Maillard: “The Pocahontas Exception”

Kevin Noble Maillard (Syracuse Law) has posted an abstract to his wonderful paper, “The Pocahontas Exception: American Indians and Exceptionalism in Anti-miscegenation Law,” published in the Michigan Journal of Race & Law.

Kevin’s commentary in Indian Country Today, “Black and White,” can be accessed here. And his blog entry on is here.

From the abstract:

This article addresses the treatment of Native American ancestry as a curious exception to the threat of racial impurity. Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 aimed to prevent all interracial marriages in the state between white and nonwhite persons. This anti-miscegenation statute sought to eradicate stealth intrusions of tainted blood into the white race, which proponents believed to be threatened by the quagmire of mongrelization. Exempted from this racial policing regime were those influential whites, the First Families of Virginia, who proudly claimed Native American ancestry from Pocahontas. For a statue with racial purity as its obsession and mantra, how does this exceptionalism hold? Why would Native American ancestry, as opposed to others, pass as acceptable nonwhite blood and good law? Even in our contemporary era, why do claims of the Cherokee Princess Grandmother not invoke multi-raciality? This disparity calls for a critical inquiry of the miscegenistic exceptionalism accorded to American Indians. With increasing numbers of Americans freely and lately claiming Native ancestry, we may ask why such affirmations do not meet the triumvirate of resistance, shame, and secrecy that regularly accompanies findings of partial African ancestry. This paper contends that anti-miscegenation laws relegate Indians to existence only in a distant past, creating a temporal dis-juncture to free Indians from a contemporary discourse of racial politics. I argue that such exemptions assess Indians as abstractions rather than practicalities. These practices bifurcate treatments of Indian blood, either essentializing a pre-modern and a historical culture, or trivializing this ancestry as inconsequential ethnicity.