Loving: What We Don’t Talk About, When We Talk About Coupling In America

A few days before I saw Loving, I had a long conversation with my best friend about dating as a black woman in America. The highlights of the conversation were typical: annoyances over text messages that lead to nowhere, finding dudes, meeting people that aren’t creepy on the internet, and never meeting black dudes in spaces dominated by white people. You know, the usual grievances. Then my friend mentioned something noteworthy: “You know, in my office building, I see white guys checking me out all the time,” she said, “but they never do anything about it. Ever.”

Her statement wasn’t jarring to me, because it is common knowledge. Common knowledge to me and many black women I know. White men in many circumstances observe us and smile wide-toothily at us, but when it comes to following through: the asking the woman out on a date, nothing happens. I had another friend comment that white men just look past her, as if she was the wall in a building — there for functionality but not to be acknowledged. A third friend mentioned white men she meets through online dating services, who fetishize and assume her personality before they get to know her. I spent the days after that conversation thinking why is that? And it was in the aftermath of that discussion that I saw Loving.

For those who are less acquainted with the film, it is a fictionalized account of the 1967 Supreme Court Case that legalized interracial marriage in the US. The protagonists, Richard and Mildred Loving (played by Joel Egerton and Ruth Negga), take their case to the Supreme Court after violating a Virginia law that prohibits interracial marriage. When watching film reenactments of history, particularly films revolving around slavery and civil rights, I, the black viewer, always ask this question: is this film really necessary? (á la Nate Parker’s, Birth of A Nation.) And does Hollywood only distribute movies with black people when they are about slavery or civil rights?

It is also worth mentioning that a documentary called The Loving Story about Richard and Mildred Loving was made in 2011. Therefore, I entered the theatre without many expectations, questioning the necessity of a fictional account. I was wrong, and from all the sobbing I did during the film, it is completely necessary. Here is why the film works: The director’s use of minimal dialogue as a tool for exploring tension and the perspective of two introverted people whose lives became a nationwide controversy works very well.

The last notable director I’ve seen use minimal dialogue is Nicolas Refn. He muted Ryan Gosling’s character in Drive to subdue emotion, making him an enigma. Loving director Jeff Nichols uses the same dialogue tactics to accomplish the exact opposite and the results are breathtaking. What happens when you strip a civil rights story of pained monologues? In the case of Loving, what you get is an emotional language. This works not only because of Negga and Edgerton’s chemistry, but also because minimizing the dialogue reveals an emotional stake that isn’t just relevant to the world in the film: it captures the human need to protect our loved ones. It is what caused me, a black woman who is married to a white man, to sob from the beginning of this film till the end.

I won’t discuss the saccharine details of my relationship with my husband, our love, or any of the shit that makes single people plot our eventual demise. I won’t be that asshole, for I have been that single person. What I will say is, in the world of this film and from the looks my husband and I sometimes get, interracial couples are told that the person whom every instinct in their bone wants to shield from pain and injustices, is an other. In a scene from the film, Richard (Edgerton) spends hours waiting on his porch with a gun because he is afraid that someone might want to harm his family.

Nichols also plays with the notion of whether obeying a law that defies human dignity is right. In one scene, Richard Loving’s mother says, “You shouldn’t have married that girl.” And he responds, “I thought you liked her.” As if to say, fucking her is one thing, but marriage to a black woman?, that doesn’t seem right.
Which brings me back to the aforementioned conversation I had with my friend. I won’t declare that I now know why the majority of white men aren’t dating black women. But I will say this: the current attitude towards interracial dating (concerning black women in America) feels like some separate but equal bullshit. In that sense, not much has changed. How come it is fine to work with black women, befriend us, attend the same liberal arts classroom discussions as us, but not acknowledge us as potential mates?

This isn’t the 1950s where everyone marries the girl from their neighborhood. Today, we often put in the work to find companionship, so why are black women excluded from that playing field? For every white man reading this, I beg this question and I want an honest answer, why haven’t you ever dated a black woman? We are everywhere. It’s not that we want you necessarily, we just want you not to look through us. We are not translucent. We exist and like most other humans, we like to be acknowledged, especially when you dominate most of the spaces we are in.
We can dissect the inane argument that black women are angry/intimidating over and over again, but fail to convince people that this is a dim witted trope that was started by a poorly written, racist show titled Amos n Andy. The media and the public have been convinced that black women are a monolith.

Also, in a post-Lemonade America, I will be another black woman to publicly admit this to white people: I am angry. I’m angry because a white woman in my neighborhood looked over her shoulders numerous times as I walked behind her. Then paused to ensure that I walked past her to give her some distance. All this happened while I was in yoga pants, carrying a yoga mat — an outfit that, if I was a white girl, would look as threatening as a Lululemon shopper on a juice cleanse. Because I, who has never committed a jail worthy crime in my life, am afraid of the police. Because my mother always gets ignored by cashiers at the Macy’s counter in Florida, where she lives. And because whenever I walk down the street with my white husband, I get ridiculous looks from people. Wouldn’t you be angry?

The notion presented by the media that black women are angry is a kind of self fulfilling prophesy. When you reduce the range of our emotions, it perpetuates the singular emotion you attribute to us: anger. Simply put: when you tell me all I am is angry, well, it makes me angry. Black women are happy, sad, vulnerable, excited, joyous, frustrated and sometimes, overwhelmed. We are living, breathing, complex humans, and it would be great if that complexity made it into the language with which we are described.

We tend to sit around after we watch historical films, reflecting on how far we have come. However, in this situation, what is shocking is how little our attitudes have changed.
“You used to think you are black,” says Richard Loving’s friend in a scene from the film. I’m guessing this is because Loving was always around black people, “but when you go to work you were white. Now you know what it’s like.”

After watching Loving, it became apparent to me that to choose a black spouse is to give up a certain percentage of white privilege. It is to realize that you might have black children whose lives will be more difficult than yours, whose interactions with the police might be more severe. And if it is true that we as humans have a natural tendency to want to improve the lives of the generations that come after us, it is obvious why black people are not appealing as spouses. With the amount of work we have to do to find love in the technology-driven 21st century, who would seek out a more difficult life?

Samiat_ProfileSamiat Salami’s life goal is to earn enough money to hire someone else to write her bio. In person, she is the African girl with the confusing accent. She is currently writing and developing a web series about two ambiguously ethnic girl-women — it is named EASY.  She can be found browsing ethical clothing shops she can’t afford in Oakland or on her therapist’s couch. If you know the answer to what it all means, ‘it’ in this situation meaning life, let her know at samiatsalami.com. If you also want to pay her to write more rants on the internet, that’s cool too. Instagram/@SamiatSalami