A Paradigm Shift:
“L is for the way you look at me. O is for the only one I see. V is very, very extraordinary. E is even more than anyone that you adore” (Cole). Love. It is a crazy idea that two people could be bound together on an emotional and spiritual level. “What were the chances, we’d be sharing love? Before the night was through” (Sinatra). Love. Two souls becoming one, sometimes even getting married. “Then come on, oh come on. Let’s get it on, oh baby. Let’s get it on, let’s love baby” (Gaye). Love. And in some instances, after some planning, or not, kids can be a result. However, during history’s progression, some people bound love up into a small box, only accessible to the people who fit the mold. Not long ago, interracial marriage casted a dark shadow on the Civil Rights movement. From the 1960’s to now, society has made leaps and bounds in the acceptance of love between different people. After all, “love makes the world go round” (Jackson).
To understand the importance of the shift in popular opinion from one of abhorrence to acceptance in regards to interracial marriage the stories of persecution faced by the engagers must be told. In the early 1960’s, a lovely couple formed in the midst of the segregationist south, specifically the state of Mississippi. Burleigh Lester, sergeant of the local police force, would sneak his love, African-American Sandra Ann Taylor, into the drive-ins. Obviously, they could not be seen together, as it would cause the utmost chaos in their small town. A scandal so big, it would probably outshine the soon-to-occur Watergate scandal. Nevertheless, love persisted. Their love began as all do, at first sight. Once he saw her, Burleigh simply could not stay away. He would eat at Sandra’s father’s restaurant constantly just to be around her. Eventually, he wrote her a note, “you sure are pretty.” They were smitten. Now, most of the Black community knew that they were going steady; but, they kept it a secret from the White community. That is not to say their relationship was without bumps. Upon their engagement, Sandra’s friends told her that it was a mistake to marry a White man. Likewise, Burleigh’s mother disowned him for marrying a Black woman. They knew what they were getting into, marrying in a state where the miscegenation penalty was punishable with a decade in prison, so they fled. Escaping north to Chicago, choosing flight over fight because their love was forbidden. Forbidden because of the colors of their skin; something which they could not control. However, they could control their fate, and they chose love, free from hate (Larsson 114-119).
Unfortunately, not all interracial relationships from the early 20th Century ended with such a happy ending. Some even resulted in legal action against the “perpetrators” of interracial marriage. In the case of Carl and Elaine Neil, the judicial system charged them with outlandish crimes such as prostitution and drug dealing as an excuse to removed them from a white-majority area of New York City (Larsson 120-130). Nevertheless, the shift in popular opinion around interracial marriage began to change in the late 1960’s with the Loving’s. The Loving’s were a small stone casted into a political ocean, which soon formed a ripple which turned into a tidal wave of equality and justice that barreled towards Washington D.C. with all the ferocity of a tsunami.
In 1958, Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter exchanged vows in the nation’s capital. Eventually, the biracial couple moved back to Virginia, which is apparently for lovers, just not for their love. They were arrested in the middle of the night and charged with breaking the law that prohibited interracial marriage within the state. The judge found them guilty and proceeded to offer a deal: if they left Virginia for a quarter of a century, the sentencing would be dropped. After leaving the state, the Lovings took their case to the Supreme Court after being approached by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Fortunately, the United States Supreme Court unanimously struck down the ban on interracial marriage, bringing love to the forefront of the Civil Rights movement (Oyez 1).
However, investigating under the surface of the ruling brings forth far more interesting details than just merely reading the synopsis of the case. Obviously, the Supreme Court represented a changing viewpoint towards interracial marriages; but, the court the case went through prior to the Supreme Court represented the idea that the more things change, the more they stay the same. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; this is true in physics and in cultural norms. In what is now an iconic, albeit infamously iconic, statement Judge Leon M. Bazile stated:
Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his [arrangement] there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix (Bazile 1).
