Disclaimer: I received an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an open and honest review.
This book has a special place for me in my heart. I am a product of an interracial marriage and my own marriage is interracial as well. When I think about it, that 50 years ago, the relationships that produced my most salient identities was illegal, I am in such shock. Maybe I shouldn’t be, but the ‘post-racial America’ myth is so pervasive, sometimes I can forget how recent people of color gained their civil rights (by law). Even though laws are passed, the system of racism is alive and well.
Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case by Patricia Hruby Powell and beautifully illustrated by Shadra Strickland is a short retelling of the journey of Mildred and Richard Loving as they appeal their sentence against the state of Virginia. The novel is written in verse and switches back and forth between the perspective of Mildred and Richard. Their journey starts way back when they were young and talk about how they met and how they started dating. Many of the recollections detail the discrimination they face when out in public and choose many times to meet in secret to avoid it. The novel continues through the Loving’s marriage in Washington D.C., their arrest in Virginia, their first trial and sentencing, their appeals, and finally the Supreme Court decision, striking down any law in the United States barring interracial marriage.
One thing I did notice is how even though Richard, who is White, was shunned by folks in the White community, Mildred, who is Black, got the worst of the discrimination. This is not surprising to me because we see people of color disproportionally get treated worse when fighting for civil rights than White allies. While the book did not explore this in depth, I think it is important to bring up as a discourse about power dynamics in interpersonal relationships and how oppressive systems affect one person more than the other. I talk more about this later in the review.
I really appreciated the history scattered throughout the novel, breaking up the personal narratives of the two main characters. For as much I know about the case, this timeline and attention to teaching actual fact really helped me solidify my understanding from the first ruling in Virginia to the final Supreme Court decision. In my opinion, this would be a good first entry point for someone who knows nothing or knows little about the Loving vs. Virginia case. The author explains many of the key points, but does not inundate the reader like a history text book. One piece of the story I did not know that really irked me was the response to the appeal filed in the state court in Virginia. The judge denied the appeal stating that interracial marriage should be illegal because God placed people of different races on different continents, showing that He did not want races to be mixed… Ugh. Disgusting. Mildred Loving cleverly replies, if that’s true then White people should have stayed in Europe and never should have taken Black folks in the slave trade.
Thinking about interracial marriage always makes me think of power dynamics based on race in relationships. I think this book does well with illustrating the case and how White supremacy and the myth of blood mixing contributed to the resistance to interracial marriage and overall integration. However, it does not address interpersonal power dynamics within the marriage or romantic relationship itself. I think it is hard to recognize because when we form romantic relationships and marriages, it is hard to imagine one person subjecting the other to stereotypes, unconscious bias, and even perpetuate systems of oppression, all rooted in hate and bigotry… Because we love each other. Just because two people marry, just because two people have love for one another does not exempt them from facing the ever present system of racism.
Questions and situations flow through my head whenever I think about interracial marriage… “What do I do when my partner microagresses against me?” “What are we going to teach our children about race?” “What do I do if I am out with my partner and someone uses a racial slur at me?” “How will I be perceived by my partners family?” And so on and so on. Without getting too personal, in my experience, clear and honest communication is the best way to start expressing the intent and impact of certain situations and taking responsibility for that impact. This does not only apply to White and POC couples, but with couples each from their own marginalized communities. We are socialized within the system of colorism and we carry the baggage of White Supremacy with us. For example, I was recently reading about reasons why Asian/Pacific Islander (API) communities sometimes have a hard time support the Black community. Myths set up by the dominant culture has made Whiteness desirable and encourages API folks to strive for it. This effectively separates the two communities of color. Interracial couples will never be perfect about race because we live in a racialized society. What we can do is educate ourselves, talk about race, and recognize it as an important dynamic in the relationship.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book and the brief history lesson with it. This is a book I would definitely own so my future children and family will remember and know the Loving family and what they did . Look for Loving vs. Virginia releasing at the end of next January, 2017.
Final Rating: 4.1/5