Miscegenation is a term not often encountered nowadays. A contemporary definition is: “the interbreeding of people considered to be of different racial types” (Mac Dictionary). While this definition attempts to be value-neutral, the initial syllable of the word: “Mis-” informs us that this interbreeding is considered to have negative consequences. Two definitions of “mis-” are: “mis-1 | mɪs | prefix (added to verbs and their derivatives) wrongly: misapply. • badly: mismanage. • unsuitably: misname. and, mis-2 | mɪs | prefix occurring in a few words adopted from French expressing a sense with negative force: misadventure | mischief (Mac Dictionary). Thus, the prefix “mis-” is defined as implying: wrongly, badly, unsuitably, having a negative result.
The belief system of slavery remains rooted in American society. Most simply put, it is the conviction, on the part of some white people, that they are inherently (i.e. genetically) better than black people. So, in this context, the word miscegenation was used to mean the undesirable interbreeding of white people with black people. Why undesirable in particular? Because it would result in a class of inferior people, which people would breed back with and contaminate the “white race”. This fear led to the “one-drop rule”:
“The one-drop rule is a social and legal principle of racial classification that was historically prominent in the United States asserting that any person with even one ancestor of sub-Saharan African ancestry (“one drop” of black blood) is considered black (Negro in historical terms), its implications of racial purity being that anyone unable to pass for white in the context of the US racial hierarchy is assigned the lower status of being non-white or colored.
This concept evolved over the course of the 19th century and became codified into the law of some states in the early 20th century. It was associated with the principle of “invisible blackness” and is an example of hypodescent, the automatic assignment of children of a mixed union between different socioeconomic or ethnic groups to the group with the lower status.” (Wikipedia)
Miscegenation remains the greatest fear of the American male white racist. Its most dreaded form is that of a black male having relations with a white woman – the mere accusation of which got many a black man lynched in the South. And where are we now, with respect to this phenomenon? In our political and social life, we are now seeing the reaction to the 8-year Presidency of Barack Obama – a vicious swing to the right, with racism at its core. A black man, Barack Obama took to the stage as an articulate, intelligent, witty, handsome and thoroughly likable individual. But, despite his many attributes, he is black, and this drove an unfortunately large sector of the American electorate stark, raving mad. “8 years of Obama!”, they cry, while being usually incapable of citing what he did that they found so excruciatingly hard to bear. What was it really? It was that he is black, pure and simple.
Now, add to that the ascendancy of mixed-race people in our public life. In sports, advertising, entertainment, politics … everywhere. Good-looking and talented mixed-race people showing up all over the place. Which just brings more and more discomfit to the racists amongst us. Their worst dreams are coming true … and truer, as we mix and mix some more. And, add, on top of that, the notion of “hybrid vigor”. While all humans constitute a single species, geographically-separated human groups differ in a variety of ways, one from the other. And, to the degree that humans differ, the offspring of differing persons may benefit from the mixing of dissimilar genes. This phenomenon is now called heterosis: “Heterosis, hybrid vigor, or outbreeding enhancement, is the improved or increased function of any biological quality in a hybrid offspring. ” (Wikipedia).
The idea that the children of black/white unions may, in general, be genetically superior to white persons is certainly the last thing a white racist wants to hear. That Barack Obama, when compared, for instance, to an inbred Southern cracker, may be a genetically superior person, would be the cruelest blow. Miscegenation never was.