Intimate kindness unites people
The theme of this article is kindness and intimacy. I try to connect this theme with events that inspired Loving Day on June 12th to the present day.
Loving v. Virginia
Loving Day commemorates the day in history when the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Loving v. Virginia to strike down all anti-miscegenation laws in 1967 (laws that made mixed-race marriages illegal). Chief Justice Earl Warren’s written decision described Virginia’s ban as one “designed to maintain white supremacy.”
Backstory: The Lovings
Richard and Mildred Loving were married in June 1958 in Washington, DC. They were arrested after returning to Virginia for violating the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which forbade interracial marriage. From 1661 until the Supreme Court’s 1967 ruling, forty-one states had laws penalizing interracial marriages that discouraged or prohibited whites from marrying blacks and non-whites. In 1958, only 4% of Americans approved of interracial marriages. By 2007, 77% approved.
The change occurred because Loving v. Virginia removed legal barriers to interracial intimacy and interracial love. People were now allowed, as Sheryll Cashin writes in her book Loving, to begin to move away from “racial blindness”. They could:
“transition from blindness to seeing, from anxiety to familiarity that comes with intimate cross-racial contact in what was a process of acquiring dexterity. And if one chooses to undertake the effort, the process is never-ending. Some folks are more dexterous than others.
Cashin believes one doesn’t have to marry, date, or adopt a person of another race to experience transformational love or to acquire what she calls ‘cultural dexterity’ — an enhanced capacity for intimate connections with people outside one’s tribe. This includes intimate friendships. Cashin says Richard Loving was exceptional in his ability to be kind, open-minded, make friends, and have genuine relationships across racial lines. Cashin believes communities and society will become more culturally dextrous as people across race form friendships and genuinely care about advancing the well-being of others without expecting something in return. It feels like a kinder society.
The 1967 ruling made interracial intimacy and interracial love legal and brought it out in the open. Mingling was easier for Mildred and Richard growing up in Central Point, a community in Caroline Country, Virginia, where working-class whites, blacks, and Native Americans mostly got along and were friendly. Richard grew up having “Negro and colored friends”. He hung out with Mildred’s brothers and listened to bluegrass music at their house. His two best friends were African-American with whom he co-owned a race car where he and Mildred partook in drag-racing. Local drag strips in the south were known for interracial tolerance and diversity. At a personal level, locals in the community, despite their differences, got along. Jim Crow laws were still enforced as Mildred had to attend an inferior, colored school while Richard went to a better-resourced white school.
Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor in their book On Kindness, write that kindness has different meanings but is fundamentally about “open-heartedness”.
Real kindness changes people in the doing of [selfless acts], often in unpredictable ways. It is a risk precisely because it mingles our needs and desires with the needs and desires of others, in a way that so-called self-interest never can.
The authors believe a better life for the individual leads to a better communal life with others and vice versa. Simply put, kindness makes us happy. If you’re kind to someone, and they’re kind to you, you’ll both be happier. Yet, people are often not as kind as they want to be. It might be because society tends to favor and reward the more self-reliant, successful, and competitive among us. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Don’t mistake kindness for weakness.” But people often do associate kindness with weakness instead of strength.
Kindness during COVID
As the pandemic has shown, people are much kinder during a catastrophe. Extraordinary acts of kindness and stories get told and retold. American John Krasinski created Some Good News. Canadians Heather Down and Catherine Kenwell wrote a book titled, Not Cancelled: Canadian Kindness in the Face of COVID-19. People’s kindness abounds and stretches to their outer limits when suffering is seen and felt.
Medical doctor, Dr. Jud Brewer writes about why kindness is more infectious than Covid-19. He says social contagion is about the spread of emotion from one person to another. It is neither confined by boundaries or distance. In summer 2020, Bill, a white man lost Abbey, his 20-year old daughter. He met Jack, the 20-year old black man who suffered a heart attack and was his daughter’s heart recipient. The father broke down after hearing his daughter’s heart in the man. A tragic death that ended up saving a life through an act of kindness and brought comfort to a grieving father.
Brewer says the neuroscience shows that:
Kindness kills our fears that people who don’t look like us are dangerous. Generosity kills our worries that we’re alone in this. Being nice kills our doubts that we can work together.
He quotes a speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made in 1957 speaking about how goodwill between people often overflows with love seeking nothing in return. Dr. King says,
“[T]he end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends.
Biggest Regret: Not being kinder
Award-winning American author George Saunders delivered the convocation speech at Syracuse University to the class of 2013. His biggest regret was that he was not kinder to people while chasing success. His awesome speech deserves to be watched in full. Parts of his speech are below.
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet.It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.[We] prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.
On being more loving, open, less selfish, more present, and less delusional, Saunders says:
There are ways. You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter….Kindness, it turns out, is hard — it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include . . . well, everything.One thing in our favor: some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age. … Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving. I think this is true. The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.”Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. …Do all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) — but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.
Returning to Loving Day and political change, Leonard Cohen wrote the song Democracy in 1992. In the passage below, he reminds us that democracy needs more open hearts for it to work.
It’s here the family’s brokenand it’s here the lonely saythat the heart has got to openin a fundamental way:Democracy is coming to the U.S.A
The Loving Generation
Interracial marriage in the U.S. 50 years after Loving v. Virginia shows that in 2017, one in six newlyweds married someone of a different race or ethnicity. Interracial marriage rates are higher for Millennials than for Gen Xers across all racial and ethnic groups. Two thoughtful video interview series cover the Loving Generation about how Millennials and GenXers experienced growing up mixed-race in the U.S.
Two films were made about The Lovings. The first is a documentary titled The Loving Story made in 2012 and the second is a Hollywood adaptation called Loving made in 2016. We also put together a 2-minute tribute video called Loving Beyond Race.
One year before her death in 2007, Mildred Loving issued a statement on the 40th anniversary of the Loving decision. The ending reads as follows:
I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.
Richard and Mildred Loving early on developed intimate connections with people of different races and cultures. After moving back to Central Point, Virginia, they lived a good life and raised three children. They were ordinary, simple hard-working people with limited education. Yet, they did something extraordinary and opened the hearts of people in their community and around the world. I think if asked how their various relationships felt as they neared the end of their life, The Loving’s response would be, it’s “mostly Love, now”. I wish the same for you.