Many people expressed profound ambivalence about the categories that drove antimiscegenation rules, while they described how their racial identity — or how others identified them — continued to shape their relationships and their social interactions. Some wrote about the resistance they faced from family and society, and others celebrated the particular richness of their lives. Here are some of those stories.
BARB AND MATT ROOSE
Married: Medina, Ohio, July 18, 1992
‘Luckily we were young, bullheaded and foolish.’
BARB: I’m African-American and my husband is Caucasian. We married when we were 19 and 20 years old and we’ll celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary this year. We love that we get to celebrate such a milestone as the Supreme Court verdict celebrates a milestone too.
After we got engaged (which was mainly because I was pregnant) my then-boyfriend was asked by one of his family members: “Do you really love her or are you just trying to tick your parents off?”
We learned quickly that we couldn’t answer all of the questions that our families had. Luckily we were young, bullheaded and foolish, so we decided not to let other people’s issues with our marriage become our own. We had to focus on us. This meant that my husband had to sacrifice some of his relationships for a short season in order to marry me. Thankfully, they have since reconciled.
We made it a priority to make sure that our kids had friends of all races. Early on in our lives, we hung out with another biracial couple that looked like us, so that our kids saw black moms and white dads as normal.
As a couple, we learned to be upfront with each other about race. It didn’t start that way. Attraction led to confusion. Our life experience and cultural filters created a need for us to learn each other’s ways. Like, letting him, when he was my boyfriend, into my dorm room while I was relaxing my hair. I had to let him see me being fully me. Another time when my father-in-law and I went to a country music concert with his favorite artist — that was culture shock! But, it was the music of my husband’s experience and it helped me learn more about the people in my family.
It’s taken a long time to learn this, but we believe that our relationship is more important than one of us being right. We don’t want race to ever become a wall that divides us.
EILEEN LIN GOUTIER AND EDWIN GOUTIER
Married: Washington, D.C., May 30, 2016
Credit: Roxana Bravo
‘We learned that sometimes things just take time.’
EILEEN: I am Taiwanese-American. I moved to the U.S. during high school. My husband is a Florida-born Haitian-American. We both grew up in immigrant households.
For two seemingly different individuals, we share a love for food, family and passion for social and environmental causes. As much as our relationship seemed normal to both of us, we learned that it wasn’t for my parents and relatives. It took a year of argument, tears, anxiety, smiles and patience for my parents to finally accept our relationship. We waited for their blessing before we had our wedding. Unfortunately, my aunt, whom my family is very close to, decided to stop talking to me because she feels ashamed of me. We learned that sometimes things just take time for acceptance.
NATHAN WRIGHT JR. AND CAROLYN MAY WRIGHT
Married: Las Vegas, July 19, 1969
‘Many in the Black Power movement that my father helped lead for a time came to oppose interracial marriage.’
SUBMITTED BY CHI BARTRAM WRIGHT, THEIR SON, BASED ON HIS RESEARCH AND INTERVIEWS WITH HIS MOTHER: In July of 1967 — just one month after Loving vs. Virginia — Nathan Wright Jr., chairman of the Black Power Conferences in Newark, met Carolyn May, a blonde Long Island niece of socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post, who built Mar-a-Lago. As a publicist in Manhattan, Carolyn began promoting Nathan’s public speaking engagements.
My parents fell in love at a time when many in the Black Power movement that my father helped lead for a time came to oppose interracial marriage. My parents wed in Las Vegas to avoid attention, but soon found themselves back East defending their hearts to both blacks and whites, telling family, friends, and colleagues, “Love is colorblind,” and “The heart knows no color.” My mother recalls, “Very few white people understood why I would do such a thing. And so I lost a lot of friends and family that way. If they had researched Nathan, they would have found out that he was far more educated than they were, generally.” In his unpublished memoir, my father reflected on those days, “The black’s continuation through in-group marriage would seem to be inadvisable and errant in relationship to God’s purpose.”
In 1972, my mother completed a Master’s degree in Afro-American studies. I was born in August, 1974. Looking back, my mother tells me, “In the ’70s and ’80s in upstate New York, we knew we had to keep you in a private school to protect you from a wider society that was not always welcoming.” Indeed, I faced overt, aggressive comments from other black kids like, “You’re not really black,” and “You think you’re better than us.”
The same month that my parents met, my father testified on Capitol Hill, stating that Black Power “speaks to the empowerment of human life for fulfillment.” While Carolyn and Nathan hoped their marriage would provide them with that same empowerment, in reality they were ahead of their time, pioneers for radical integration, at a time when most were still digesting moderate civil rights.
DAVID L. GILMOUR AND ANULA KUSUM JAYASURIYA
Married: A small wedding in Cambridge, Mass.; an epic wedding in Sri Lanka; and another, large wedding in Cambridge, 1988 and 1989.
