of secretly plotting the destruction of the white race through miscegenation. After World War II, white segregationists commonly accused the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr., of being part of a communist plot funded by the Soviet Union to destroy the "white United States" through miscegenation. In 1957, segregationists used the anti-semitic hoax "A Racial Program for the Twentieth Century" in an attempt to prove these bogus claims. In 1958, the Christian fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell, at the time a defender of the Jim Crow segregation of African-Americans, in a sermon railed against racial integration, warning that it would lead to miscegenation, which would "destroy our [white] race eventually."
In the United States, segregationists and Christian identity groups have claimed that several verses in the Bible, for example the story of Phinehas and the so-called "curse of Ham", should be understood as referring to miscegenation and that these verses expressly forbid it. Most theologians read these verses as forbidding inter-religious marriage, rather than inter-racial marriage.

Portuguese colonies

According to Gilberto Freyre, a Brazilian sociologist, miscegenation was commonplace in the Portuguese colonies, and was even supported by the court as a way to boost low populations and guarantee a successful and cohesive settlement. Thus, settlers often released African slaves to become their wives. The children were guaranteed full Portuguese citizenship, provided the parents were married. Some former Portuguese colonies have large mixed-race populations, for instance, Brazil, Cape Verde, Timor Leste, Macau and São Tomé and Príncipe. Mixed marriages between Portuguese and locals in former colonies were very common in all Portuguese colonies. Miscegenation was still common in Africa until the independence of the former Portuguese colonies in the mid-1970s.


The modern State of Israel was established as a nation-state for the Jewish people. The Jewish identity contains elements of religion (Judaism), ethnicity, and a sense of a common lineage.
In this sense, Jewish miscegenation could be viewed on two levels; one based on belonging to the Jewish ethnic group or Jewish people, and the other based on the race of a given Jew. Jewish miscegenation based on Jewishness (belonging to the Jewish ethnic group or Jewish people) would be defined on whether one parent is not Jewish, independent of whether either the Jewish or non-Jewish parent are of the same or different races. Racial miscegenation would be defined as the union between a Jewish person of a given race with a person of a different race, be the other person a Jew or not. Two Jewish people may still be considered "interracial" if those two Jews are of different races, although it would not be considered exogamous in the context of Jewish ethnicity, as both are still Jews.
In Israel, all marriages must be approved by religious celebrants, while civil marriages are legally recognized if performed abroad. Rules governing marriage are based on strict religious guidelines of each religion. By Israeli law, authority over all issues related to Judaism in Israel, including marriage, falls under the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Orthodox Judaism is the only form of Judaism recognized by the state, and marriages performed in Israel by non-Orthodox Rabbis are not recognized.
The Rabbinate prohibits marriage in Israel of halakhic Jews (i.e. people born to a Jewish mother or Jewish by conversion), whether they are Orthodox Jews or not, to partners who are non-Jewish or who are of Jewish descent that runs through the paternal line (i.e. not Jewish according to halakha). As a result, in the state of Israel, people of differing religious traditions cannot legally marry someone in another religion and multi-faith couples must leave the country to get married, most often to Cyprus.
The only other option in Israel for the marriage of a halakhic Jew (Orthodox or not) to a non-Jew, or for that matter, a Christian to a non-Christian or Muslim to a non-Muslim, is for one partner to formally convert to the other's religion, be it to Judaism (Orthodox only), a Christian denomination (such as Eastern Orthodox or Maronite) or a denomination of Islam (such as Sunni or Shia). As for persons with patrilineal Jewish descent (i.e. not recognized as Jewish according to halakha) who wish to marry a halakhic Jew (i.e. born to a Jewish mother or is Jewish by Orthodox conversion) who is Orthodox or otherwise, is also required to formally convert to Judaism (Orthodox only) or they cannot legally marry.
According to a Haaretz article "Justice Ministry drafts civil marriage law for ‘refuseniks’" 300,000 people, or 150,000 couples, are affected by marriage restrictions based on the partners' disparate religious traditions or non-halakhic Jewish status.
Israeli law concerns itself with miscegenation based on Jewish ethnicity, not miscegenation based on race. Therefore, there are no restrictions on interracial marriages between Jews of different Jewish ethnic divisions, or between other co-religionists of different races, although social stigma may still exist.

Demographics of ethnoracial admixture


According to the U.S. Census, in 2000 there were 1,432,908 Hispanic Origin-white marriages., 504,119 Asian-white marriages, 287,576 black-white marriages, 97,822 Hispanic Origin-black marriages, 40,317 Asian-Hispanic Origin marriages, and 31,271 Asian-black marriages.


Multiracial Brazilians make up 42.6% of Brazil's population, 79.782 million people, and they live in all regions of Brazil. Multiracial Brazilians are mainly people of mixed European, African (Afro-Brazilian) and Amerindian ancestry.

Genetic studies of racial admixture

A statistical analysis done in 1958 using historical census data and historical data on immigration and birth rates, concluded that 21 percent of the white population had black ancestors. The growth in the white population could not be attributed to births in the white population and immigration from Europe alone, but had received significant contribution from the American black population as well. The author states in 1958:
The data presented in this study indicate that the popular belief in the non-African background of white persons is invalid. Over twenty-eight million white persons are descendants of persons of African origin. Furthermore, the majority of the persons with African ancestry are classified as white.

