On Interracial Dating – The South Asian Panel (2 of 3)


Welcome back to the South Asian Panel on Interracial Dating. Our panelists are:

RB, long time reader and friend of the blog; Anna John, Sepia Mutineer and friend of the blog; Honey Mae, friend of the blog; Lisa Factora-Borchers, blogger at My Ecdysis, Neesha Meminger, YA Author and occasional contributor; Harbeer, Racialicious reader and friend of a friend of the blog; and Rohin Guha, author of Relief Work and a blogger.

If you have dated interracially, did you have any fears of misgivings going into the situation? Did you peers react to you differently?
Rohin: I typically don’t have any reservations about dating non-Indian men; it’s no different than dating Indian men in the sense that everyone is kind of scared and insecure, but if you talk a lot, you can work through those issues. And as most of my friends were non-Indians, they didn’t care whether I was dating an Indian man or a non-Indian man–as long as we both got along well.

What I do have misgivings about, though, is what a centerpiece skin color remains in contemporary gay culture and what that means for South Asians who are dating within this community. A conversation I had out in a bar in Chelsea not too long ago:

Random Man: Hi!
Me: Hello!
Random Man: What are you?
Me: I’m sorry?
Random Man: Like, where are you from?
Me: I live in Brooklyn.
Random Man: No, I mean, where were you born?
Me: Just outside of Detroit, actually.
Random Man: I mean, where are your parents from?

I ultimately gave him the answer he had been trolling for–”India!”–and then cast him the sharpest daggers I could. Not because I was ashamed of saying, “India!” but because he didn’t clearly stop to consider how bizarre it sounded to ask a complete stranger where his parents emigrated from.

RB: Honestly, I have dated a bit interracially when I was young and it was never that big a deal. Part of it is being brought up as one of the only Indian people in my area I was used to being mostly friends with white and black people, so I didn’t think it unusual. I’m sure there are girls that have been less interested because of the fact I’m Indian but they were smart enough not to say anything about it.

Anna: In my nearly twenty years of dating (!) I’ve only dated interracially twice; both times it was a disaster. I was nervous each time, because it was outside my comfort zone and yet in a way, it wasn’t. The first situation, in 1998, involved a Persian guy that I had known throughout college. While he was fair-skinned, he was definitely not “white”. The second situation, in 1999 almost doesn’t count, because I had a mild crush on an “Indian guy in scrubs” for weeks before I met him…only to discover that he was Palestinian, not South Asian. So I tend to have a rather strict type: dark hair, dark eyes, olive or brown skin. Still, it felt like unknown territory, after exclusively dating only Desi men.

1998 taught me about the nasty strains of racism within the Persian community towards South Asians and our dark, dirty, skin, our crude, uncivilized ways. This guy, who had been a friend for years, who “coded” white the entire time I knew him (which, to be accurate, I did, too, with my sorority, lack of membership in the Indian students club etc) suddenly defaulted to the ugliest dynamic possible. A lot of it had to do with my skin, which had been appealing as he flirted with me constantly for four years until we actually dated– then I was…dark.

1999 was a similar situation. Both of these men felt like Indian girls were somehow “easier” or more disposable. We didn’t deserve love or respect. I don’t know where the fuck this stereotype originates from, but it’s disgusting. Neither “relationship” survived for more than two weeks. My spine kept interfering.

My peers didn’t care about the interracial aspect of my entanglements, they were more concerned about the excessive assholery. Their peers didn’t treat me with the same respect they accorded women who were their “own” kind. Classy. Assholes.

Honey: I fear being exoticized. That was interesting what you posted about an asian woman’s fear of being good enough to fuck but never taken seriously as relationsip material. I always wonder about that. At the same time, because I’ve lived half my life outside of the Philippines, my value as a “good Filipina” to more traditional Filipinos seem diminished. Conversations among male friends who still live in the Philippines indicate that because I am (proudly) sexually active, that I’m no longer marriage material. It’s pretty ridiculous. I fear that someone dates me as a status symbol for “progressiveness.” It’s the same as exoticization in a way. The idea that the person dating me feels ‘progressive’ because they are ‘not-racist’, colour-blind, etc. Because look, they are dating a non-white. I’ve only dated one white guy who was very interested in exploring what the politics and ramifications were of interracial dating, specifically between us. I never thought of it as a problem, and in some ways expected our peers, friends, family to treat me as a person rather than as a person of colour. For a while, it was the combination of being Asian and young-looking that was particularly annoying because I would never get taken seriously, or was often treated patronizingly.

