Veil and Vow

Marriage Matters in Contemporary African American Culture

By Aneeka Ayanna Henderson

240 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 16 color plates, 16 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5176-7
    Published: February 2020
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5175-0
    Published: February 2020
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-5177-4
    Published: January 2020
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5765-1
    Published: January 2020

Gender and American Culture

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Awards & distinctions

Finalist, 2021 Outstanding First Book Prize, Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora

In Veil and Vow, Aneeka Ayanna Henderson places familiar, often politicized questions about the crisis of African American marriage in conversation with a rich cultural archive that includes fiction by Terry McMillan and Sister Souljah, music by Anita Baker, and films such as The Best Man. Seeking to move beyond simple assessments of marriage as "good" or "bad" for African Americans, Henderson critically examines popular and influential late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century texts alongside legislation such as the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and the Welfare Reform Act, which masked true sources of inequality with crisis-laden myths about African American family formation. Using an interdisciplinary approach to highlight the influence of law, politics, and culture on marriage representations and practices, Henderson reveals how their kinship veils and unveils the fiction in political policy as well as the complicated political stakes of fictional and cultural texts. Providing a new opportunity to grapple with old questions, including who can be a citizen, a "wife," and "marriageable," Veil and Vow makes clear just how deeply marriage still matters in African American culture.

About the Author

Aneeka Ayanna Henderson is associate professor of American Studies at Amherst College.
For more information about Aneeka Ayanna Henderson, visit the Author Page.


“An interdisciplinary assessment of the intersections of public policy with shifting ideals regarding race, intimacy, marriage, and gender within African American fiction, film, and music culture. . . . This is a dense, creative, and engaging volume.”--CHOICE

“It is an academic book, but it isn’t unduly burdened by jargon. The chapters are organized around Black popular culture—movies like The Best Man, and song lyrics like those from Sweet Honey in the Rock and Anita Baker. That makes it more accessible than it could have been in another writer’s hands.” – Tressie McMillan Cottom

“This is fascinating reading. Veil and Vow perfectly captures how fairy-tale aspirations of wedlock intersect with the supposed bootstrap mobility of the ‘American Dream,’ undergirding angst about the marriage market in crisis. Henderson’s generative analysis wrestles with a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction texts, media platforms, and popular culture forms. This book makes major interventions in gender, sexuality, and African American studies, as well as the study of contemporary politics and culture.”--Tera W. Hunter, author of Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century

“In this era when the term ‘marriage equality’ signals political possibilities for some, Aneeka Henderson’s brilliant Veil and Vow recalls the historical and contemporary challenges that matrimony has posed for Black women--often on the fringes of full citizenship and safety--and their ingenuity in claiming an equality that worked for them.”--Mark Anthony Neal, author of Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities

"Veil and Vow models interdisciplinary scholarship at its finest as it analyzes several modes of black cultural expressivity--from literature, to film, to music--to investigate how ideas about black people's intimate relations continue to shape public policy in the post–civil rights era."--Robert J. Patterson, author of Destructive Desires: Rhythm and Blues Culture and the Politics of Racial Equality

“The denial of Black humanity has long been bound up with questions about Black people’s ability to love. Veil and Vow affirms the cultural consistency of Black love and marriage. There is simply no other book on the subject that has the interdisciplinary and popular culture reach of this one. Aneeka Henderson refutes, enlightens and provokes. Read her book!”--Noliwe Rooks, author of Cutting School: The Segrenomics of American Education