By Marcia Alesan Dawkins
If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably been invited to commemorate or at least think about Loving Day this year. And with good reason. In 1958, newlyweds Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving were indicted on charges of violating Virginia’s ban on interracial marriages and were banished from their home state. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the law in 1967.
Many multiracial individuals and interracial couples celebrate the anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia decision, June 12, as Loving Day. While celebrating this important civil rights milestone, we should remember that increased visibility of interracial couples and offspring does not promise increased racial harmony. Let’s face facts. It’s very sexy to congratulate ourselves based on reports that today’s interracial families can live harmoniously in the former Confederacy. We’re entertained as we watch Khloe and Lamar’s relationship work out. It makes us feel good to think that we have overcome, that we have reached a state of racial harmony and that we are all finally equal—and becoming equally beige and beautiful.
But a desire to congratulate ourselves doesn’t erase the fact that racial mixing has been occurring in our nation and hemisphere for more than 500 years. Colonists and indigenous people married and engaged in extramarital sexual relations. White indentured servants mixed with African indentured servants and then with African slaves. And there’s a long history of black freedmen and freedwomen intermarrying with Native Americans, as well as white males (often forcibly) having sex with black females. There are the interracial children fathered by U.S. soldiers and born to foreign lovers and “comfort women” in war-torn Asian and Middle Eastern nations. Add this to centuries’ worth of Asian and Hispanic immigration and 40 years’ worth of official interracial marriage patterns and you have what many might call the recipe for a melting pot where race doesn’t matter.
Sadly, this isn’t the case.
Think about it. If the mere presence of interracial intimacy was enough to bring about racial harmony, it would have happened long ago. Instead, laws were passed to keep races apart. Punishments, including fines, imprisonment and death, were instituted to keep people from crossing the color line. Loving Day is a time for us to celebrate that many of these laws and punishments have been overturned—and it’s also a time to remember that the racism inspiring such laws and punishments lives on in many communities. As Diane Farr put it recently, some of us continue the interracial struggle having “been told there was a right and an ‘over my dead body’ [racial] choice for love.”
Some of us have been told that there is a right and wrong gender choice for love too. In light of this, Loving Day is not just a commemorative anniversary for heterosexual interracial families and multiracial individuals. Loving Day is increasingly celebrated by supporters of same-sex marriage—a right that Mildred Jeter-Loving supported in her later years. Currently same-sex marriage is permitted in five of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, even though the Williams Institute reports that 9 million adults identify as LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender]. Compare that 9 million to the 9 million people in the 2010 census who identified themselves as being of two or more races and you’ll see that we’re talking about a population that deserves just as much attention and acceptance. Unfortunately, reliable data about how many LBGT people are multiracial or are partners in interracial romantic relationships is hard to find. However, discussions about Loving Day, multiracial identities and interracial romantic relationship issues are taking place within LGBT communities. Loving Day communities should return the favor.
As we celebrate Loving Day, we might also remember that some people choose not to have interracial romantic relationships and that this choice does not necessarily make them racists. Take singer-actress Jill Scott. About a year ago Scott came under fire for confessing that she sometimes winces in her spirit when she hears about black male-white female romantic relationships. Let’s add a bit of context here. Discrimination and violence have resulted in unequal racial populations and beauty standards. Our history of slavery, lynching and imprisonment has had a disproportionate effect on black males as a demographic. Black women face particular challenges when it comes to being considered beautiful candidates for long-term relationships. While many of us may not agree with Scott’s comments, it is important to acknowledge her perspective in context. That way we can create a space where it’s safe to escape our comfort zones and have conversations about race, love and relationships in the spirit of openness that Loving Day represents.
So as we celebrate Loving Day this year, let’s do it justice. Let’s remember our ongoing interracial history, diversity and struggle. Let’s remember the truth that the Lovings fought so hard for—that every race, ethnicity, gender and faith is lovable.
Namesakes: Mildred Loving and her husband Richard in 1965.