The term miscegenation has been used since the 19th century to refer to interracial marriage and interracial sex, and more generally to the process of racial admixture, which has taken place since ancient history. The term entered historical records during European colonialism since the Age of Discovery, but societies such as China and Japan also had restrictions on marrying with peoples they considered different. Historically the term has been used in the context of laws banning interracial marriage and sex, so-called anti-miscegenation laws. It is a potentially offensive word.
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, though all humans belong to the same genus, Homo, same species, Homo sapiens and same subspecies, Homo sapiens sapiens.
The word was coined in an anonymous propaganda pamphlet published in New York City in December 1863, during the American Civil War. The pamphlet was entitled Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro. It purported to advocate the intermarriage of whites and blacks until they were indistinguishably mixed, as a desirable goal, and further asserted that this was the goal of the Republican Party. The pamphlet was a hoax, concocted by Democrats, to discredit the Republicans by imputing to them what were then radical views that offended against the attitudes of the vast majority of whites, including those who opposed slavery. There was already much opposition to the war effort; in New York in particular the opposition reached heights of the Draft Riots, that included numerous lynchings.
The pamphlet and variations on it were reprinted widely in both the north and south by Democrats and Confederates. Only in November 1864 was the pamphlet exposed as a hoax. The hoax pamphlet was written by David Goodman Croly, managing editor of the New York World, a Democratic Party paper, and George Wakeman, a World reporter.
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, miscegenation has referred primarily to the intermarriage between whites and non-whites, especially blacks.
Before the publication of Miscegenation, the word amalgamation, borrowed from metallurgy, had been in use as a general term for ethnic and racial intermixing. A contemporary usage of this metaphor was Ralph Waldo Emerson's private vision in 1845 of America as an ethnic and racial smelting-pot, a variation on the concept of the melting pot. Opinions in the U.S on 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, with the intent of galvanising opposition to the war.
Laws banning miscegenationLaws banning "race-mixing" were enforced in Nazi Germany (the Nuremberg Laws) from 1935 until 1945, in certain U.S. states from the Colonial era until 1967 and in South Africa during the early part of the Apartheid era. 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 many of the U.S. states, as well as South Africa, also banned 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 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" to the United States Constitution was proposed in 1871, in 1912–1913, and in 1928, no nation-wide law against racially mixed marriages was ever enacted. In 1967, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Loving v. Virginia that anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional. With this ruling, these laws were no longer in effect in the remaining 16 states that still had them.
The laws in U.S. states were established to maintain "racial purity" and white supremacy. Such laws were passed in South Africa because of fears that the white minority would be "bred-out" by the black majority.
The Nazi ban on interracial marriage and interracial sex was enacted 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). The Nuremberg Laws classified Jews as a race, and forbade marriage and extramarital sexual relations between persons of Jewish origin and persons of "German or related blood". Such intercourse was condemned as Rassenschande (lit. "race-disgrace") and could be punished by imprisonment (usually followed by deportation to a concentration camp) and even by death.
The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act in South Africa, enacted in 1949, banned intermarriage between different racial groups, including 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.