Dear Justice of the Peace Bardwell: An Open Letter Against Institutionalized Racism

by Julie Schwietert Oct 20, 2009

Matador’s managing editor, Julie Schwietert, and her Afro-Cuban husband.

Louisiana’s Tangipahoa Parish became newsworthy last week when Justice of the Peace Kenneth Bardwell refused to marry an interracial couple, citing his concern “for the children who might be born of the relationship,” especially since “most interracial marriages don’t last.”

Here at Matador, we took the news personally.

See, many of us on the editorial team–at least six of us–are partners in long-term interracial and/or intercultural relationships.

Matador’s senior editor, David Miller, his Argentinean wife, and their daughter. Photo courtesy of David Miller

I’m one of them.

Having just given birth to our first child–almost one month ago today–I have some thoughts I’d like to share with Justice of the Peace Bardwell.


Dear Justice of the Peace Bardwell:

I’m sure this isn’t the first letter you’ve received since the nation learned of your policy against performing marriages of interracial couples because you “don’t believe in mixing the races that way.”

I’m sure you’ve been reviled for your comments like “I’m not a racist…. I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else.”

I know there are folks who want your head. Even Louisiana’s ultra-conservative governor, Bobby Jindal, has publicly called for your resignation.

I thought that’s what I wanted too. In fact, just an hour ago, I changed my Facebook status to read:

“Julie Schwietert Collazo is working on an article to unseat that ass of a justice of the peace in Louisiana.”

But as I started to think about you, to think about me, to think about my husband, my child, my friends, and what I believe in most–namely, that words matter– I realized that:

1. “unseat the ass” is just crass, not constructive.


2. what I really want is not for you to lose your job because then you’d lose the lesson.

What I really want is for you to understand that the children of interracial and intercultural couples don’t need your “protection.”

Matador Trips editor, Carlo Alcos, with his German wife.

That you’re not protecting them–or anyone else for that matter– by refusing to marry two people who love one another and who have thoughtfully considered the immense responsibilities and the profound joys implied by the institution of marriage and who have then decided to say to one another, “Yes, I do.”

In its ruling in the 1967 case Loving v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court unequivocally stated, “Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the state.”

In fact, you’re doing the couple and the community a tremendous disservice.

Matador Abroad editor, Sarah Menkedick, & her Mexican husband.

By assuming that neither black communities nor white communities can or will accept interracial couples or their children, should they choose to have them, you allow both groups (which you’re assuming to be monolithic in their opinions and beliefs) to perpetuate tired stereotypes that have little relevance in contemporary society (if, in fact, they ever had relevance).

If you haven’t noticed, sir, the president of this country is biracial.

In its ruling in the 1967 case Loving v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court unequivocally stated, “Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the state.”

The ruling, subsequently translated into law, seems fairly clear to me.

The author’s biracial daughter.

When I looked into the eyes of my daughter as she was placed on my chest after being born, I was overwhelmed by thoughts about her fragility and her strength. About the challenges she’ll face in her life. About the disappointments, the sadnesses, and the losses she’ll encounter, and how her father and I won’t be able to protect her from all of them.

None of these thoughts had to do with her race or ours.

They had to do with the human condition.

Matador Goods editor, Lola Akinmade, exchanging vows.

Your job, the one you chose for yourself, is to preside over marriages between two people who have come to a decision between themselves that they are willing to face life’s joys and challenges together with equal commitment.

If you truly felt that Beth Humphrey and Terence McKay were incapable of fulfilling that commitment, then you could be guided by your conscience to decline presiding over their marriage.

But if you made the decision based solely on race, then you are merely part of the same group of people from whom you presumably want to protect the McKays’ future children.

And that is neither your responsibility nor your right.

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