It’s been 50 years since Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving took their case to the Supreme Court and won the right to interracial marriage. They overturned anti-miscegenation laws in 16 states and paved the way for marriages like mine.
As someone who married someone of a different race in Virginia 6 years ago, I humbly say thank you.
Before being married, I was mostly concerned with the potential aggression or confusion of strangers. I thought we both had enough cross-cultural experience and friendships to understand our differences and to not be naive to the role that race would play in our relationship. We have experienced very little side eye or overt aggression from strangers, and we rarely feel judged for being together, but society finds plenty of other ways to get its barbs into us.
The prejudice we experience is a more subtle insidiousness that constrains inter-racial marriages by treating my husband and me differently every day. These daily interactions add up to a cultural divide that neither of us would choose to participate in, but we cannot escape. Maybe this is why 93% of the white people who marry choose a white partner, and why less than 1% of married white women are married to a Black man. This, despite the stat that 1 in 6 newlyweds are now inter-racial marriages, as opposed to 3% when Mildred and Richard were married 50 years ago.
I see how there will forever be a chasm between racism witnessed and racism experienced. I am present for the daily microaggressions and race-related interactions, but they are often aimed at my husband and not me, and the second I walk away, all my white privilege (regardless of how I feel about it) is automatically restored. Speaking up and being an ally is ultimately a lifestyle choice for white people, and it’s not the same thing as being the person whom prejudice is directed at. The long-term, persistent impact of this is exhausting, and we experience it in a progressive, multi-cultural society.
- People assume we are not together when we are out in public (get offered separate checks at restaurants, get waited on separately in line, I get approached for customer service but he doesn’t).
- People assume that he experienced a range of stereotypical adversity in life, but I did not (if you read both our backgrounds I bet you’d wrongly assume that I’m Black and he is white).
- People try to find a reason why we are together (it can never just be love, it has to be some kind of glitch in one of our backgrounds that makes this connection feasible).
- People assume that I belong in places that are actually more familiar for him (I am assigned a level of authority and acceptance that he should be much more entitled to).
Witnessing this behavior is a small glimmer into the pervasiveness of racial bias. It pales in comparison to the lived experience of facing racism, and it means that I cannot support my partner in the same way that a person of color could. There will always be a space between us created by the small prejudices he faces everyday that shape his lived experience apart from me.
I wonder about the strength of Richard and Mildred, whether racism was more overt, and how they navigated public spaces together. How, at the end of the day, the love that they shared was a solid enough foundation to weather those storms together, and how lucky I am to have a strong marriage and the right to be with the person I love.