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June 12 is designated as Loving Day, a celebration of interracial marriage.
The date is named for Richard and Mildred Loving and commemorates the 1967 Supreme Court ruling that struck our nation’s remaining anti-miscegenation laws.
In 1958, Richard and Mildred wanted to marry. Because he was white and she was Black, they could not do so in their home state of Virginia. As a result, they traveled to Washington, D.C., for the occasion. When they returned to Virginia as a married couple, they learned this, too, was illegal.
They were arrested. Each was given the option of one year in prison or a ban on being in Virginia together for 25 years, according to The Loving Day Project. After complying with the ban for a few years, the Lovings fought their sentences. They eventually drew support from the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice, Japanese American Citizens League and more.
Virginia’s legal ban on interracial mixing dated to at least 1630, argues Kevin Mumford in a 1999 American Journal of Legal History article. At that time, the state assembly recorded the public whipping of a white colonialist for “lying with” a woman of African descent, notes Mumford. The assembly also reinforced its prohibition on “generalized public interactions between Black and white colonialists.”
Before Loving v. Virginia, 14 northern and western states with anti-miscegenation laws repealed them, beginning with California in 1948. The 1967 ruling nullified 16 remaining anti-miscegenation laws, all in southern states. However, some did not formally purge the laws until much later (Alabama’s legislature did so in November 2000, with 40 percent voting against the measure).
It has taken more than the court ruling to strike down biases, practices and institutions that discourage people of European descent from marrying outside their so-called race. Those who oppose interracial coupling say it threatens European purity and its inherent superiority.
Over the years, these sentiments have been reinforced by everything from the idea that human beings come from different races to the assertion that children of white-black couplings are born sterile.
Ongoing coverage of Meghan Markle and Price Harry’s marriage as well as Kamala Harris’ heritage and marriage keep the topic in the spotlight. Often, there are reminders that even as interracial coupling and multiracial identity continues to rise, some continue to voice strong disapproval.
Admittedly, that stings. I was especially hurt when a 2013 Cheerios commercial showing a Black dad, white mom and their daughter drew such ire that YouTube disabled comments.
The commercial could have been based on my childhood.
In considering how I filtered the commercial through my own experience, I remembered: Some people believe it’s dangerous to show experiences like mine as part of what it means to be a regular, American family. For them, the result of so-called mixing “races” must remain a thing that is bad, undesirable and other. To normalize the family equation of white parent plus Black parent equals white-plus-black offspring is to threaten the shaky foundations of the concept of race itself.
Conversely, to remember the Lovings and their peers is to celebrate freedom to marry, the value of community and the increasing number of people who acknowledge their full heritage. Loving Day is an opportunity to put aside notions of separation and superiority to focus instead on the many ways we build our families.
Karris Golden is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org