50 Years Ago My Family Would've Been Illegal

Photographed by Brandon King.
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I can't imagine going to City Hall for my marriage license and being denied for no other reason than my race. I can't imagine living in a time like that, and fortunately don't have to. Though skin like mine is still under fire in the United States. I am first generation Caribbean-American and happily, comfortably, and legally married to my Indonesian-Dutch husband, who might be recognized as Asian today and white-passing tomorrow, depending on who is looking at him.
But Loving Day, celebrated June 12, takes on even deeper meaning for me as a mother: Being able to raise our child in a secure and nurturing environment with two parents who don't look the same but love him the same is paramount.
It's difficult to grasp that the laws granting us that right are only 50 years old today. My parents are older than that. While on paper, the 1967 decision in Loving vs. Virginia meant people of different races were now legally allowed to wed in America, to me it goes so much deeper: There's the added level of my Blackness not being seen as human, and of my son's very existence being seen as unacceptable.
Miscegenation laws date back as far as the 1620s, and like many other things in American history served the purpose of upholding white supremacy. They forbade marriages between white and Black people, and sought to deem sexual relations not permissible, either. They were key in defining who could be deemed free people, since the constant sexual assault of Black bodies by white slave owners created a new and large population of mixed-race children, and then adults, and then ancestors, who moved through the world with varying ease and respect (something my husband and I experience differently even today).

There's courageousness in fighting for your kind of love to be recognized as normal, as humane, as yours to define.

By 1914, 41 states had laws prohibiting interracial marriage. People who broke these laws inevitably encountered loss: Their marriage would be declared void, which meant any children they had were considered illegitimate, and any property or inheritance would be lost. That concept of loss comes into sharper focus for me thinking about my son. We've wrestled with how to broach the topic of race since he was born, being sure we could remain active and consistent about carrying on these conversations. We live in Amsterdam now, and have a community around us of many interracial families.
As a mom, I can only hope my child doesn't feel disrespected or endangered because of the way he looks, because of the background we have given him. As an American, I also have to confront a history that would have him not exist at all. And so we talk about it. We expose him to our varying heritages and explain how lucky he is to have so many coursing through him. And we own the evolution of the country in which we met: It is because of this relatively young law that I was able to marry my husband in my hometown, by the Manhattan Bridge. It is because of this law that we are legally recognized as a family. It is because of this law that we can love our baby out loud in the open, without fear.
There's courageousness in fighting for your kind of love to be recognized as normal, as humane, as yours to define. If doing this meant losing my citizenship 50 years ago, I would have without hesitation. Instead, leaving the United States was a choice for my family; and at least for now we can come and go as we please, which means together. I am grateful to the Loving family for being those courageous soldiers, so that my life could unfold after. So that my son could be.
Sherisa de Groot is a writer and editor based in Amsterdam. She is the founding editor of Raising Mothers, an online literary magazine focusing on mothers of color raising multiracial families. Find out more about Raising Mothers here or follow along via Facebook and Instagram.

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