Lawyering in Black and White: A Book Review of According to Our Hearts, Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family

Author:Tamara F. Lawson
Position::Professor of Law
Pages:1773-1788
 
FREE EXCERPT
1773
Lawyering in Black and White: A Book
Review of According to Our Hearts,
Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of
the Multiracial Family
Tamara F. Lawson
I. INTRODUCTION ........................................................................... 1773
II. RHINELANDER V. RHINELANDER—A LESSON IN TRIAL
ADVOCACY ................................................................................... 1776
A. THE LAWYERS ROLE ............................................................. 1776
B. THE JURYS CONSCIENCEIN BLACK AND WHITE ................... 1780
III. DO LAWS REALLY MATTER? THE LOVING MARRIAGE SURVIVED
WHILE THE RHINELANDER MARRIAGE FAILED ............................ 1782
IV. UNANSWERED QUESTIONS: RACE, CULTURE, AND THEIR UNIQUE
COMBINATIONS ........................................................................... 1784
V. CONCLUSION .............................................................................. 1788
I. INTRODUCTION
According to Our Hearts1 is an impressive work that advocates for a robust
protection of the American family. Thus, in many ways, at its core, the book
is very traditional and classic.2 What makes it groundbreaking and innovative,
however, is Professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig’s ability to integrate the
understanding of intimate family relationships seamlessly with issues of race
Professor of Law, St. Thomas University School of Law; LL.M., Georgetown University
Law Center, 2003; J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law, 1995; B.A., Claremont
McKenna College, 1992. Special thanks to Professors Gary Kravitz, Wendy Greene, and Marc-
Tizoc Gonzalez for their helpful feedback on my drafts, as well as to my research assistants,
Kathryn E. Lecusay and Gamila Elmaadawy, for their assistance on this project.
1. See generally ANGELA ONWUACHI-WILLIG, ACCORDING TO OUR HEARTS: RHINELANDER V.
RHINELANDER AND THE LAW OF THE MULTIRACIAL FAMILY (2013).
2. See Jennifer Chacón, Opening Our Hearts: A Response to Angela Onwuachi-Willig’s According
to Our Hearts, 16 J. GENDER RACE & JUST. 725, 735–36 (2013).
1774 IOWA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 100:1773
and the performance of race. The narration of the historic racial fraud
annulment case, Rhinelander v. Rhinelander,3 coupled with the personal
interviews with present-day multiracial families, offers the reader a fresh
perspective on interraciality and opens one to the prospect that modern law
should naturally include “the law of the multiracial family.”
According to Our Hearts has been praised for its effective presentation, its
innovations in thinking about racial-, familial-, and collective-identity injuries
that stem from the intersectionality of race and family,4 plus its ambition in
addressing gaps in antidiscrimination law.5 In my opi nion, however , the book
has not been sufficiently recognized for its contribution to trial advocacy,
especially trial advocacy in racialized litigation. In the book, Professor
Onwuachi-Willig employs the narrative style of legal storytelling that the
pioneers of critical race theory have utilized. However, I think she uses this
style, in a rather original way, to tell the lawyer’s story of how to manage—or
mismanage—a racialized trial. The book includes a behind-the-screens and
detailed retelling of the Rhinelander trial, which at first I thought was largely a
tragic love story, and secondarily a tale about gender and race norms in the
1920s. But soon I realized that the book’s narrative is really about lawyering—
critical race lawyering6—“lawyering in black and white.”
The book explores not only notions of romantic love and family, but it
also seriously confronts the complex and systemic legal problem of racial
discrimination. Acknowledging the influences of both law and society on
issues of race in America, Professor Onwuachi-Willig offers the reader a
critical lens with which to think seriously about interraciality, as well as the
racial identity of a family.7 Prior to According to Our Hearts, the discussion of
racial identity, largely, was recognized as an individual concept. The book
broadens the dialogue and encourages an understanding of interraciality that
can be applied to a collective identity—a familial identity. Professor
Onwuachi-Willig further teaches the reader that because racial identity can
be a collective one, cognizable legal harms can flow to individuals based on
membership in the family. Consistent with the book’s expanded definitional
framework of interraciality, it follows that statutes proscribing racial
discrimination may, too, warrant a correspondingly more expansive scope in
order to adequately protect the American family. Professor Onwuachi-Willig
3. Rhinelander v. Rhinelander, 219 N.Y.S. 548 (App. Div. 1927) (per curiam).
4. Chacón, supra note 2, at 738–39.
5. D. Wendy Greene, All in the Family: Interracial Intimacy, Racial Fictions, and the Law, 4
CALIF. L. REV. CIRCUIT 179, 185–86 (2013).
6. Scholars have acknowledged the importance of including critical race perspectives in
lawyering all cases. See Symposium, Critical Race Lawyering, 73 FORDHAM L. REV. 2027 (2005).
7. ONWUACHI-WILLIG, supra note 1, at 233 (“So far in this book, I have utilized the lives of
Alice and Leonard Rhinelander as a window into understanding how law and society have
functioned together to frame the normative ideal of family as monoracial (and heterosexual),
both historically and presently.”).

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP