More than two million marriages take place each year in the United States and, increasingly, they are uniting people of different races and ethnicities. Today, according to the Pew Research Center, one in six newlyweds in the United States is involved in a mixed marriage.
That is a fivefold increase from 1967, when the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in Loving v. Virginia, the decision that made interracial marriage legal across the nation. Last month, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Loving decision, The New York Times asked readers the question: Has being in an interracial relationship united or divided your family?
Nearly 200 people — not only couples, but children of intermarried parents — responded. In those responses, several themes emerged.
Mixed marriage in 2017 goes far beyond black and white, and might more aptly be called multicultural marriage. Children also tend to unite families; many couples wrote in to say that once they became parents, relations with their own parents improved. One interracial marriage tends to beget another; the children of intermarried couples tend to intermarry, if our readers are any guide.
We heard tales of hope and disappointment, fear and hurt feelings, struggles for acceptance, but most of all, love.
Here, in their own words, are a few of our readers’ stories, edited and condensed for clarity:
Angela Martano, 29, and Terrel Stokes, 28
Where they met: At work at a nonprofit in Boston.
Wedding set for January 2018
Angela: I come from an Italian Roman-Catholic suburban family. I am the first person in my family to date someone of a different race. It was very taboo! From the moment I told my parents about him over the phone, they knew he was black because he has a “black name.” My grandparents still can’t seem to get it right.
My family was immediately on guard about the relationship. There were other factors of classism thrown into the mix as well, which didn’t help. He was not Catholic, he didn’t go to college and he had a child from a previous relationship. Needless to say, this is not who my parents saw me ending up with.
Over the years that we’ve been together (six), my parents have indeed come around to my now-fiancé. However, it’s always been a struggle. The most embarrassing and horrifying thing my father ever asked my fiancé was if his relatives were slaves. I just wanted to crawl under the dinner table and never come out.
Now, even though he is a part of the family, he is seen as “the exception” because he’s family. I don’t know if my parents still really understand that their grandchildren will be black and what that will mean to them and to us.
Being in this relationship has pushed me to explore different parts of myself and learn more in general about our differences, which I think my parents still struggle with. However, in the words of a Negro spiritual, “We’ve come a long way.”
Naomi Wagnon and Kenny Wagnon, both 28
Where they met: At a birthday party. They were high school sweethearts.
Married in January 2011
Naomi: My parents raised me on the belief that we as Hispanics are just as smart and capable as anyone from another race. They encouraged me to have friends of all different ethnicities, so I was shocked when the good will was rescinded after I announced my relationship with a white guy.
My parents suddenly insisted that I wait for a Hispanic male who fit their ideal and to break up with the “ugly, stupid white boy!”
Long story short, I cut off my parents for two years, then invited them to be part of our wedding or not to bother talking with us any further. My husband and I will be celebrating 14 years together soon, and I’m not sure my parents are over their disappointment. We are all civil with each other, but there will probably always be a rift in the background.
I’m not sure how they will handle their feelings if we have kids, but my husband is my best friend and we cherish our relationship even more because of our differences.
Jake Clark, 24, and Reon Cloete, 28
Where they met: Online.
Married in March
Jake: I married my gay, Namibian-born husband in a small Minnesota chapel in a largely all-white community this March. The church was covered with German writing, and since my partner’s family didn’t have the notice to attend, the small audience was almost entirely blue-eyed and blond. Our marriage announcement shocked almost everyone in our families, as did our plan to marry within the next couple of weeks.
My all-white, largely rural family had mixed reactions. Some conservative family members refused to see the relationship or marriage, while others have embraced this as a learning and growth opportunity. An aunt studied Namibia’s geography and history; my parents watched a lecture by the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; and my grandmother and father, who grew up with notions of fear, mistrust and welfare abuse for communities of color, have embraced Reon as a son and grandson. Reon’s family navigates an equally complex history of apartheid and homophobia, and yet his mother sends me weekly blessings on WhatsApp.
The result is a more united family, but above that, I think it’s a testament to people’s flexibility. My grandmother has rarely left her farm and rural community of 150 people. I doubt she could name more than a couple of black people by name, but she made it clear to my family of 60-plus uncles, aunts and cousins that a rejection of me and my partner would result in a rejection from her. Her warning before our first Thanksgiving last November was that if anyone said anything, she would be leaving the event with us.
The vast majority of my extended family has seen little variance in their lives, but the majority of them have chosen us over stereotype, and love over rejection. While many coastal liberals see Trump-supporting rural dwellers as beyond salvation, I’ve seen an incredible capacity for change, acceptance and growth.
Tasnim Shahjahan, 30, and Kem Ramirez, 35
Where they met: In graduate school.
Tasnim: When I first told my parents about our relationship, they cried for three days before calling me back. People often think that being opposed to interracial relationships is for uneducated and untraveled folks. I disagree.
In the immigrant community, the need to protect your culture is strong. Ideally, immigrants will often prefer their children marry within their own culture and race. And if they are religious, then within their religion. And when that doesn’t happen, it is often a shock to the community where the couple often face discrimination and rejection. It doesn’t matter, the number of degrees you have or the number of countries you’ve lived in or visited.
My partner, Kem, is both from a different country — I was born in Bangladesh and he grew up in Peru — and a different religion from me. But we are both Americans who immigrated during childhood. This makes it worse because religion is harder to go against than culture or race. With culture or race, you can argue for inclusion, saying, “The times are changing and people are becoming more progressive and open-minded.” With religion, that argument doesn’t work. You are going against God’s laws, therefore you are to be shunned. The end.
Facing that discrimination from my own family, I am now less religious and less attached to my culture. Now, my parents are reluctantly on board and have accepted our relationship. We have come a long way together.
Robin Ligon-Eaton, 51, and Maynard Eaton, 67
Where they met: At an arts center in Atlanta.
Married in June
Robin: My blond, blue-eyed father had an interracial relationship with the African-American dancer and singer Josephine Baker when he lived in Europe in the 1950s. Ironically, even though this was a well-known legend in my family, when I decided to wed a biracial (Native American and black) jazz musician in the 1990s, my father had an issue with it. When I told him that “the apple does not fall far from the tree,” he stated that he was a man, which made the difference.
My daughter, Colette, was born in 1993 and was estranged from the funeral of my father in 1994, which was a terrible and regrettable irony. I never thought and still don’t think about age or race when I am in social or personal circles. Last week, my new husband and I joyously tied the knot in New Orleans with a traditional Jazz second-line parade.
We live in Atlanta, which is racially polarized and very difficult to navigate personally and professionally. For such an international city, with a storied history and present steeped in civil rights, do we not also have the right to love one another without reservation or fear of contempt from persons on both sides of the fence?
It takes a very strong resolve to stand these daily tests, but we are willing to stand firm. As writers and artists, our broad and diverse worldviews are a blessing. The combined ancestry of French, African, Miami and Cherokee Indian in our union is and will always be embraced and celebrated. Love, as in the story of the Lovings, is all about the heart and not about the color of the skin.
Myra Clark-Foster, 65, and Howard Andrew Foster, 66
Where they met: High school study hall.
Married in August 2015
Myra: Howard Andrew Foster and I began dating during the racially turbulent ’60s. After graduation in 1969 from West High School in Columbus, Ohio, Andrew, as his family calls him, attended what is now called Columbus State Community College. I attended The Ohio State University.
Andrew asked to meet me in front of the O.S.U. Student Union. He told me that he didn’t think we should see each other because society wasn’t going to let us be happy. He said he just wanted me to be happy. I said nothing. We embraced one last time, turned and walked away. About a block away, we both turned around and waved. I think we were saying, “See you later.”
During my career with Mount Carmel Hospice, I met a nurse whose daughter was married to Andrew’s son. A lot transpired in the next two years. Andrew had a near-death health crisis in January 2011, and woke up on his 61st birthday with a colostomy. In the months ahead he endured several surgeries; the colostomy was eventually reversed and he is healthy today.
We finally reconnected on Labor Day weekend 2013, and married Aug. 1, 2015. Our families were intricately involved. My nephew married us, my sister-in-law was my matron of honor, Andrew’s father was his best man. My brother walked me to the altar and also prayed an original prayer that he wrote. Another nephew and his wife, Sarah, provided music. Yet another nephew, Cameron, was the D.J. along with his father, Al. I walked to Sarah singing ‘‘Unchained Melody.’’
So 45 years later we are married and happy. Together at last.
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