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Jungle fever. Nighttime integration. These are some of the ways Americans in our history have described love and sex between African Americans and European Americans, harsh testimony to the fact that, until recently, intimacy across the color line was a transgression, and any discussion of it was hushed and shamed, sensationalized or fraught with danger, especially for black people.

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Today a majority of Americans say that they approve of race mixing, but in practice it remains controversial and the subject is difficult to discuss without attracting heat from some quarter. Now, four new books arrive to illuminate the neglected history of those who cross the color line. Each, in different ways, has much to teach us about the fiction of race and its very factual consequences.

Rape -- white men forcing themselves on black women -- was an open secret during the age of slavery. Kennedy writes eloquently about the violence, sadness and warped legacy of the past, but then goes looking for intimacy anyway -- instances in which some mutual feeling may have arisen across the racial divide. He cites, among others, the case of Ralph Quarles, a white Virginia landowner, and his slave Lucy Langston.

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They had four children together, whom Quarles freed along with their mother. When the couple died, inthey were buried side by side, as Quarles instructed in his will. Mixed-race children throughout history have been abandoned by their usually white parents because they are irrefutable evidence of interracial sex. Kennedy calls for the abolition of race matching in adoption and foster care, arguing for a system that provides homes for children as quickly as possible. Whether the beleaguered foster care system could carry this off without privileging affluent white couples seeking to adopt or further abusing the rights of poor people of color -- many of them powerless to fight child welfare officials -- are two of many questions raised by his argument.

Renee C. She starts with World War II, when increased contact between blacks and whites began a slow erosion of the taboo against interracial liaisons. Bythere wereblack-white marriages nationwide, a sixfold increase since Romano, who stresses the persistent rarity of such unions only 0.

The taboo is eroded, she says, but not erased. She focuses her copious research on places where race mixing is viewed with particular fear or rare favor -- schools, the workplace, the military. One group went so far as to prohibit the serving of watermelon at an interracial gathering. This coverage suggested that love once hidden now could be openly celebrated. But such public support was short-lived. Over the years, some Americans have seen love as the solution to race problems, asserting that race mixing will create harmony based on our common humanity.

But all four of these books warn, in various ways, against Swm for sbf to have as personal servant this idea. Bost writes that the experience of race mixing in the Southwest has much to offer our thinking about American race relations. Instead, race came to be identified with religion, culture, and behavior.

The author draws interesting parallels between the experiences of people who blur gender lines and people who blur color lines. For Stephan Talty, the question now is what Americans will make of our race-mixed history. His is a history of blacks and whites brushing up against each other in ways that are not just sexual but artistic, intellectual and social. He demonstrates how these black-white connections -- in religion, music, sports and academia -- show our common humanity and have forged our Americanness. Talty is interested in moments when people transcended hate, when the races mimicked and borrowed from each other.

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How do you live with it? But instead of working it out, Americans retreated, in the stacked shoes, bad hair and long nights of disco -- a kind of music that many danced to alone. These four books bring us some distance toward understanding the crucial relevance of our race-mixed past. There is much here to depress anyone who hopes for some in-this-lifetime version of the melting-pot America we still sometimes hear about.

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Crossing the color line By Kate Manning. Kate Manning is the author of "Whitegirl," a novel about the marriage of a white woman and a black man.

Swm for sbf to have as personal servant

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