Admixture in Latin America


Prior to the European conquest of the Americas the demographics of Latin America was naturally 100% Native American. Today those who identify themselves as Native Americans are small minorities in many countries. For example Argentina's native population is 0.9%, Brazil is 0.4%, and Uruguay is 0%.
In addition many Africans were shipped to regions all over the Americas and were present in many of the early voyages of the conquistadors. Brazil has the largest population of African descendants outside of Africa. Other countries such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Haiti, and Colombia still have sizeable populations identified as Black. However countries such as Argentina and Chile do not have a visible African presence today. Census information from the early 19th century shows that people categorized as Black made up to 30% of the population, or around 400,000 people. Though almost completely absent today, their contribution to Argentine culture is significant include the Tango, the Milonga and the Zamba, words of Bantu origin.
The early conquest of Latin America was primarily carried out by male soldiers and sailors from Spain and Portugal. Since they carried very few European women on their journeys the new settlers married and fathered children with Amerindian women and also with women imported from Africa. This process of miscegenation was even encouraged by the Spanish monarchy and it led to the system of stratification known as the Casta. This system had Europeans (mainly Spaniards and Portuguese) at the top of the hierarchy followed by those of mixed race. Unmixed Blacks and Native Americans were at the bottom. A philosophy of whitening emerged in which Amerindian and African culture was stigmatized in favor of European values. Many Amerindian languages were lost as mixed race offspring adopted Spanish and Portuguese as their first languages. Only towards the end of the 19th Century and beginning of the twentieth century did large numbers of Europeans begin to migrate to South America and consequently altering its demographics. The ideology of whitening encouraged non whites to seek white or lighter skinned partners. This dilution of non-white admixture would be beneficial to their offspring as they would face less stigmatization and find it easier to assimilate into mainstream society. After successive generations of European gene flow, non-white admixture levels would drop below levels at which skin color or physical appearance is not affected thus allowing individuals to identify as white. In many regions, the native and black populations were simply overwhelmed by a succession of waves of European immigration.
Historians and scientists are thus interested in tracing the fate of Native Americans and Africans from the past to the future. The questions remain about what proportion of these populations simply died out and what proportion still has descendants alive today including those who do not racially identify themselves as their ancestors would have. Admixture testing has thus become a useful objective tool in shedding light on the demographic history of Latin America.

Recent studies

Unlike in the United States there were no anti-miscegenation policies in Latin America. Though still a racially stratified society there were no significant barriers to gene flow between the three populations. As a result admixture profiles are a reflection of the colonial populations of Africans, Europeans and Amerindians. The pattern is also sex biased in that the African and Amerindian maternal lines are found in significantly higher proportions than African or Amerindian Y chromosomal lines. This is an indication that the primary mating pattern was that of European males with Amerindian or African females. For example a study of white Brazilians found 33% had Amerindian mtDNA and 29% had African mtDNA. However, only 2% had African y chromosomes and 0% Amerindian. According to the study more than half the white populations of the Latin American countries studied have some degree of either native American or African admixture (MtDNA or Y Chromosome). In countries such as Chile and Colombia almost the entire white population was shown to have some non-white admixture. Following the dispersal of Humans from Africa 50,000 - 70,000 years ago South America was the last continent to be occupied by humans. Thus the largest geographic distance between continents is between Africa and South America. Since genetic distance increases with geographic distance the two most genetically divergent groups are Africans and Native South American Indians based on distance. The arrival of Africans in Brazil and subsequent mixing with native South Americans entails the creation of intermediate populations, such as the Zambo or Garifuna between the two divergent groups.

See also

Notes and references

Other sources

  • The Roots of Racism and Abortion: An Exploration of Eugenics ">}} See esp. "Chapter Seven: Laws Against Mixing Races"
  • Miscegenation, The theory of the Blending of the Races, applied to the American White Man and Negro
  • Reader's Companion to U.S. Women's History
  • The Miscegenation Issue in the Election of 1864
  • "Miscegenation": Making Race in America
  • ">}}
  • Race Mixture in Nineteenth-Century U.S and Spanish-American Fiction
  • Inter-racialism: Black-White Intermarriage in American History, Literature, and Law
miscegenation in Spanish: Mestizaje
miscegenation in Korean: 혼혈
miscegenation in Japanese: 混血
miscegenation in Portuguese: Miscigenação
miscegenation in Swedish: Rasblandning
miscegenation in Chinese: 异族通婚

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

a world-without-end bargain, alliance, bed, bond of matrimony, bridebed, cohabitation, conjugal bond, conjugal knot, coverture, crossbreeding, crossing, holy matrimony, holy wedlock, husbandhood, hybridism, hybridization, ill-assorted marriage, interbreeding, intermarriage, interracial marriage, marriage, marriage bed, marriage sacrament, match, matrimonial union, matrimony, mesalliance, misalliance, mixed marriage, mongrelism, nuptial bond, sacrament of matrimony, spousehood, union, wedded bliss, wedded state, weddedness, wedding knot, wedlock, wifehood
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