Picture this: You’re chilling in the mall with your girlfriends, binging on some fro-yo and complaining about how you can’t seem to pull off red lipstick because it looks way too fob with your complexion. You think you see an acquaintance coming up the escalator and you raise your hand to say hi and then you see…
“OMG…is that Neha?”
“OMG is she with a white boy?!”
And this is where differing views on interracial dating emerges in the desi community. Whether you’re fine with it, date interracially yourself, are ambivalent, or completely opposed, it is always surprising to find out somebody you mainly see at your parents parties, whose parents you address as aunty or uncle – out on a date, especially with someone of a different culture. Dating itself is a taboo topic for most Desis growing up (that’s a different article all together…), but dating outside of your race takes that taboo to the next level. By doing so, you better believe you open your personal life up as gossip fodder for others.
Most desis can attest to the fact that 99.9999% of Bollywood movies involve two people finding love, defying the odds and their parents to be together, and then at the tail end of the movie, the parents finally come around and we all rejoice by way of some catchy song and dance number.
If that’s the case then isn’t finding love outside of your race one of the most awesome things you can do?
If you’re going by the “level-of-romance-is-directly- proportional-to-the-level-of-defiance” chart, why is there such judgement, not only from the older aunties and uncles in the community (such news only travels to the upper echelons in extreme cases), but from our peers as well? As someone who has been on both sides of the coin, I think I’m qualified to put forth and debunk certain perceptions that exist.
#1: Dating someone outside of your race makes you too “whitewashed.”
This to me is the most absurd concept. A person only has to look at me to know that I’m brown, and no amount of washing will get rid of it. Not that I would want to. Bangladesh is in my roots, and although I may not be the most exemplary Bangladeshi girl (Okay, so I can’t debone a fish in 30 seconds flat, or wear a Sari by myself), I would never disown that fact. That being said, most of us in this generation are hyphenated Desis. I am Bangladeshi-American. I was raised here. While I was raised with a certain set of norms and knowledge of my culture I have also been immersed in American values, and grew up crushing on Kevin from the Backstreet Boys as well as Shahrukh and Sallu. We are a composite of two different cultures, and a label like Whitewashed is offensive.
#2: It is unrealistic to work out in the long run.
A rationalization I commonly hear is that the two different backgrounds equates to two different sets of values, and that this would never work in a marriage. Nobody is raised in exactly the same way. Everybody that you meet has a different story to tell, and although there will be overwhelming similarities when you meet someone from the same racial background you only have to dig a bit deeper to see where the differences lie. Because you’re with a desi, does not mean you are in the clear from the same tensions that strike at the heart of every relationship. Even if you are with somebody who is from the same religious background, you’re still not in the clear – there are always family issues, jealousy, insecurities, financial problems, ETC. that arise. Pretty sure I can get an amen on this fact from my Desi girlfriends.
#3: You’re abandoning your family and throwing your values out the window.
Dating someone outside your race is more than just an issue of xenophobia, or racial prejudice, it is the fear is that someone who is not Desi will not understand the mindset that the nuclear family includes in-laws as well. Possibly this is the root of most anxiety families have about their child dating somebody not of that race. It is the classic fear of the unknown and rejection of the unfamiliar. The portrayal of in-laws in American media isn’t the most flattering either (meet the parents, monster-in-law, everybody loves raymond, etc.)
Pair this with the fact that most Desi kids born and raised here have an insane guilt-complex about disappointing or hurting their parents because they were given much of what their American counterparts had to work or take out loans for (a college education, a car) there is this constant niggling need to please and adhere to your parents wishes.
However it is a slippery slope as race and background is only one superficial difference that can cause issues. There are other distinctions that may cause discordance, such as religious barriers, class differences, education differences, how “conservative” vs. how “modern” the families are that can occur within the same race.
These things require consideration of course, but none of these weigh nearly as much as the character of the person you’re bringing home to ma and baba. Ultimately they want your happiness and security, they’ll come around.
#4: If he’s not Desi he’s obviously a womanizing cheat.
It seems tabloids are always airing the dirty laundry of one celebrity split or another, usually ending with the man cheating on the woman with a slew of gross skanks -coughcough-TigerWoodsJohnEdwardsJesseJames. The divorce rate in America is over half. These figures must be completely alien to a culture where a man and woman generally share their first kiss when they’re already bound for life. At least that is how it used to be…
The times are changing. Even back in the motherland, dating is not as taboo as it once was, even kissing and sexual relationships are now being portrayed on screen. Men and women are no longer cloistered from each other at social events, and male/female friendships do exist more and more commonly. Just like in America, both sexes are exposed to temptation. Dating a Desi, especially one born and raised in the West is not an insurance against being dumped or cheated on. The only insurance against that is one that crosses cultural boundaries, simply choosing to be with someone who is an honest and good human being.
I am not one to discount the very real obstacles that dating someone outside of our race/culture can present. Not everybody has any desire to do so, but every relationship does have obstacles. Dating outside of your race can at once highlight the differences between cultures as well as bring to light the similarities that bring us together. Whether you stick with what you know, or you wander off the beaten path (romantically speaking),
“When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”
And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.”