June 12 is not just another day to me

June 14, 2017

By John Gauthier*

June 12 was the 50th anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia case, in which the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional any state laws barring marriage based on race. This is of special significance to me as my wife, Dana, and I are an interracial couple living in Maryland, which also had anti-miscegenation laws which would have prevented us to marry in this state, or to be legally recognized had we lived in that time.

June 12 is a day I celebrate, and a day that I deplore. This day reminds me of my ignorance, and the willful rejection of so many of us to take seriously the blatant, fundamental issues in our society. It also reminds me of the danger of relying on government alone to fix social problems.

Race had never been a major focus of my life. I was raised in predominantly White northern Illinois by parents who were largely neutral about racial issues. As a family, I think we always believed that a person's worth was largely self-determined and that 99 times out of 100, each person had an equal opportunity to make of themselves what they wished, and if they didn't, blame rested largely on their shoulders.

Then I met Dana.

I didn't understand what I was experiencing at first, when people would stare at us, or when I'd watch her get trailed in a retail store by a security guard, or when the fast-food cashier, not knowing we were together, was rude to her, but brightened as soon as I stepped up. When her niece, nephew and I were jeered-at twice within a 20-minute period walking down a street in Raleigh, I chalked it up to “The South.” But as more and more of these experiences stacked up, I started to see something that I simply didn't understand before: Being Black in America IS a fundamentally and demonstrably different experience than being White in America.

Consider this: my father didn't graduate high school. His mother likely had Bi-Polar Disorder or something of the like and was institutionalized from the time he was around 12. He was moved from downtown Chicago to a dirt-floored farmhouse in Northern Wisconsin right around that same time. He worked his tail off to attain and obtain all he had. My mother grew up on the south side of Chicago with an overbearing mother and a hard-working father, and didn't graduate high school, either. My family is a classic case of the “American Dream” sort of path, so far as that goes. But through all the hardship, all the difficulty that they had getting to where they arrived, they never had the cards intentionally stacked against them.

Dana's family had a fairly similar background. All the way back to the record of sale of one of her ancestors as a “wedding gift” just before the end of slavery (which is as far as we have been able to trace), Dana's family is a mix of hard-working farmers and laborers, with one, I think, major difference: Dana's great-great-great-grandparents lived among those who owned them.

Dana's great-great-grandparents lived among those who worked hard to establish institutional racial segregation. Dana's great-grandparents and grandparents (still alive today) lived among those who could dispossess and kill them with impunity, and those who actively sought to keep them from voting, from military/public service, from business ownership, from schooling, from. Dana's parents lived among those who fought stridently to hold onto the institution of segregation and legally enforced discrimination. And Dana went to school with the children of men and women who were (are?) active members of the KKK.

And let's examine today: Laws were passed to bar discrimination and to annul previous laws demanding or allowing segregation, etc. Mind you, these were passed at the federal level, because the powers in the states that had these laws refused to do so themselves. It is interesting to note that the last anti-miscegenation law wasn't repealed until 1999... do you think all this changed enough minds?

With today's open resurgence of what I would argue was an undercurrent of resentment and racism in the form of the Alt-Right movement and others, and with the obvious pandering and passive-aggressiveness from both political parties over the last 50 years, along with covertly and overtly targeted legislation from lawmakers over that time, I would say no.

My daughter, Lyra, will be born this summer. I want to see her grow up and live in a nation full of people genuinely capable of looking beyond the superficial to see the content of her character. But I know that the only genuine path to this is to be a living example of this every day, in everything I do. You might say that it only matters to me because I now have skin in the game. But what I have learned is that we all have a stake in this, and we always have. If the Loving case and the broader civil rights movement has taught us anything, it’s that we cannot wait for our institutions to be ethical for us, we cannot allow our churches to be loving and open for us, we cannot expect another to do make the difficult choices on our behalf.

Friends and family, this isn't about guilt. It is about facing a reality that is there in front of us: that if we believe in liberty and justice for all, it REQUIRES us to recognize that there still are serious social issues which cannot alone be solved by government. It is acknowledging that our experiences in this country can and do differ based on something as arbitrary and inconsequential as the color of our skin... or our gender, or our sexual orientation/identity, or our country of origin. Solving these issues takes personal involvement and investment on a daily basis to make a difference in your communities.

