I have a confession to make. I didn’t get the flap about the Cheerios commercial at first, because I wasn’t looking at it. I had the TV on in the background, and unless you’re looking at the TV, that commercial sounds just like any other commercial.
When I did see it, though, I did a little fist-pumping. An interracial couple…no, it’s better than that. It’s a family. And they’re behaving just like any other family. How cool is that?
In a way, the Cheerios family reminds me of the Lovings, whose Supreme Court decision we celebrate today on the Loving Day Blog Hop. The Cheerios couple isn’t the first to turn up in American television advertising, just as the Lovings weren’t the first interracial couple to be married in the United States. Coffee Mate and Ikea both featured interracial couples before Cheerios. (I couldn’t find Kim and Adam, the interracial couple testing their new Ikea mattress, but here’s another ad for your viewing pleasure.) The Lovings were married very legally in Washington, D.C., before moving back to Virginia, where the trouble started. At the time, interracial marriage was illegal in 24 states – but very legal in the other 26.
So what’s different with Cheerios? What’s different with the Lovings?
It’s the unwillingness to back down. It’s courage. It’s the steadfast belief that interracial couples are and ought to be just like all other couples.
Television advertising is notoriously gun shy about even the appearance of offense, and General Mills got an earful from racists when it unveiled its interracial couple. But the company refused to back down in the face of public pressure. “There are many kinds of families, and Cheerios celebrates them all,” Camille Gibson, vice president of marketing for Cheerios, said in USAToday.
When the Lovings pleaded guilty to being married interracially in Virginia, their prison sentence (and take a second here to really consider the fact that there was a prison sentence) was suspended on the condition that they leave Virginia and not return as a couple for the next 25 years. They moved to Washington, where they’d been married in the first place, and this story might have ended there. Mildred and Richard shunned publicity, and neither of them was trying to make a huge public stand when they challenged the Virginia law. All they wanted was to be able to visit Virginia – the place they both called home – as a married couple.
Guys, you’ve got to check this out on the Life magazine website – the Lovings were the cutest of couples.
The Lovings got what they asked for in 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court found Virginia’s law, and all the nation’s remaining anti-miscegenation laws, unconstitutional. They returned to Virginia, where they spent the rest of their lives. Forty-six years after the decision, popular culture has covered a lot of ground. I can remember a time, not long ago at all, when interracial couples on television were few and far between. Their appearance often meant you were about to see a very special episode or that you were going to be treated to a lot of good-natured ribbing at the couple’s expense (remember George Jefferson and Tom Willis?). At one point this year, prime time network television was home to more interracial couples than I could keep up with. The writers, in the understanding that those relationships are not a pedagogical tool, are not focusing on the interracial component.
It’s the story, not the swirl. Put that way, I almost don’t mind missing the first season of Scandal. Almost.
We’ve made lots of headway. Interracial couples aren’t fighting for recognition in quite the same way today. Corporate America defends their identity as couples, just like other couples.
But there are still holdouts in the so-called real world. I myself have been seated near the kitchen door on dates with white boyfriends. Well-meaning friends have suggested that the course of true love would run more smoothly if I stuck to my own kind. People stare, although in fairness, I’ve been known to stare at an interracial couple just to see if they’re a couple.
Yeah, I’m not much better. You see, when I say “interracial couple,” I’m thinking of black people and white people. I shouldn’t ignore the rest of the world’s diversity, but I acknowledge that I’m guilty of doing so.
We’ve come a long way. We haven’t come nearly far enough. Still, the world’s changed a lot in my parents’ lifetime, and I see more change to come in mine. My hope is that my niece will grow up in a time of true marriage equality.
Let freedom smooch.
OMG! I screwed up and forgot to mention that Delaney Diamond has the next stop on the hop! Go see her — please!
**I join more than 30 other blogs today to celebrate Loving Day with the Loving Day Blog Hop! Check out the roster for other great stops on the hop (Koko Brown, Afton Locke, Vallory Vance, and my sister in swirl, Tracey Livesay, among others, join us today). And just to keep things interesting, I’m going to give away a copy of my book, ILLICIT IMPULSE, to some lucky commenter (relevant to my post, before midnight, Pacific Time, on 6/12/13) below! Happy swirling, my friends.