The author is a sociologist of international relations. She wrote the book lose the south (Écosociété, 2020) and edited the collective work Feminist Perspectives in International Relations (PUM, 2022).
In a few days will take place the 56e anniversary of the legalization of intermarriage (or “interracial”) in the United States. On June 12, 1967, the judges of the Supreme Court determined in the case loving v. Virginia that the anti-intermarriage laws violate Amendment 14 of the US Constitution, ensuring equal protection for all persons in the territory. The amendment had been ratified a hundred years earlier, in particular in order to protect the rights of those freed from slavery.
Although in Canada these unions have never been illegal, they have long been frowned upon.
37 years of impure union
My mother Jocelyne, daughter of Thérèse and Léopold, represents everything that some would call “Quebecer of stock”. In 1986, she married my Indian father Farouk, about ten years after he immigrated from Madagascar to Sherbrooke with his brothers. They met when he was in his last year of high school at Saint-François school. He had previously studied at a French institute for adolescents in Tananarive.
She found him too “nerdy” because he asked the teacher to make her lower her voice when she laughed with her friends in class. Far from love at first sight. My father then did the Institut maritime in Rimouski, then his accounting studies in Montreal, and my mother did her bachelor’s degree in education in Sherbrooke.
Almost a decade later, Jocelyne saw Farouk again through her best friend, who turned out to be my father’s niece. My mother finally gave birth to two “nerd” children like him, but talkative like her.
My father was the first (and only) racialized person to join my mother’s family, which had known only Demers, Roys, Guays and Blais. Since my mother is a Catholic believer but my father is culturally Muslim, they decided to have my brother and I baptized in the Church. The priest initially refused to baptize my brother…because he was born of a union he considered impure. My mother had failed to convert my father to Catholicism. It was 1987. The following year, after being recriminated by the archdiocese, this same priest ran after my mother to be able to baptize the second Sondarjee. Faced with a considerable drop in followers, a new baby in the great family of God, it could not be refused, apparently.
This impure union has lasted for almost four decades, a banker son and a university professor daughter, two grandsons (from my brother and a daughter from Beauce) and a granddaughter on the way (from me and my husband born in Laval).
Mixed marriages, normal or abnormal?
It took time, struggles and resilience to change opinion on intermarriage. In 2011, already 5% of all unions in Canada were formed by people of different racial, religious, language or birthplace backgrounds. In Toronto, this percentage rose to 8%, and in Vancouver, 10%. So there were about 360,000 mixed-race couples in the country that year (the last Statistics Canada collected this data), more than double than 20 years earlier. Babies born from these unions (like my brother and I) have gone from 1% of all new babies in 1970 to 10% in 2013.
According to research by the Pew Research Center, one in ten new American marriages in 2015 were made up of people of different racial backgrounds, about five times more than in 1967, when the judgment was signed. loving v. Virginia. Even though we still don’t see many interracial couples on Hollywood screen, movies, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) at get-out (2017), demonstrate its complexity.
Unlike the United States, Canada never had an overtly anti-intermarriage law, but the ostracization was just as real there. In 1927, members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) burned a nearly 20-meter-tall cross in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, while delivering hate speech about the risks of “interracial” marriages.
Three years later, 75 KKK members staged a public march in Oakville, Ontario, again burning a symbolic cross. Their objective ? Intimidating Isabel Jones and her fiancé Ira Junius Johnson, of Cherokee and white descent, at the behest of Jones’ mother. Men in white hoods kidnapped and confined the fiancée for several days, hiding her in Salvation Army premises. Black lawyers in Toronto eventually managed to get a few Klansmen arrested, but only on minor counts of “disguising the night,” a charge that is used to incriminate thieves, among other things. Only one of the men involved in the kidnapping was sentenced… to pay $50 and spend three months in jail. The couple married a month after the events.
Certain social achievements seem stable, almost immutable: women’s right to vote, equitable access to the health system, non-segregation in schools, control of firearms, etc. With the invalidation in 2022 of the judgment Roe v. wade in the United States and the renewed ability of states to prohibit pregnancy terminations, one wonders what other rights will be revoked in the coming years. This regression, 50 years later Roe v. Wade, indicates that no asset is immune.
In fact, in March last year, a media outlet asked Republican Senator Mike Braun if it would make sense, as with abortion since 2022, to decentralize intermarriage legislation to each state rather than leaving it at the federal level. The response of the Indiana elected official, a resounding “yes”, raised eyebrows. He correctly explained that it would be hypocritical to want more power for the States in one case but not in the other. Braun retracted the same day in the face of public outcry, but the logic remains the same: no social gain is immune to a conservative wave.