The aforementioned statement, spoken by Bazile to the Loving couple in the Caroline County Circuit Court, highlights the ignorance of a millennia of thought manifested into a single court opinion. In contrast, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren proclaimed, “the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State” (Oyez 1). The Court recognized that the idea of anti-miscegenation law denies personhood and citizenship, much in the same way as slavery did. Citizenship within the United States brings about all the guarantees inscribed and enshrined in the Constitution. To deny one part is to deny the whole because they cannot possibly be extant outside of each other (Villazor and Maillard XVIII). By identifying this, Warren, as well as every single member of the Supreme Court at the time, secured the blessings of liberty to interracial couples and their posterity, signifying the changing public opinion in regards to interracial relationships.
It may be shocking to some, but after the ruling there was an outcry on both sides of the racial divide. Nannie H. Burroughs, the African-American woman president of the National Women’s Auxiliary, National Baptist Convention stated, “God has a purpose and plan for the races of mankind, and a protest against his color variety. . . weakens the temperament and settles nothing” (Larsson 2). Evidentially, this sentiment carries the same anti-miscegenation attitude as Judge Leon M. Bazile’s previously noted proclamation. Both Blacks and Whites seemed to forget their own ancestry as they criticized the unification of different races in holy matrimony. According to an Ohio State University study, “[an] estimated 21% of American whites- one out of every five- have African elements in their background, 28 million people.” On the other side of the fence, Melville Herskovits concluded that 71.7% of African Americans had White ancestors (Larsson 28). The overall conclusion: “The history of miscegenation in America, teaches that people can be legally separated by walls; but that history also teaches that no wall can be built high enough” (Larsson XI). In other words: nature is always colorblind, even if humanity is not.
Fortunately, over the relatively few decades that have passed since the Loving decision, society as a whole has come to accept interracial marriage. In 1990, 63% of non-Blacks opposed a member of their family marrying an African American. In 2016, this number plummeted to 14%. Likewise, in 1990, 21% of non-Hispanics held disdain for a member of their family to marry a Hispanic. In the present day this number rests at 9%. Overall, a study shows that 39% of people believe that people intermarrying benefits society as a whole. These sentiments show the drastic increase of interracial marriages per year. In 1967, after interracial marriage was universally permitted, only 3% of marriages were between members of different races. In comparison, 17% of marriages in 2015 occurred between members of different races (Livingston and Brown 1). The facts state what some people struggle to put into words: society is progressing for the better.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. It is becoming increasingly evident that while interracial marriages are on the up and up, the kids begot by such unions are at the center of an intense fascination. According to Clotye Larsson, “a major factor in resistance to residential, school, and social integration is the deep fear that creeping miscegenation will lead to an America which is neither black nor white” (27). Therefore, since interracial marriages inevitably result in biracial, or even multiracial, children, the investigation of such children is paramount to understanding the paradigm shift of interracial marriage. As per various studies, biracial or “mixed” African Americans are perceived as more attractive than their monoracial African American counterparts. Why? This is due to the apparent preference for “whiter features”. Everywhere from the media to the boardroom, the lighter you are, the righter you become. For example, Kanye West recently called for a fashion show featuring “multiracial women only”. It seems that even one of the biggest names in the entertainment industry cannot avoid personal bias. Overall, the rise in interracial marriages will cause an increase in multiracial African Americans, perpetuating white, or light-skinned, privilege (Reece 1-2).
Sadly enough, the Euro-centric preference of beauty in the United States is not the largest problem faced by interracial marriages. “The issue today is not simply whether he [African American male] has the right to carry a white bride across his threshold, but whether and where he can find the threshold” (Larsson 47). The most pressing problem facing interracial couples is housing discrimination. Far too often minority groups are shown or offered housing at a lesser rate than Whites. In fact, houses owned by Whites tend to be of a higher quality than houses owned by minorities. Furthermore, houses or apartments occupied by Whites are usually located in more affluent, safer neighborhoods compared to locations owned or rented by minorities (Turner et al. 6). According to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development:
Black homebuyers who contact agents about recently advertised homes for sale learn about 17.0 percent fewer available homes than equally qualified whites and are shown 17.7 percent fewer homes. Asian homebuyers learn about 15.5 percent fewer available homes than equally qualified whites and are shown 18.8 percent fewer homes (Turner et al. 11).
