Today is Loving Day! A celebration that honors the courage of Mildred and Richard Loving, who boldly fought their way to the U.S. Supreme Court with a legal case against the state of Virginia for its racist laws banning intermarriage between whites and non-whites. The Lovings may not have initially imagined that pursuing personal justice — the right to have their marriage acknowledged and validated in their homestate without the threat of jail — would result in a landmark civil rights victory of far-reaching proportions for generations to come. But the Supreme Court’s decision, on June 12, 1967, overturned anti-miscegenation laws in 16 states, decriminalized interracial marriages, and set a precedent for the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015!
On a personal level, June 12th is also an auspicious date for us — not only as an interracial couple, but for the chance encounter at a gas station one Saturday afternoon in 2004 that led to our reconnection after meeting briefly as teens more than 10 years prior.
Thirteen years later, we are parents to a child whom we are nurturing and teaching to understand and embrace himself as a black boy with multi-ethnic, multicultural, interfaith roots.
On the wall above his bed are a map of the world and of North America. I’ve finger-traced lines from all the places both our families have originated, across the many miles and borders traveled, to the city where the three of us were born. K tastes his Caribbean heritage in the meals I prepare and touches it during visits with my heavy-accented and dreadlocked Calypso-musician father and has learned of his German-Canadian ancestry from my maternal line and our visit to my late great-grandmother’s birthplace in Ontario. His connection to his dad’s maternal Czechoslovakian ancestry is less substantial because, for many reasons, we don’t encounter it those same embodied and sensate ways (especially since the death of my husband’s grandmother)…but there’s time to learn.
While the more complex discussions of affinity groups, intersectionality, and race as a social construct rather than a biological reality is a ways off, I’m curious to see how fluid or fixed his sense of ethnic/racial and cultural identity will ultimately become. We live in a town we jokingly call The Interracial Capitol* and are surrounded by bi- or multi-racial cousins (all on his dad’s side, by the way), friends, and neighbors, so his lens is very brown. And, his use of black, blackish, brown, brownish-white to describe himself (and to identify the similarity of our complexions while distinguishing the differences between ours and his dad’s) seems to be evolving from the basic capacity to articulate the concrete variations of skin tone toward a liminal and nuanced understanding of shared cultural experiences. Take this morning for example: As we learned about prefixes, K suddenly stopped to point out that seeing the word “multi-colored” reminded him of the books we read about segregation. Yup, those were the words that came out of his 7-year-old mouth. A total kiss-your-brain moment!
Despite all the interracial couples I know (of which, surprisingly, almost a dozen are black women married to white men), I’ve never heard nor seen any mention of this historical day being observed as a privately-hosted celebration or community event in our area. First steps: talking about the importance of Loving Day with my husband and son during dinner this evening; and adding our family’s story to the expansive legacy of love, hope, bravery and freedom that inspires us to keep fighting against injustice 50 years later.
*(To be very clear, having intimate, interpersonal relationships with an individual and a handful of their family and friends is not necessarily correlated with folks being “woke” and anti-racist. Receipts must be checked!)
bodhicitta bookshelf: The Case for Loving, co-created by husband + wife team Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, was among the books we read this winter as part of our exploration of social justice, civil rights, black cultural icons, and U.S. history.