Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Happy (post-)Loving Day!

What is this, you wonder? Some exhortation to the era of free love, perhaps? Not exactly, though it does date to the civil rights era.

As this Washington Post article notes, it commemorates the Supreme Court decision on June 12, 1967, in the case of Loving vs. Virginia, in which the Court justices unanimously decided to legalize interracial marriage. As the Loving Day site notes: "In the words of Chief Justice Earl Warren, 'Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides within the individual and cannot be infringed on by the State.'"

Well said, Earl.

Honestly, how can you not root for the plaintiff with a name like "Loving?"

That decision wiped out the last of the miscegenation laws in this country barring interracial marriage, which usually focused specifically on prohibiting blacks and whites from marrying, but sometimes targeted other races as well, such as American Indians and those of "Malay" or "Mongolian" descent. Since then, the number of interracial marriages in the U.S. has increased to more than 5 percent of all marriages and the number of children of interracial couples - including, incidentally, yours truly - has climbed to over 3 million, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

Marking that milestone with yet another "special day" may cause some to roll their eyes, but the gains of the civil rights movement should never be taken for granted. And while the issue of interracial marriage may seem a minor one in the grand scheme of things, it is very much of importance to those directly affected by it. And people should never, ever forget: no matter what legal rights you've won, there will always be those who tell you that you don't "deserve" them and who will try to take them away.

For those who wish to argue that racism is somehow dead history in this country, a little footnote: despite the Loving ruling rendering them illegal, the South Carolina and Alabama state constitutions were not amended until 1998 and 2000, respectively, removing the clauses which forbade interracial marriage between whites and blacks. Polls at the time showed that 22% of South Carolina voters and 19% of Alabama voters opposed removing those clauses.

For those of us born into interracial families in a world nigh-obsessed with race and ethnic identity, there are ever-present reminders that you are an anomaly, an Other, a platypus who frustrates those seeking easy classifications. "So what are you?" is a question you get tired of hearing. It took me a long time to work it out for myself, but I eventually figured out the proper answer:

"Me? I'm a goddamn American. What's it to you?"

And thanks to Mildred and Richard Loving, millions of Americans get to say the same thing.

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