Moreover, listen to your neighbors and don't allow your thoughts to be couched in whatever political party you adhere to. Have the courage to name the flaws in our own perceptions and actions, and openly stand up for those affected by racism, bigotry, and violence in our communities. We cannot afford to stand idly by when there is a real chance that law and policy toward race might officially regress back toward the pit from whence it came. What more eloquent a name can there be to exemplify this struggle: Loving v …..

*John Gauthier is the District Administrator for the Baltimore Suburban District in the Baltimore-Washington Conference

Penny Hansel Jun 16, 2017 5:01pm

It is wonderful to read a true story like this one where words are clear and true and hopefully make a difference. I've lived most of my life in small rural towns where there has been little to no diversity, including of race or culture. I have personally perceived that as loss. I am in the process of writing a book for my grandchildren, telling them my personal thoughts, beliefs and happenings. At this time I am speaking to this very topic. A memory that will last forever is when I stood before a TV and watched as dogs and hoses were turned upon peacefully demonstrating black people. Even then, they remained peaceful. Thank you for printing this life story for us to read and meditate upon.

Bill Garrard Jun 16, 2017 5:48pm

Thank you for pointing out what many of the privileged class can easily ignore. Love demands we engage in this Gospel call to stand together in this struggle to see and act so that all are treated with the respect and fairness that their imago dei requires.

Ophelia Jun 16, 2017 6:58pm

Thanks for sharing the heart of your story. Blessings to you, Dana and your baby. Shalom

Arthur Dan Gleckler Jun 16, 2017 9:52pm

Beautiful statement, John. Proud, and grateful, to have you serving among us. Dan Gleckler

Carla Jun 16, 2017 11:24pm

Thank you for sharing your story. As an elderly white woman, who is in her 80s, I can honestly say that I am not very proud of some of my fellow Caucasians. We are all the same race, the human race, and I cannot fathom why some people do not understand this.

Carla Jun 17, 2017 2:01pm

Yes, granted the, racist driven, Jim Crow Laws, are no longer "on the books," but, racism is still very much alive and well, I am ashamed to say. This view was even more evident, even to those who may have ignored it, when the articulate, brilliant President Obama was elected. President Obama restored our standing in the world, and brought us back from the brink of a depression. Those facts seem to have been ignored, by some, during his eight years in office.
So it will be with our LBGT sisters and brothers. Yes, the SCOTUS voted for Marriage Equality just as they voted in favor of Interracial Marriage, but there will always be some, in our nation, who will not accept that we are all God's Children, and we are all one race, and we all need to be respected for the people we are. If there is to be any "judgement" it should be on the way we treat others, our work ethic, our compassion, and our competence, and not our skin color, sexual orientation or gender identity.

David Roberts Jun 23, 2017 3:37pm

Having married a woman from Wisconsin (where the city of Appleton forbade African Americans from being there after dark) and living close to York, Pa. (I never heard of race riots there, on the northern side of the Mason-Dixon Line), I have learned that there is prejudice everywhere. My wife was raised to fear Native Americans (there weren't African Americans where she grew up), and I have been told by Northerners that I couldn't possibly be a Southerner because I talk too fast (I was born in Mississippi and lived there till I was 12, then lived in Louisiana till I was 22, so I think that counts enough to make me a Southerner). And people in the South frequently considered Northerners as cold, heartless people, different from "friendly Southerners." I tell people that there is nothing that is true for everyone in a group; to believe that there is, is prejudice, in my opinion.

Phyllis Dunham Jun 27, 2017 2:17pm

Well stated. Thank you.
God Bless You and Your Family.

Mark Smiley Jul 25, 2017 9:44am

John, what a beautiful, loving, honest, challenging, deeply personal reflection. I appreciate your honesty and your willingness to share. I am so glad you are among us. I just performed the funeral for my 52 year old cousin, Sue, who died from complications of breast cancer. She and her husband, Darnell, were of different races, and they and their children had numerous challenges along the way. However, I have never seen more love in a marriage and family. I am awed by their devotion to one another. John, I am awed by your devotion to your wife and emerging family, along with your elegantly expressed awareness of race and racism from your own perspective. Thank you for sharing this with us. May God bless your marriage and family. I pray that we will be able to support and stand in the gap with you and others who are creating ever more beautiful blends of humanity. We are family.
Your brother and friend,