Thankfully, the Department also concluded that the amount of housing discrimination is declining since racial discrimination is declining amongst the general populace (Turner et al. 17). Even still, the fact remains that minority groups face some housing discrimination; thus, interracial marriages that include minority groups also face this dilemma. Housing discrimination proves to be the biggest problem in the way of interracial marriages because the denial of a home essentially murders the American Dream.
In the present day, the Gregersen’s story in many ways is the quintessential American family, two loving parents, a son, a daughter; however, there is uniqueness about them: the Gregersen family is biracial. “We forget about race until the world reminds us from time to time,” Rachel Gregersen said, “when I get asked for identification at the same store where my husband does not, then I notice.” The parents also worry about talking to their kids about what to do at a police stop, displaying the distrust between minority groups and the police. While a majority of the country believe interracial marriage is a beneficial idea, there are still 9% that are opposed to it (McCoppin and Wong 1). It seems that racism and discrimination permeate into the very recesses of the minds of some members of the populace. Generalizations rooted so deeply into the subconscious that it could take generations to fully uproot. The stories of modern-day interracial couples remind society that the battle for equality is an on-going one.
In 1965, Clotye Murdock Larsson wrote, “Intermarriage is the most provocative word in the English language” (5). It suggests a challenge to the norm, a cultural norm that has undergone a dramatic change in the past half-century. Since the Loving decision, society has shifted its views on interracial marriage drastically. The overturning of the anti-miscegenation laws in the United States affected every aspect of life. It blossomed into a wider understanding and tolerance between many races and ethnic groups. Nevertheless, progress always sees backlash. Without a doubt, interracial marriage has succeeded at the cost of housing discrimination, as well as discrimination against darker-skinned African Americans. Hopefully, we can soon measure society in moments of boundless love, instead of its own prejudices. Then one day, we can all sit at the table of brotherhood, together at last.
Bazile, Leon M. “Transcription from Original.” Opinion of Judge Leon M. Bazile (January 22, 1965), 25 Mar. 2014, www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Opinion_of_Judge_Leon_M_Bazile_January_22_1965.
Cole, Nat King, “L-O-V-E.” L-O-V-E, Capitol Records, 1965.
Gaye, Marvin. “Let’s Get It On.” Let’s Get It On, Golden World, 1973.
Jackson, Deon. “Love Makes the World Go Round.” Something’s Gotta Give, Carla Records, 1966.
Larsson, Clotye Murdock. Marriage across the Color Line. Johnson Pub. Co., 1965.
Livingston, Gretchen, and Anna Brown. “Trends and Patterns in Intermarriage.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, 18 May 2017, www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/05/18/1-trends-and-patterns-in-intermarriage/.
“Loving v. Virginia.” Oyez, 25 Oct. 2017, www.oyez.org/cases/1966/395.
McCoppin, Robert, and Grace Wong. “Interracial Marriage More Common, but Acceptance Still Not Universal.” Chicagotribune.com, 18 May 2017, www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-interracial-marriage-study-met-20170518-story.html.
Reece, Robert L. “Why Biracial People Are Seen as More Beautiful (and Not Just by Kanye): Researchers Explain the ‘Cognitive Hiccup’ behind the Bias.” Daily Mail Online, Associated Newspapers, 5 Oct. 2016, www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3824242/Why-biracial-people-seen-beautiful-not-just-Kanye-Researchers-explain-cognitive-hiccup-bias.html.
Sinatra, Frank. “Strangers in the Night.” Strangers in the Night, 1966.
Turner, Margery Austin, et al. “Housing Discrimination Against Racial and Ethnic Minorities.” 2012, pp. 1–21., permanent.access.gpo.gov/gpo41112/HUD-514_HDS2012_execsumm.pdf.
Villazor, Rose Cuison., and Kevin Noble. Maillard. Loving v. Virginia in a Post-Racial World: Rethinking Race, Sex, and Marriage. Cambridge University Press, 2012.