The Historical Significance of My Marriage

Posted on 05. Feb, 2013 by in Philosophy

Dear Thriving Wife,

I’ve spoken so much about what my marriage means to me, but this past week I’ve realized its significance to others as well.

I was born in 1978, and luckily for me, the challenging, uplifting and often heart wrenching stories I learned in school about the Civil Rights Movement were just that, stories.  My husband was born in 1966, a year that is significant to me (and to us) for one very particular reason: It was one year before the Supreme Court outlawed the anti-miscegenation laws in the United States, which kept interracial marriage illegal and punishable by law in many states.

Richard and Mildred Loving

Richard and Mildred Loving

This was the case for Richard and Mildred Loving (gotta love their last name), who were arrested on their wedding night, which turned what should have been a romantic and celebratory evening, into the realization that their decision to love each other was actually illegal and punishable according to the state of Virginia’s laws.

To me, my husband is many things. He is kind, he is generous, he has the capacity to accept all of who I am and see all that I have to offer.  My husband is also a White Jewish American Man.  I put all of these descriptive words in capital letters because in our society they do mean something.

I am Nigerian, which means I am black, but I grew up hearing my parents speak Igbo and referring to us according to our language and our tribe.  I do my best to be loving and giving and open and filled with capacity for myself, my community and my husband.  But, I am also a Black Nigerian American Woman.  And, as I mentioned with my husband, these words hold a weight that I sometimes forget, but my recent visit to Montgomery, Alabama for a family wedding reminded me of that weight.

My family was not enslaved in the United States. We have a history of violence and colonization as a former British colony, but unlike many African Americans, I do not have roots in the deep south.  So, I think I was able to go on this trip with a certain detachment from the past, while still keeping everything I knew and learned in mind.

Was I capable of being open minded?  We stayed in downtown Montgomery, a few blocks away from Martin Luther King Jr’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, and it was then, looking around me, and seeing signs that said things like “Old Alabama Town” and “Confederate Highway” that made me so aware of the not so distant history that happened right where I was visiting.

I love my husband and I know he loves me.  And yet, as we pulled into town and stopped at a marvelous local pizza joint in downtown Montgomery, I was made very aware of my surroundings as I leaned in to kiss my husband and watched him kiss me back with frightened eyes.

He kissed me with eyes that said I am supposed to protect you.  He kissed me with eyes that said I am supposed to protect us.  He kissed me with eyes that said it may be 2013, but in my mind someone could look at us the wrong way and decide we’re not supposed to be here, like this, together.

And history came flooding into that room with the red dimmed lights. He could not see who was behind us at the bar, he later told me, and he needed to see who was there to know everything was going to be okay.

When my husband was born, our marriage wouldn’t have held up to many state laws in the South, which insisted on keeping the races separate.  I married the man I love because I love him and because we so enjoy being around each other.  I also married him because I learn so much in the process of being with him.

That night as we chatted with our waitresses about race relations in Alabama, we both let go of some of our fears about racism and what it meant in our lives as and interracial and intercultural couple.  But we also were reminded of how lucky we were to be able to choose each other without spending our wedding night in jail.