Giving Loving Day Its Due

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionSend by emailSend by email

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, European, 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 "tanning" of America.

But before we declare a final victory over racism's ugly history let's review some facts.

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. Recently president Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage and SSM is permitted in at least 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. And many Loving Day communities are returning 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. Scott came under fire for confessing that she sometimes "wince[s] 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. Freedom goes both ways, especially if we're attempting to escape our comfort zones and have conversations about race, sex, love, beauty, and relationships in the spirit of openness and acceptance that Loving Day represents.

So as we celebrate Loving Day this year, let’s do the Lovings justice. On the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Mildred Loving, then long widowed, issued a rare public statement. She said, “… not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the ‘wrong kind of person’ for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others… I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.” We hear you Mildred.