This year marks the 54th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court decision that struck down U.S. laws against interracial marriage. Richard and Mildred Loving, whose marriage we celebrate every year on June 12, were an interracial marriage that changed America, whose love forced a court to rule that “distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry” are “odious to a free people.”
The Loving case is personal for me. I am from China and my husband is American. We met online when I came here as a student. I remember eagerly checking my email every day waiting to see what Andrew would say in his next email. Two years later, we were married in North Carolina, the wedding decorations a mixture of Chinese and American styles, just like our marriage.
Sixty years ago, our love would have been a crime in some parts of America, like the marriage of General Claire Lee Chennault, a white American military aviator best known for his leadership of the “Flying Tigers” in World War II, to Chen Xiangmei, a Chinese war correspondent. The couple lived in Louisiana, where their marriage was illegal under the state’s anti-miscegenation law.
Every interracial union writes another page in the book of Loving’s legacy. And yet, I start to worry this victory could be undermined.
It’s not due to any racist malintent that I worry these crucial gains are being undermined. Quite the opposite in fact. In 2020, American had a great racial awakening, after George Floyd’s horrifying murder was caught on tape. More and more people started to confront racism, which was of course a very positive change. Yet as the movement progressed, the necessary correction began to take a troubling turn.
I learned that some activists claim all white people are oppressors, while people of other racial groups are oppressed victims. I learned that they think that a racial power dynamic exists in every interaction between white and nonwhite people, and thus oppression is present in every activity of life. Acknowledging and fighting against white people’s oppressive role, I learned, is essential for “anti-racism.” And refusing to acknowledge it is “White Fragility.”
As the people around me became more deeply mired in this worldview, I wondered, where does interracial marriage belong in these narratives? Why would oppressed persons want to marry oppressors? And if these activists are right, wouldn’t we have to conclude that no authentic relationship could exist between white and nonwhite people?
When we got married, my husband promised “to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.” Is an oppressor capable of fulfilling this promise?
As someone who is deeply in love with a white person, I strongly disagree with this “oppressor/victim” narrative. It erases my love for my husband. It erases my humanity.
This is why I believe that to be truly anti-racist, we must uphold common humanity first.
It is counterproductive to fight racism with labels like “oppressor” and “fragility.” It only shuts down heartfelt conversations. It builds walls rather than breaking them down.
This view is one I developed over time. Along with my academic research, I have worked on various Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committees for years, where I became convinced of my human-centered view. But many of my fellow academics were moving in the opposite direction. After realizing that the anti-racist narrative of oppressor and oppressed had become the dominant view, I became afraid to speak up. I chose instead to wait. I told myself that people would soon realize this method is self-defeating and change course.
Then I saw K-12 schools quietly insert the “oppressor/victim” narrative into ethnic studies and social-emotional learning and I started to be truly afraid.
I thought of course of the children of interracial marriages. This misguided narrative could make these children doubt the authenticity of their parents’ marriage. They may lose faith in their parents’ love when the marriage is going through tough times. I do not want children to interpret a heated argument between my husband and me as a racial struggle between a white man and a Chinese woman, an epic battle between the oppressor and the oppressed.
In a country with an ugly history of slavery and racial segregation, interracial families have been the ground zero of fighting against prejudice and building bridges. We have spent time educating people about racism, including within our own families. Many white parents deeply feel the racism their mixed-race children face and take a more active role in fighting against interpersonal and structural racism.
And yet, if you believe the most extreme anti-racist activists, children born to interracial couples are not created by the love of two free and equal human beings, but the results of a relationship between an oppressor and a victim. How do you think this would impact how they see themselves?
I believed I had the right to be angry hearing this language take over, but I stayed quiet. There is so much fear going around when it comes to criticizing any aspect of the current anti-racist movement for fear being called a racist.
It was the movie Loving, based on the story of that loving couple that made my marriage possible, that woke me up. Watching Mrs. Mildred Loving say, “I will raise my family here, I do not care what they do to us,” I teared up. I felt like this courageous woman was speaking directly to me.
We should defend our intrinsic right to be free humans and the desire to be united as humans at all costs. We should all remember what the Supreme Court concluded, that “distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry” are “odious to a free people.”
I traveled half a world to settle in America. I will raise my family here. I will not allow misguided teachings to tarnish the sanctity of my marriage, invalidate my experience, and create divisions and chaos in my family.
I hope the millions of Lovings in the present day, as well people who cherish interracial marriage, will push back. Otherwise, the Lovings will have been effectively defeated by Virginia in the 2020s.
Dr. Ye Zhang Pogue lives in the Greater Boston area with her husband and two cats. As a researcher, she is interested in mental health, disparity, and race-related topics. Besides her research, she teaches immigrants civic skills.You can reach her at [email protected]
The views in this article are the writer’s own.