This essay responds to the “perils” of Katherine Franke’s subtitle by examining some of the ways in which the conventionalism of wedlock made it a fraught marker of morality and citizenship for her comparison group, the newly emancipated black men and women who sought its prestige and protection after the Civil War. Particularly concerned with the degree to which the right to marry among African Americans affected—in truly affective ways—the institution of marriage among whites, especially for the plantation mistress whose own (un)holy wedlock occurred within the context of breeding farms, unspeakable, unspoken acts of sexual violence, and suspiciously light-skinned household bodies counted as inventory rather than progeny, the essay addresses how this legacy of fear and loathing, of “in-law” and “outlaw” family lingers today, codified in and by our language as who gets to be “black” and who is defined by the biologically incoherent designation “biracial.”

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