On June 11, 1967, I was seven and a half months old.
On June 11, 1967, my husband, Amari, was six and a half years old.
On June 11, 1967, “interracial marriage” was illegal in the Commonwealth of Virginia and 20 other states.
If Amari and I had been adults at the time, our marriage would have been illegal. In fact, on my side of the family, four of the marriages in my generation and all the marriages in the next would have been illegal in 1967. Three of the marriages in the generation above me were illegal in nearly half of the country.
On June 12, 1967, thanks to the perseverance of Richard Loving, Mildred Jeter Loving and their tenacious lawyer, (eventually with the support of Robert F. Kennedy and the ACLU,) the United States Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s so-called “Racial Integrity Act” of 1924, effectively declaring state laws against interracial marriage, unconstitutional.
The Racial Integrity Act had been used by proud White Supremacist and Adolph Hitler devotee Walter Plecker, to erase important truths by changing all previous census records in the Commonwealth to register “race” as either “white” or “colored;” (In other words, “white” or anything in addition to or instead of “white.”) Marriage between a person identified as white and a person identified as not-white via the One Drop Rule, was illegal. (You can find the actual form used by Plecker here.)
Why Do You Care?
My blog for next week is titled, “Are We Done With Middle School Yet??” That blog will address the kind of thinking that underlies this debacle. For now, however, let’s look at the Loving’s story as it demonstrates the pervasive norm we owe it to ourselves to outgrow: The demand by those with any power, to control everything and everyone to make themselves/ourselves feel more comfortable.
This way of being is disastrous on the judicial level, but it ain’t no picnic on the interpersonal level either.
Remember cliques in middle school and high school? Angsty adolescents watered down their thoughts, beliefs, taste in music, clothes, and pretty much everything to fit in with other kids who were doing the same. Each group declared their wonderful uniqueness and specialness… by looking and sounding exactly like all of the other group members. The risk of not belonging, of amplifying self-doubting internal voices is just too much for a lot of kids. I understand that in adolescents.
Fortunately, as adults we have the option of unlearning it. Our current legal system is like a house built on the sand, committed to the comfort of some at the deeply wounding and sometimes lethal expense of others. That whole system is stuck in middle school.
Why We Don’t “Get Over It.”
Don’t think for a moment that this is ancient history and were “all better now.” Changes have been made, but the unstable foundation that tried to destroy the Loving family for nine years has not been replaced; Neither did it begin in 1967, or even 1924. To grasp the broader picture, you either need to wait for the book I really do intend to write or do some boning up on how the myth of distinct biological races was introduced in the Colonies in the 1600’s purely for the sake of generating more wealth and power for the already wealthy and powerful. (It’s a long story but a formative one, well beyond race. You might start here.)
The Miseducation of… Everybody.
Were you taught that in school? I wasn’t. I grew up with a 400+ year old lie that biological race is real. It never quite sat right with me, but what do I know? I’m not a geneticist. Cultural differences are very real. Many people in the U.S. confuse race with culture. I want to suggest that part of what sustains our country’s blind obedience to racial myth and the caste system it effectively creates is that it is fiercely personal. The Loving case put that on display.
DNA Doesn’t Lie
In the latter 1700’s the Colonial laws based on the lie of race were being adopted by the emerging federal government. Being multiracial was ruled a felony. Those families who had begun swirling ethnicities from the 1400s on were vulnerable to its members being stripped of all rights and property, being enslaved, incarcerated, or murdered without any legal recourse. These families, referred to as “triracial isolates,” headed for remote regions for protection. They were very careful about how and if they disclosed their ethnic roots. We didn’t have DNA technology then, so even looking “not white” was dangerous.
It is more than plausible that both Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter are descendants of those inaccurately labeled “triracial isolates.”
Richard Loving’s description of his childhood community in addition to the fact that his mother’s maiden name was “Allen” in that specific part of Virginia are important clues. As for Mildred, she is from a Jeter family described by some as “African American, Native American, (likely Cherokee and/or Rappahannock,) and Portuguese.” Now that we know a whole lot more about DNA, I can pretty much promise that Mildred’s Jeters were Euro, African, Mediterranean, Native American, and possibly also Roma, Sephardic and Ashkenazi.
How do I know this? Because Mildred’s Jeters are my Jeters. We are from the people called the Melungeons, and also from another such group that now stands as a federally recognized Indian tribe; The Lumbee.
