Opening Our Hearts and Minds: A Response to Angela Onwauchi-Willig’s According to Our Hearts


In her book "According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family", Angela Onwuachi-Willig offers "the first comprehensive study" of what she calls "the law of the multiracial family." She uses the case of Rhinelander v. Rhinelander, 219 N.Y.S. 548 (App. Div. 1927), as a starting point for an exploration of how interracial couples and their multiracial families fare in society, and the role of law in shaping those experiences. After providing a detailed discussion of the Rhinelander case itself, Professor Onwuachi-Willig presents her research on the lives of contemporary interracial couples and the struggles and triumphs they experience as couples and as members of multiracial families. Professor Onwuachi-Willig’s research reveals that society has evolved substantially since the days of the Rhinelander case, but she also uncovers numerous examples of discrimination toward and harassment of individuals involved in interracial relationships. Consequently, she concludes that more robust legal remedies are needed to protect multiracial families. To address this problem, she ends her book with a proposal to add "interraciality" to the list of categories protected by antidiscrimination laws. In this response piece, I do not necessarily oppose such an expansion, but I do question whether this is the best way to tackle the challenges that are laid bare in According to Our Hearts. First, I question whether adding the category "interraciality" will actually effectively cover the kinds of discrimination Professor Onwuachi-Willig unearths in her research. Second, I wonder whether this focus on the multiracial family as a site worthy of protection implicitly accepts notions of family that are themselves unnecessarily exclusive. This Response explores each of these concerns in turn and concludes with some final reflections on the issues that Professor Onwuachi-Willig has excavated for her readers.

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