Recent news stories about removing the ban against interracial marriage from the Alabama constitution prompted me to write this column. Alabama has not enforced the ban since 1958 when the U.S. Supreme Court declared Virginia’s ban against interracial marriage unconstitutional in the case of Loving v. Virginia.
The Montgomery Advertiser reported results of the Alabama Education Association poll that indicated the majority of Alabamians favor removing the ban. However, it also reveals that 29 percent of Alabama residents would oppose removing the ban. This column reflects on the fact that nearly one third of Alabama residents oppose eliminating the ban against interracial marriage from our constitution. Why does the idea of interracial marriage offend this group?
German sociologist, Karl Mannheim, defined an ideology as a “system of ideas [beliefs], which results in behavior that maintains the existing order.” Racist ideology, a system of ideas and beliefs manifested in American society, classifies people into socially stratified racial categories and teaches that members of the white-race are superior to all non-white people. Interracial marriage threatens to undermine this ideology.
Some writers suggest that racism in this country stems from the American Colonist’s interpretation of the Bible. They speculate that British settlers believed themselves superior people, certainly superior to the so-called “savages” they found living on the continent. They sustained this belief in American culture using racism’s fraternal twin … religion … as a tool to define and enforce racist ideology.
It is theorized that these early settlers used the Bible’s story of God’s curse on Noah’s son, Ham, to explain the physical differences manifested between people of the New World and themselves. As the theory goes, since Native Americans had a darker skin color than the settlers did, they equated dark skin color with God’s curse on Ham. This difference in appearance provided the religious underpinning for American racism.
Calvinism, the religious ideology practiced by many early settlers, that taught a doctrine of predestination, allowed for exploitation of Native American land. Land was abundant in the New World. The settlers believed this land was their gift from God. Add their religious belief that profits were also a blessing from God, and it is easy to see how capitalism flowered in the New World. The “end” …profits… justified the “means.” For example, it was God’s will – predestined – that they steal or take land and homes from the ungodly natives, then capture and enslave millions of dark-skinned Africans to work this newly discovered land.
Racism, religion’s fraternal twin, contributed much toward America’s early development. Some writers maintain that American racist ideology was a barrier to early economic development. They claim slavery was never a profitable enterprise, as compared to other economic activities of the era.
Others disagree; they argue that slavery created great wealth for a few individuals and that this wealth remained concentrated within a few families and institutions, out of reach of the masses. This writer tends to agree with the latter group. One only need look around the country and see existing patterns of poverty to realize that most wealth created by slave labor was never confiscated and redistributed. Slave owners, according to their religious ideology, considered this wealth their blessing from God.
Back to the question of removing the prohibition against interracial marriage from the Alabama Constitution… the issue is a no-brainer. It’s a meaningless phrase. Like the Confederate Battle Flag flying atop the Capitol, it serves only as an impotent testament to a vacuous racial ideology.
Today, racism operates as a barrier to economic development. In Alabama, racist relics from our past victimize the poor white population as much as the non-white population. They conjure up negative images that stymie development. The smart move for all Alabama voters would be to let their state legislators know that they want to remove racism from our government. One small step would be to remove this racist clause from our state’s Constitution.
Originally Published: December 9, 1998, Montgomery Advertiser