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Loving Is History, But Their Pain Is Still Present

Loving Is History, But Their Pain Is Still Present


Interracial couples can sadly still relate to struggles faced by Richard and Mildred Loving, who helped end race-based bans on marriage nearly 50 years ago.


In Loving -- a beautiful new film about the plaintiffs of Loving v. Virginia -- there is a scene in which Richard Loving shares a kiss with Mildred in public. The simple gesture draws the eyes of white onlookers, who stare at the interracial couple in cold disapproval.

In response, my partner grabbed my hand in the movie theater. Instinctively, I had a moment of panic. Who was seated in the dark rows behind us? Had they seen this display of affection? Would they retaliate against us in some way?

The moment quickly passed. How irrational, I thought, to be concerned about the prejudices of others while attending a movie such as this, which showed how one couple helped bring about an end to race-based bans on marriage through a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1967. This Los Angeles theater in 2016 must surely rank high on the list of safe spaces for gay interracial couples.

Yet in my life, I've learned that there are no real safe spaces from bias. The world is drawn into places we can and cannot go. Even in New York City, which my partner and I used to call home, a woman screamed "Abomination!" at us, over and over again, when my partner dared to rest his hand on my knee in the subway. The effect was like lightning -- both searing and illuminating. It struck then, as it did again during one trip to San Francisco, where the word "faggot" was shot from a passing truck. Queer spaces do not guarantee refuge. I've heard worse words from the mouths of white gay men.

But slurs, as any member of a vulnerable community knows, are just the tip of the iceberg. Sometimes, the most terrible damage can be caused by the impact of a whisper, a door closing, or silence.

Loving is full of moments such as these. While the threat of violence and imprisonment looms over Richard and Mildred -- they defied state law and societal stigma by marrying in Washington, D.C., and then returning to their home state, Virginia -- it is the quiet, daily fears that most threaten to tear them apart.

They worry about their kids, the gossip of neighbors, and their livelihood. Richard, driving home after his construction job, speeds to shake a car that appears to be following him. Friends and family members advise an easier course of action for all parties: a divorce and separation.

After the screening, my partner and I spoke with Ruth Negga, the actress who portrays Mildred. We thanked her for what she and actor Joel Edgerton brought to life on the screen: the couple's love as well as the anxieties they faced. She told us we were not the first interracial couple to do so. Many had told her that they related to the struggles of the Lovings -- issues that even in 2016 are rarely tackled on-screen without post-racial fiction.

These struggles must be seen more often, and outside of a historical context. The Pew Research Center reports that in 2013, 12 percent of new marriages were interracial -- a record high. Despite this benchmark, stigma, exacerbated by the racist and xenophobic presidential campaign of Donald Trump, stubbornly persists.

Its ugly voice can be heard on a recent episode of the radio show This American Life in which a resident of St. Cloud, Minn. -- a town that has had a recent influx of Muslim immigrants from Somalia -- recounts how the possibility of mixed marriages between grandchildren was used to stir passions among a meeting of white residents.

"Well, what happens if they fall in love and they get married?" the resident recalled one woman saying, to the horror of the crowd, many of whom are seeking a ban on future immigrants. The exchange demonstrates that there are undoubtedly ardent Trump supporters who wish Loving v. Virginia had never happened and who believe that "Make America Great Again" means returning to a time when interracial marriage was still illegal.

Mildred and Richard showed us how to fight these prejudices nearly 50 years ago. They loved each other, married, and stayed together. It was a quiet journey that ultimately transformed the nation. In Loving, director Jeff Nichols (Mud) wisely kept his lens trained tightly on this relationship. There are no dramatic courtroom scenes with tearful testimonies and hate-spewing attorneys. They couldn't hold a candle to the power of seeing Richard rest his head on his wife's lap, an image that was made famous in real life by a photographer who captured their home life.

And so, in the theater and walking out into the light of the lobby, I held tight to my partner's hand. Ringing in my ears were the words of Richard Loving, who, after declining to attend his historic hearing, was asked by his attorney if he had a message for the justices. "Yeah. Tell the judge I love my wife," he said. It turns out, even the Supreme Court couldn't argue with that.

DANIEL REYNOLDS is an editor at The Advocate. Follow him on Twitter @dnlreynolds.

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Daniel Reynolds

Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.
Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.