‘Race is only one element of difference.’
DAVID: I am white — indeed, raised to believe I was whiter than white since, as I was reminded frequently, my ancestors arrived on the Mayflower. My spouse is from Sri Lanka. She identifies as South Asian.
When you’re a couple, having different backgrounds simultaneously enriches and stresses your relationship. Race is only one element of difference, and, in my experience, a minor one. I’m only reminded that we are a “mixed couple” by others, when our appearance triggers some kind of reaction, most often — but not always — love, approval and sometimes what seems like a tiny bit of envy.
We now live in California, where mixed-race kids are relatively common. Our daughter has had to face the challenges of being biracial. She is accustomed to the consternation she causes when others can’t quite figure out “what she is.” She is often mistaken for a Latina, and has a traditional Sri Lankan first name that is often mistaken for African-American. But she has risen to meet those challenges, and is a strong, confident person who knows that above all she is unique.
JENNIFER AND JAMES HUTCHERSON
Married: Tybee Island, Ga. May 18, 2001
‘I’ve learned that most people are tolerant, but that is different from being accepting.’
JENNIFER: I am a white female, my husband is a black male.
I have learned that not only is “driving while black” a real thing, but also that riding with a black male will get you pulled over. I’ve learned to ignore disapproving looks from older white people in public places. I’ve learned to expect the surprise on people’s faces when I start a new job and put up photos of my family on my desk. I’ve learned that in a small town that is predominately white, people will use my husband as their proof that they aren’t racist because they associate with a black guy. I’ve learned that most people are tolerant, but that is different from being accepting. While we may have come a long way from the days of the Lovings, there is still a long way to go, especially in the South.
My husband is a police officer in a large city close to our tiny town. We have frequent heated discussions where I accuse him of being more of a cop than a black man. My older sons were called Oreos in elementary school; they have been racially profiled by police as adults. My teenage son who still lives at home seems to identify much more with the black side of our family and often makes disparaging remarks about things he sees “white people” do.
I have cautioned all of them to please be careful when in any situation with law enforcement. I tell them to keep their hands where they can be seen, just say yes sir and don’t do or say anything that could cause a misunderstanding. I wouldn’t tell them these things if they were white.
Having children (and nieces and nephews) that are black has caused me to view the world differently than I might have if I’d married someone of my own race. I think I am more enlightened, I think I see things from a perspective I wouldn’t have otherwise had.
STEPHANIE LARKIN NOOR AND SHAHJAHAN SINGH NOOR
Married: Baltimore, June 21, 2015
Credit: Shawn Hubbard
‘For some of them, it was their first interaction with a black person.’
STEPHANIE: I am an African-American woman, born in Ohio and raised in Auburn, Ala., as a Southern Baptist. My husband is Indian, born in New Delhi and raised in Baltimore. He is Sikh and has a full beard and waist-length hair, which he keeps tied up in a turban.
My friends tried to dissuade me from dating Shah. With deeply concerned voices, they asked me, “What will people say? What could you possibly have in common?” After three months of dating seriously, he invited me to meet his family. His extended family from India happened to be in town for their annual trip to the U.S. Imagine, one little black girl surrounded by 20 of his Indian cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents. It was intimidating, but I held my own, as they fired away questions (about my education, my parents’ professions, my hair, my being an N.F.L. cheerleader, my siblings).
After leaving that night, my future husband called me almost in tears. His aunts had asked things like, “Why a black woman? You can find a beautiful, smart Indian woman to marry!” Surprisingly, the eldest in the family, his grandfathers, Dada ji and Nana ji, were our strongest advocates.
Despite the negative chatter, Shah and I knew our love for one another would sustain us. All has now been forgiven, and the family has a lot of love for me. I learned that they were scared of the unknown; for some of them, it was their first interaction with a black person. Since then they have welcomed me into their homes with open arms. His extended family was present at our fairy-tale wedding, as were my friends. His family in India has made two trips to see us. We drink wine, chat about life, discuss home decor, politics and go shopping. Had Shah or I succumbed to the pressure, we would have missed out on the greatest love of all!
Shah and I don’t have children yet, but are planning to. We often have discussions like, “If we have a boy, will he keep his hair and wear a turban like his daddy? What race will our kids identify as? Should we take the kids to both gurdwara and church, or will that just confuse them? How often will we visit family in India? Should we raise the kids in India for a couple years?” Whatever happens, I’m sure they will be strong like their mom and dad and will be brave enough to handle anything that comes their way.
OLIVIA TORO AND MICHAEL SWIGERT
Married: Alexandria, Va., August 3, 2013
‘We have learned a lot about what it means to be allies.’
OLIVIA: My husband is white, and I am multiracial. I consider myself to be both Korean and a mix of indigenous, Afro-Caribbean and European descent that characterizes most people from the Dominican Republic.
