Forty-four years ago, interracially married couples faced prosecution and jail time, or violence, if they happened to cross into one of 16 states that prohibited and punished marriages on the basis of racial classifications. Fifty-nine years ago, anti-miscegenation laws were on the books in 30 states. Eighty-one years ago, in 1930, the Hays Code forbade portrayals of interracial romance, curtailing the careers of actors of color like Anna May Wong who could no longer play the romantic leads. In Germany in 1935, The Nuremberg Laws were introduced that prohibited marriage between Jewish Germans and other Germans. The only other nation to legislate against intermarriage was Apartheid South Africa in 1949. While interfaith marriages were not legally proscribed in the U.S., interfaith and interclass marriages often met with opposition from family and community.
From Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (Stanley Kramer, 1967) to Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever (1991), stories about mixed-heritage romance abound in theater, film, literature, cultural criticism, news media, political cartoons, pop culture, humor, and folklore. These stories powerfully address issues about gender, sexuality, class, power, community, nationality, and identity. Despite popular culture’s fascination with this topic, scholars agree that all too rarely do we hear the real stories of mixed-heritage families’ personal experiences, which can add perspective and complexity to historical moments and movements.
Which is why BHS looks forward to collecting life history interviews with mixed-heritage families in Brooklyn and, as CBBG scholarly advisor Suleiman Osman said, “exploring the historically fluid borders, cultural hybridity, and overlapping identities of Brooklyn’s communities.”