I met my wife Aretha in the fall of 1997; she had just moved from Portland, Oregon, to my hometown of Portland, Maine. By Christmas we were dating, and before we knew it we were both graduating and heading to Boston for college. We’re now happily married and have a one-year-old baby girl. It sounds like a classic high school sweetheart romance, right? Well, to us, yes. But to many people, we’re “different”. These people’s views have nothing to do with our love, our relationship, or our daughter. They have to do with race. Yes, I’m talking about the mere color of our skin. My wife is Black and I am White. We’re both Americans, born on the same soil and raised within the same language and popular culture—all variables are equal except for our skin color. Yet many people see us as two entirely different types of people who do not belong together, as if Cupid’s arrows discriminate. Have these bigots ever bothered us? Of course, we’ve been affected in some ways. But overall, we thank them for their ignorance, as our relationship has only grown stronger. For instance, if we’re at the mall and a few people stare at us or point in our direction, we smile and wrap our arms around each other even tighter.
A major reason we receive stares and assume special status is not only because of people’s views, but also because we are relatively rare. Slavery was abolished almost 140 years ago and our own parents witnessed the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. So why do interracial marriages still only account for 2.9 percent of all American marriages according to the latest U.S. Census data? Or more specifically, why do Black/White couples like Aretha and me account for only 0.7 percent? Of course there is no simple answer to this question; researchers and writers have been studying this phenomenon for decades.
Understanding some history of interracial marriage helps begin to put things into perspective. For centuries, harsh laws called “antimiscegenation laws” prohibited interracial unions and carried severe legal consequences for violations. Randall Kennedy, Harvard professor and author of Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption, says that in 1913 “Wyoming became the last state to impose a statutory impediment to marital miscegenation, [and] forty-one others had already enacted similar laws… Every state whose Black population reached or exceeded 5 percent of the total eventually drafted and enacted antimiscegenation laws.” These laws were frequently enforced and although they varied from state to state, prison sentences for violations averaged from one to ten years.
In 1887 Ohio became the first state to repeal its antimiscegenation laws. Kennedy notes that no other state followed for sixty-four years, until Oregon did so in 1951. But no year was more important than 1967. In that year a White man, Richard Loving, and his Black wife, Mildred Jeter, were arrested in Virginia because their District of Columbia...