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Race relationships: Loving decision, American racial interactions are subjects of upcoming symposium

Loving LectureIn the 50 years since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state prohibitions to interracial marriage in its Loving v. Virginia decision, the nation has variously confronted, accepted and slogged through the true meaning of its creed.

The Loving case itself hinged ostensibly on whom a person could love and marry and the emphasis on that powerful emotion and that foundational relationship continues to drive a conversation on race, one Creighton University will highlight in a symposium later this month themed, “50 Years of Loving: Seeking Justice Through Love and Relationships.”

“These are essential conversations we have about race and they affect many people in our community,” said Palma Strand, a professor in the Creighton School of Law and director of the 2040 Initiative which, is co-sponsoring the symposium with the Werner Institute. “If we frame it in the context of relationships and how we individually interact and contribute within that larger community, we stand a much better chance of really speaking to the issues and coming to some common ground. We are continuously building a place in the community where we are intentionally engaging in these conversations that are difficult.”

The symposium opens March 23 with a free event featuring a talk from Mat Johnson, author of the 2015 semi-autobiographical novel, Loving Day. Johnson will touch on the legacy of the Supreme Court decision, its impact on his life as a biracial American, and on American life generally. Johnson’s presentation is free and open to the public, taking place at 5:30 p.m. in the Ahmanson Ballroom in the Mike and Josie Harper Center, 602 N. 20th St., on the Creighton campus.

“Mat Johnson brings a very powerful voice in his book,” said Amanda Guidero, PhD, fellow of conflict engagement in the Werner Institute. “We don’t always get an opportunity to peek into those windows of identity and the struggles that can arise. He puts it all there for us and we’re hearing a voice that’s working through that marginalization and exclusion.”

Guidero, Strand and other leaders in the 2040 Initiative, now in its sixth year of addressing questions arising from the shifting racial demographics in the United States, are hoping the Loving symposium renews a dialogue. While challenging attendees to think about their own perceptions and attitudes, the symposium organizers are also seeking to celebrate the supportive contributions that have come in the 50 years since Loving and in the American Civil Rights Movement.

Civil rights continue to be a front-page issue and matters of race have invited more discussion than perhaps at any moment in history. The widening tent under which the race question is deliberated is now peopled with a host of faces that, at the time of Loving, may have been marginalized in the simplification of America as a black-and-white country.

“We are really, explicitly recognizing that race is not a binary in this country,” Strand said. “We are Latino, East Asian, South Asian, many more colors than black and white. The symposium is looking at the whole of America and how we are changing who we are: black, white, brown, and all kinds of mixtures.”

Following Johnson’s talk on March 23, the symposium continues March 24 with sessions led by scholars from around the nation and community leaders from Omaha and the surrounding area. The symposium is organized around looking at the past, present and future of the Loving decision, with an eye toward sending attendees forth with constructive ideas to extend conversations on race into their communities and institutions.

A full symposium program and link to registration can be found here.

“We want this to be a moment when people can reach out and talk about forging relationships,” Strand said. “Let’s have the conversation. Let’s name these trends. Let’s get to know more people. In that way, maybe we stand a chance to have a less divisive, destructive outlook on race and race relations. These are disruptive times for the country but, to me, there is also the potential for growth.”

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