Loving: Race and the Modern American Couple

By Melissa Wells
Photographed by Catherine Argyrople

This article has been adapted for the web from our Intimacy Issue.

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There is a type of love that is on the rise, no longer illegal or taboo but still seen as unusual: the love between people of different races. In part due to growing public acceptance on a generational level, the modern couple of today is more and more likely to be interracial.

Loving beyond boundaries is an act that may have seemed radical, even unfathomable once, but is changing America nonetheless. Progress, at any rate, should be celebrated. But as much as America has evolved, so have the manners in which racism, sexism and homophobia thrive within American society. With society advocating for same-sex love, navigating the modern dating scene and changing the ways love is represented in the media, conversations concerning interracial relationships are pushed to the side. People assume that the challenges interracial relationships face have been overcome, but it is now that the conversation is more important than ever.

Despite how common multiracial and multiethnic relationships and families have become, many in this country would refuse to enter a relationship with someone outside of their race. Surveys across the country show that intermarriage sees support, but different ethnic and racial communities throughout the United States tend to oppose racial mixing, especially within one’s own family.

This segregation also lends itself to socially acceptable discrimination within modern dating. Men and women alike cite racial stereotypes and/or struggles of dating someone outside of one’s race to justify their personal preference for dating within “their own", yet citing that same reasoning for why one wouldn’t want a neighbor of color is unacceptable. In other words, both are discriminatory and should be equally unacceptable in American society.

Although same-sex dating is slowly becoming more accepted in America, it is still informed by the same systems that create racism in heterosexual people. To be in both an interracial and same-sex relationship is particularly meaningful as it challenges American society to confront how it views same-sex relationships on top of narrow-minded notions regarding racial divisions.

Interracial couples intrinsically counter antiquated social attitudes, yet the popular assumption is that multiracial children are the antithesis of white supremacy. A clear example of this was when Chrissy Teigen emerged seemingly victorious from a Twitter spat with neo-Nazi Richard Spencer for the mere fact that she had a “black/Asian/white baby.” But upholding multiraciality as the antithesis of racism allows racism to thrive, a sentimentality evoked by mothers of multiracial families within the media like Ellen Pompeo and Chrissy Teigen. Moreover, both are quick to applaud their children meanwhile reinforcing racial misconceptions and tropes.

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In this transition from colorblind to culturally “woke,” Sheryll Cashin believes interracial love plays a role in saving America: “From blindness to sight, from anxiety to familiarity...love can make people do uncomfortable things...Culturally dexterous people have an enhanced capacity for intimate connections with people outside their own [race], for recognizing and accepting difference rather than pretending to be colorblind. And if one undertakes the effort, the process is never-ending.”

White supremacy cannot be removed from all the aspects of life it permeates by the mere diversification of the American populace. However, those who pursue interracial intimacy provide America’s greatest hope for racial understanding.

Racism may be both persistent and adaptable, but heterosexual and homosexual interracial couples provide the changed narrative needed to challenge it: their existence forces people to confront how their love transcends entrenched ignorance. Teaching cultural competency, fostering conversation, and demanding inclusive representation are some ways that Americans remain steadfast in a conviction against racism, homophobia, and sexism the country still struggles with.

Furthermore, by translating popular belief into a celebration of interracial love and “multiracialness” that doesn’t reinforce racial hierarchies, America can potentially evolve from the system of racial categorization and the inequality, oppression, and stereotypes that come with it.

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In the face of the same sentiments that thwarted Richard and Mildred Loving’s relationship fifty years ago—along with some new factors that reduce their love to narratives for aesthetic purposes—interracial intimacy continues to increase and serves as living proof that nothing will keep people from loving one another. They are testaments to the power of a love that refuses to stand down to anything. They are the result of progress; as love evolves into seeing beyond racial constructs, the upswing of interracial couples gives way to an inevitably multiracial future undeterred by the political and racial discourse in the world around them. America needs to recreate the image of how interracial love is portrayed in politics, in the media, in pop culture, in classrooms, and in history.

Every generation is bettered by a love that makes America a more diverse and beautiful place. Interracial intimacy reaches people across all racial lines, fostering empathy for the value of relationships. But they can’t be on the front lines alone. It is through loving and activism going hand-in-hand that America will dismantle embedded structures birthed through supremacy. And it is through these efforts that we can paint a better future, a future in which headlines twenty to fifty years from now do not reflect a violent history towards interracial couples that continues to repeat itself.  

Loving is a good start.