(Fun fact that’s just way too juicy to keep to myself? One of those Jeters, my 7th cousin once removed, was Lucille Jeter, wife of James Allen Ross Hendrix, parents to my 8th cousin… Jimi Hendrix. Yes… that Jimi Hendrix. I don’t usually fan girl? But… JIMI HENDRIX! JIMI HENDRIX! JIMI HENDRIX! OH MY GGOOOODDD, JIMI!!! HENDRIX!!! Ok… I’m back now.)
There’s an ongoing joke amongst my Melungeon cousins that the only way we could find partners of a different race would be to look on Mars. Richard and Mildred looked like people from two different so-called “races.” There were in fact, from the same or closely connected people. Want to take a guess at how many of the so-called interracial marriages in my family and my husband’s are between members of tri-racial isolates? Possibly, all of them. Even when we don’t know, somehow we know.
We oversimplify Richard as “white” and Mildred as “black.” See the adolescent thinking there? In adolescence, not fitting into a narrowly defined group has seemingly dire consequences. In the case of racism in the U.S., the “dire consequences” are self-created by those in power, in order to keep power. That part really is “the way it’s always been,” at least since colonizers started bringing their greed to these shores in the 1400s.
Big Brother Wisdom
After researching our family and comparing thousands of DNA connections some years ago, I called my big brother Tom and told him the truth I had uncovered: That both our mother and our father had multiethnic ancestors who cut completely off from their roots and passed for only white. Without missing a beat, Tom said, “Anybody white in the South? Is a lie.”
As I look at the surnames of many of the police officers, judges, and vigilante townspeople in Virginia that felt so threatened by the Loving’s marriage, many them very likely also hailed from one or more of these triracial isolates. In fact, very often when I read about hate crimes, the surnames and locations hint at these exact hidden roots.
The perpetrators look only-white, as do I, and they have been told a story that they are only-white, as were my parents who had no reason to believe otherwise. These perpetrators of violent racism have believed the stories about “those people over there” that were initially designed to protect them from being identified with the dangerously vulnerable. And, even when we don’t know, somehow, we know.
I can almost promise you that the poison that prompted them to buy into the lie that anyone non-white is less deserving of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” the vitriol that prompted them to relentlessly pursue, torment, firebomb, incarcerate and threaten the Loving family year after year, was generated by the violent, terrified, oblivious adolescent within the perpetrators. They demonize their fears and use the bodies and lives of people outside of themselves as targets for their self-hatred.
Racism, ageism, antisemitism, ableism, homophobia, body-shaming, sexism: Poisonous “othering” doesn’t die because the real target resides within the perpetrator. Just as a narcissist treats people as objects in the service of an insatiable ego, so do those who commit violent acts against others. When we deny the value and dignity of other human beings the entire community suffers and we remain stuck in our sickness.
Counting the Cost
Richard and Mildred Loving were married on June 2, 1958. They spent the next nine years fighting for their family and for their lives. Countless families you will never hear of did not survive this kind of relentless persecution.
After being arrested in their bedroom in the middle of the night, Richard spent one night in jail while pregnant Mildred spent several more. In lieu of incarceration, the presiding judge barred the Lovings from living together in Virginia for 25 years. In addition to being torn from their home and community, this meant raising three young children who were very close in age without extended family support. The three Loving children spent their first nine, eight and seven years in chronic trauma, all in the service of a system designed to protect certain people from feeling uncomfortable or having to consider that there really is less than 1% difference in DNA between all humans, regardless of ethnicity.
Our country was established on a foundation of deeply engrained lies, codified into law, designed to protect the powerful. Just as people in therapy bravely do every day, we can change that family tree.
- We can unlearn our system that classifies some people as more “worthy” based on differences like complexion or hair texture, faith, country of origin, body size, gender, relationship preferences, physical facility.
- We can unlearn the idea that those with power are free to narcissistically demand to be the reference point for all things: “If I’m comfortable with it, it’s good. If I’m uncomfortable with it there is clearly something wrong or maybe even evil about it.”
- We can unlearn victimizing those who expose our fear and insecurities, and instead become teachable.
- We can unlearn the lie of biological race and embrace our vivid cultural diversity. The Earth has always been big enough to hold all of who we are in celebration. It’s not an either-or competition.
- We can love generously. We can love boldly. We can become, truly loving.
If this blog stirred up questions for you, contact Tiffany today. Let’s talk about it.