Earlier this month, 18Doors co-sponsored Be’chol Lashon’s Loving Day Kabbalat Shabbat (watch the recording below), which celebrated the landmark Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia that legalized interracial marriage throughout the United States in 1967. At this special event, I had the honor of asking TaRessa Stovall, who was raised by mixed race parents, a few questions about Jewishness, raising mixed children and more. If you missed it, you can watch the whole event below, and read an extended excerpt from our interview.
TaRessa Stovall is a bit of an icon. She leads a busy life as an award-winning journalist, author of nine books, social media guru and she has managed to raise two kids in the process, among other things. Born a Jazz Baby in Seattle, Washington, when much of the country was racially segregated, her parents’ marriage was illegal in 16 states.
An author from the age of 7, Stovall has written and published poems, books and plays on various topics, including racial identity and the impact of colorism on People of Color. Check out her new memoir, SWIRL GIRL: Coming of Race in the USA, where she reveals how she grew up as a #BLEWISH “Black Power Flower Child” battling society and had to forge her own identity.
A proud mother of a son and a daughter, both multi-talented writers and creatives, she lives in Atlanta and stirs things up on social media. Find her at taressastovall.com, on Facebook as TaRessa Stovall and on Twitter and Instagram @taressatalks.
Loving Day means to me a big shift in the way that interracial couples were viewed in the United States. I’m not from the south, I’m from the north, but until I was 12 years old, my parent’s marriage would have been illegal in 16 states. I knew that, so I felt racially and politically illegitimate—against the law, not quite kosher.
Loving Day for me celebrates the triumph of love and activism over racism. Loving Day helps those of us who are mixed to be seen as more than racial or political mongrels, or misbegotten freaks of nature.
The Supreme Court action was one of the first steps in helping to shift the lens through which our parents were viewed, and subsequently through which we were viewed, to give us a form of legitimacy that we hadn’t had before. The message it sent is that there are people of different races, who choose to love and build families together and we’re going to stop saying that that’s against the law.
I was born in Seattle, Washington, and there wasn’t much in my young world that was specifically Jewish. Neither my mother nor her siblings were religious or observant. And Seattle didn’t have a big Jewish community that I was aware of.
Mom wove select Yiddish words and phrases in everyday conversations, and she took us to Render Brother’s bakery for pumpernickel bagels. While the red light part of town where we lived had been predominantly Jewish before it became mostly Black, I wasn’t close enough to any of my Jewish classmates to talk on the phone or visit each other’s home.
When I was 10, Mom decided that my little brother Greg and I needed to learn some Jewish history and culture, so she sent us to Saturday Hebrew school at the Reform temple in our neighborhood. While I didn’t stand out physically among the Jewish kids, I knew I was different. Nobody singled me out, asked what I was, or challenged my right to be there.
What I loved most was learning the Hebrew language with its rich guttural tones and musical rumblings. I learned quickly, reading the entire Torah and Hebrew. I was disappointed when we didn’t continue our studies of the language the next year.
While many Jews were hustling hard to win the assimilation game back then, in the 1960s, they still weren’t fully accepted into the majority culture. Along with Black people, they were often excluded from various white spaces. I was heartened by the many Jewish people who worked alongside Black people in the civil rights and Black power movement. That kind of solidarity suggested a unified struggle.
Jewish people never rejected me once they vetted me with the “which parent” qualifier to determine my ranking. I was allowed access to their spaces. But unlike Black people, they never reached out to welcome me, to embrace me or to claim me. They never indicated that I was part of their “us” or “we.” I wasn’t sure how they would receive or respond to the non-Jewish parts of my background.
Based on my experience, I think the single most important thing that a parent can do, if they are able, is to raise them in an environment where they are reflected—where there are families like yours and children like them. I had that privilege, and it made an enormous difference. There’s simply no substitute for that.
However, the reality is that not everyone can control where they live and not everyone even knows where those types of areas exist. So, the good news is we’re in the information age and the Internet gives us access to the planet.
It is also important to carry on and honor your own traditions and teach them the background of those traditions. You’re giving your children something solid to work with—your ancestry, your history. You can weave in some kind of tradition, some food, some songs, some stories from your childhood or your family.
Mixed kids are just now beginning to see people in the public realm—celebrities, political figures, etc. This has just been happening in the last few years, but it makes a difference. So you can point to Naomi Osaka, Kamala Harris, Barack Obama, Meghan Markle, Jordan Peele, etc.
And my kids, if they’re looking for a combination of Black and Jewish, they don’t have to look far and can say Drake. All I had was Sammy Davis Jr. and that was hard for me to work with.
Understanding the breadth and depth of the diversity of Jewishness is a superpower. So, what I would like to do is to lovingly encourage everybody to know that, yes, sometimes your notions of your identity or other people’s identity are going to be challenged.
Sometimes your brain might feel like it’s going to break, but you have the ability and the responsibility to create positive and progressive change in your world. I believe that’s why we’re all here.
Interracial couples, mixed people, Jews of all hues and all of the above belong to the same world. We’re all here to leave the world better than we found it. It’s essential that we work together and that we find ways to see ourselves in each other and each other in ourselves, so we can work on the bonds while embracing the diversity.