“I love your complexion.” These were the four words my boyfriend casually said aloud, as he rubbed my forearm and smiled. I quizzically looked at him as he continued, “The color of your skin is so pretty.” I stared in awe as tears pooled in my eyes until they came rushing down my cheeks. I had never been admired for my complexion. At least, not by anyone besides my parents.
My relationship with my boyfriend has been a whirlwind. In 2015, we crossed paths through a local entrepreneurship program. We became friends, then best friends and before we knew it, we’d fallen in love. Falling in love with him was much like falling asleep: organic, peaceful and calm. He is a white man with blue eyes and skin the color of cappuccino froth: colorful below the surface but decidedly white.
Our relationship reminds me of Mildred and Richard Loving, who were the faces behind the landmark 1967 Supreme Court case Loving vs. Virginia, which deemed bans against interracial marriages as unconstitutional. Although there is great beauty to our love story, there is also great pain. Being in an interracial relationship is far from easy, so when Loving came to theaters, we both were excited to find solidarity within the story of Mildred and Richard Loving.
The movie opens with the happy couple; Mildred is with child and Richard is showing her the plot of land on which he’ll build them a house. Mildred, thinking Richard’s plans are unlikely to come to fruition, is equally shocked when Richard proposes to her just moments later. She says yes, then runs to share the exciting news with her family who are unfazed by the fact that her future husband is white.
Within the first few scenes, the powerful messages of this iconic story pulled at my heartstrings. In a sociopolitical environment wrought with strong emotions against interracial relationships, Mildred and Richard just wanted to be with one another. A humble home and a happy, healthy family is all this couple desired. This film placed a subtle narrative in viewers’ heads, instead of flooding the audience with burning crosses, white sheets and dramatic hellfire.
All too frequently, we talk about racism as if the rabble rousers with extremist ideas are few and far between. Loving contradicts that notion, and rightfully so. During my time in an interracial relationship, and as a Black woman, I’ve realized that the racism lurking in the shadows is more dangerous than any coward in a white sheet. Sure, it’s disgusting when someone uses the N-word or clearly has bigoted notions about me. But I am more concerned with institutions (and corresponding supporters) that make being marginalized not only uncomfortable, but also unsafe.
In Loving, you see Mildred and Richard’s families playing equally significant roles in their lives as a couple. On one hand, Mildred’s family is protective of her and the risks she was taking breaking Virginia’s miscegenation laws. Nevertheless, they were warm and welcoming to Richard. Conversely, Richard’s family was noticeably silent. Although Mildred yearned for acceptance from Richard’s mother – who was a midwife and generally cold -– she was never fully accepted.
The juxtaposition of these two families brought many emotions to the surface about my own experience in an interracial relationship. The cold receptions, the insecurity, the warm family of my own as opposed to the cold, closed off family of my partner. The hardest part of being in an interracial relationship isn’t the love that transcends racial lines, but the cruelty you may face from others.
In my case, this cruelty manifested as thinly veiled bigotry wherein reasonable aspects of my personality were degraded and exaggerated as a justification for why my boyfriend should leave me. My boyfriend, gentle in demeanor and eager to keep the peace, sat through numerous lectures about my unfitness to be his partner. He was told I didn’t “come around” enough. (This was particularly bothersome, because why would any rational person want to come around a group of people who don’t like them?). Then, I was criticized for having an anxiety disorder. This was a punch in the gut, particularly because my partner’s family has a history of neurological disorders and should have been sympathetic. Also, there was apprehension about one day having biracial family members. “It is something to keep in mind,” they’d say to him. Other days, he was told I would do better “with a smaller family.”
His family collectively blocked my number and my presence on all social media forms. They purposely didn’t invite me to events. They said horrible things about me recklessly and openly. Eventually, my boyfriend made the choice on his own to cut lines of communication with them until there was less toxicity. What did they do? Pretended a relative was dying to reach him. Because faking an aging relative’s passing is a rational, justifiable, non-manipulative thing to do, right? I was feeling terrible about myself. I criticized my looks, I second-guessed my philanthropy and whether I actually had a kind heart. I cried in my boyfriend’s arms and apologized for causing him this pain. I cried in my parents’ arms and lamented why his family had to get in the way of a love that was so pure. Why couldn’t they just give me a chance, I often wondered. Why don’t they see what everyone else around us sees? Again, the n-word was never hurled at me, but I believe they were upset that I was a Black woman. I felt gaslighted and defeated so very often, all because of their careless, heartless and callous actions. They made me feel like I was crazy and ruining my boyfriend’s life, just by being me.
Despite my determination to focus on all the wonderful people who support our loving relationship, the vitriol began wearing me down. I began to feel like I was too sensitive, too anxious, too regimented, too empathetic, and yes, too Black.
I wanted to withdraw from my relationship in order to save my partner the backlash he faced for dating me. I knew we both deserved more; his family should have been more open-minded and people should not be so invested in our relationship, but we endured. We didn’t let hate break us – that was their issue, not ours. Even 50 years after Loving v. Virginia, ‘should’ does not matter. People believe what they believe, even when their values are abhorrent and indefensible. There is little we can do to change a mind that doesn’t want to budge. Instead, all we can do is love.
So much about Loving resonated with my own love story. Miscegenation laws may be in the past, but the misjudgment of interracial couples continues. Just like the Lovings, all I want is a home to call my own and a life to share with my partner. The fact that I am Black and he is white should be irrelevant. I admire Mildred and Richard for their legacy not only as the winners of a landmark Supreme Court case, but also for their commitment to the only thing that actually matters in our lives: love. And much like Loving, I hope the best scenes in my love story are still yet to come.
(Photo: Alexis Dent)