restricted access 30 The Genetic Tie
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30 The Genetic Tie DOROTHY E. ROBERTS The Inheritability of Race The genetic tie's prominence in defining personal identity arose in a racial caste system that preserved white supremacy through a rule of racial purity. In America, perhaps the most socially significant product of the genetic link between parents and children is still race. The inheritability of one's race-which determines one's social statusradically distorts the lens through which we view the biological relationship between generations . It is crucial to examine the historical interplay between concepts of race, social status, and genetic connection. The Invention of Race Scientific racism places great value on the genetic tie, as it understands racial variation as a biological distinction that determines superiority and inferiority.1 Whites justified their enslavement of Africans by the idea of a hierarchical ordering of the races.2 Only a theory rooted in nature could systematically explain the anomaly of slavery existing in a republic founded on a radical commitment to liberty, equality, and natural rights. In this view, the physical differences between Africans, Indians, and whites separated them into distinct "races" where whites were created superior to blacks and Indians.3 For example, the racial myth asserted that nature had perfectly adapted Africans' bodies to the heavy agricultural labor needed in the South, and fitted their minds to bondage. As late as the 1960s, judges and legislators subscribed to the notion of a natural separation between the races. For example, in a 1965 opinion, quoted by the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia, Circuit Court Judge Leon Bazile defended Virginia's antimiscegenation law as necessary to maintain racial purity: Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.4 Scientific racism explained domination by one group over another as the natural order 62 U. CHI. L. REV. 209 (1995). Originally published in the University of Chicago Law Review. Reprinted by permission . Copyrighted Material The Genetic Tie 187 of society. Blacks were biologically destined to be slaves, while whites were destined to be their masters. Whites invented the hereditary trait of race and endowed it with the concept of racial superiority and inferiority in order to resolve the contradiction between slavery and liberty. The Genetic Tie and Social Status The racial caste system required a clear racial demarcation between slaves and their masters. Whites maintained this line by enforcing a principle of racial purity and by making slave status inheritable from the mother.5 The rule determining slave status departed from the traditional English view of the genetic tie in two ways. First, the inheritance of slave status violated the expectation that most English men and women were born free.6 The English introduced into the American colonies various forms of white servitude for debtors, convicts, and poor people, and during most of the seventeenth century the legal status of Negro and white servants remained unsettled.? By the eighteenth century, however, whites had imposed a distinctive form of bondage on Africans. African chattel slavery, unlike white servitude, was a perpetual, lifelong condition passed on to the next generation. The law presumed that blacks were slaves and that whites were free. Under the American institution of slavery the genetic tie took on supreme importance. It determined the most critical feature of the human condition-whether a child would be deemed a free human being or chattel property. Second, the principle of partus sequitur ventrem8 violated the long-standing patriarchal tenet that the social status of the child followed the male line. If children took on the status of their fathers, the mulattoes produced by sexual liaisons between white men and their female slaves would have been born free. The slave system rejected this possibility. Under this system, black women bore children who were legally slaves and thus replenished the master's capital assets, while white women bore white children to continue the master's legacy. The racial purity of white women's children was guaranteed by a Violently enforced taboo against sexual relations between white women and black men and by antimiscegenation laws that punished interracial marriages. Courts ignored the far more common sexual liaisons between white men and female slaves. Race came to define an entire caste of second-class members of society: "While...


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