We have learned a lot about what it means to be allies since we started dating and especially since we have been married. I remember one night, about two months into our relationship, when we were walking home late from a bar in D.C., we walked by some young African-American men sitting on their stoop. They called to me, and I ignored them because I ignore most men who call to me on the street. They called me a “chink,” and I continued to ignore them as we walked on. Then, I felt something hit me — a small rock. They were throwing them at us, and I wondered why. When I mentioned it to Mike, he said he’d flipped them off.
I felt outrage — not at those boys because let’s face it, they were kids — I was so angry at Mike. Never, in a million years, would I have felt safe antagonizing those boys by expressing my anger the way that he had. I realized how privileged he was to feel it was O.K. to do that without consequence. I didn’t mention it that night to him until after we were married. And when I did, he understood. He wouldn’t have understood if I had brought it up when it happened. It took eight years of conversation and real intimacy to bring this evolution about — my trusting him and telling him the story from my point of view, and his vulnerability in hearing it.
BONNIE AND ALLEN G. TRAVIS
Married: Greensboro, N.C., June 1963
‘My husband made a deal with the minister.’
BONNIE:When we wanted to get married, my husband made a deal with the minister and told me to not to bring up my race. In North Carolina, it was against the law for my husband (white) and me (Lumbee Indian) to marry. I dyed my hair red to try to fit in with my white friends. No one from either side of the families attended the wedding. And now, the families have no problems.
I’ve had many incidents of discrimination throughout my life. My mother never trusted a white man until close to her death in 2004, when my husband helped her and he finally gained her trust.
ALISON BARROWS-YOUNG AND DANIEL L. YOUNG
Married: Boulder County, Colo., November 24, 2004
Credit: Sheila M. Young
‘I sense disgust and hate from total strangers for the first time in my life.’
ALISON: My husband is black and his family is African-American. I’m white and my family is traced to the Mayflower and Eli Whitney. This is a second marriage for us both.
Since we first started seeing each other, I sense disgust and hate from total strangers for the first time in my life. Many white people have told me that my husband looks fierce. He doesn’t. We are often placed at the restaurant table closest to the kitchen; white ladies grip their purses and move closer to their companions when we pass. The police stop us for no reason. Today, I pay little attention to prejudiced people. Sometimes we even laugh about particularly racist responses to us.
My husband, our children and I all feel that the black community is more at ease with us than the white.
The racism against Obama was plain to us from the start but not to our white acquaintances. The racism surrounding Trump’s campaign was obvious to me but not to my husband; he could not take the man’s candidacy seriously. My youngest daughter and I rebuked him when he supported Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton at our state caucus, as we perceived her to be the more qualified and only viable choice for minorities. On election night, my husband had taken me to dinner to celebrate Hillary’s “inevitable win.” When Trump won the Electoral College we left our meals half eaten.
We have dropped associates that we once tolerated if they are overtly Republican or nonprogressive. We feel paranoid.
MISTINGUETTE SMITH AND RENEE BENNS
Married: Northampton, Mass., 2006
Credit: Andrea H. Burns
‘This understanding of marriage has deep historical and familial significance for me as a black woman.’
MISTINGUETTE: I am black and ethnically African-American. My partner is white and ethnically German-American.
We are both a “Loving” and a “Goodridge” family: We have been partners for 29 years but did not marry until 2006, after same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts. Our choice to marry was informed by the history of what race and marriage meant to my enslaved ancestors, who struggled to have their antebellum marriages recorded. We have been surprised by the ways that our families are more accepting of us as a same-sex couple than they are about transracial marriage.
Choosing to marry after 17 years of extralegal partnership gave us striking clarity that marriage is not about love or commitment, but a political arrangement about ownership of property and the right to defend it. This understanding of marriage has deep historical and familial significance for me as a black woman that my partner had never had to consider.
JANET ELSE BASU AND BASAB KUMAR BASU
Married: Los Angeles, January 27, 1967
‘Our friends thought we were pretty brave, but in reality incidents of prejudice were usually subtle.’
JANET: I am European and my husband is Asian Indian.
We married six months before Loving v. Virginia. We were in California, where the law forbidding Caucasians to marry Asians was struck down in the 1940s. We and our friends thought we were pretty brave, but in reality incidents of prejudice were usually subtle and relatively rare. That’s partly because Asian Indians were so rare in the United States in 1967; nobody knew enough Indians to form an opinion.
We learned two important things about marrying across cultures: 1) From day one, you’ll have to try harder to understand each other; we could never take each other for granted. That gave us a big advantage. 2) Both of our lives were enriched, and the lives of our families as well.
When Basab died 50 years after we met, his memorial service was filled with our family and friends from all sides of the globe.
This article was first published in The New York Times, on June 12, 2017