Lisa: I was most apprehensive about the friends and family of the person i was dating. Racism, ignorance, and “just a joke” kind of attitudes would often bleed into the relationship. And a white boy just doesn’t understand what the world is like for a brown girl. At the end of the day, IR dating sometimes meant falling in love but with extra vulnerability and more defensive armor in your back pocket. And you could never mention same sex attraction – that’d be a “sin.”

Neesha: I had misgivings when I started dating girls – I was worried that my parents would freak out because I was dating girls. But they were SO much more okay with that than with me dating black guys. Ha! Imagine my surprise. But it made sense – with the girls, they could hide me. They could pretend we were nothing more than roommates, or bffs. But with the guys, there was no hiding. No pretending. When I dated white guys I worried that people would think I was a sellout. When I dated black/latino/Asian men/women, I worried people would think I didn’t embrace my South Asianness – that I somehow rejected who I was. Or that I didn’t know who I was.

Now that I’m married (to an African-American man), I worry that my kids aren’t as connected to my culture as I was. Of course, they wouldn’t be (for sheer logistical reasons), but it makes me sad that they won’t get to experience some of the beauty and joy of it that I did. They don’t speak the language (also makes me sad. In fact it’s one of the things I miss most – speaking Punjabi at home, as my husband doesn’t speak it.).

However, and this might come off as cliche, in terms of core values, everything that I feel strongest about in life has nothing to do with culture. And that was what attracted me to every partner I ever dated, hooked up with, hung out with, etc. Anyone I had any kind of intimate interaction with had to be a feminist, first and foremost, and they had to believe in social justice. And those values are particularly strong in my kids, even if they don’t speak Punjabi. Would I want kids who spoke Punjabi AND espoused those values I hold dear? Not particularly. I think there’s something really special about being in that in-between place. I’ve been in it many times – as an immigrant, bilingual, culturally, etc. There’s a perspective you have when you’re in that in-between place that people in either camp don’t have. It’s a kind of objectivity and compassion that comes with outsiderness, I think. I kind of love that about my kids, even if they don’t speak Punjabi >grin<Harbeer: Nope. When you say “peers,” you have to understand that I generally avoided friendships with fellow South Asians well into my 20s, for a number of reasons.

Since minorities are seen in different lights (and with different accompanying stereotypes), what types of reactions have people had toward you and your partners? How are white partners perceived, as opposed to minority partners? Were any partners considered “off-limits” or “forbidden?”

RB: As I said, White, black or latino was pretty much the same in my parents’ eyes. If they were from “good” (read: well-educated, professional) families they were negotiable. Middle Eastern and Asian people were slightly more favorable based on the perception of common cultural traits. Muslims were the only group I was warned against, and again that was as much due to my now-deceased grandmother as anyone. I’m sure if I wanted to date a Muslim girl my parents would judge her as an individual.

Anna: As is done in many South Asian families, we were taught that Black or Muslim partners were forbidden and very undesirable. As for current reactions towards me and my partner, I think it brings people great comfort that I have such a nice, brown, Indian boyfriend. We’re “like” dating like. Convenient, and non-threatening!

Lisa: People treated me and my partner like a delightful homegrown chemical experiment. Countless times we receive comments wondering how our features will combine when we have children, how they’ll be raised, how we’ll be contributing to the “post racial” generation. It’s nauseating.

Neesha: South Asians are almost ALWAYS put off when they see that my husband is black. When people meet me and my girls (they can pass for having two South Asian parents), they assume my husband is also South Asian. When they meet him, things change drastically in the vibe. And it’s not just South Asians who react like this. A lot of white folks respond the same way. It’s like things are one way when people assume we’re a nice, Indian family, and then everything changes when they realize we’re not. We’re a nice, mixed family – with narry a white person among us. I have no doubt that most South Asians (and white folks) would have an easier time with us if my husband were white. And my mother would think my kids were cuter because they’d be lighter-skinned and closer to whiteness. As it is, my kids are totally adored by my parents, but they’ve had to do a lot of work (read: we’ve had a lot of loud “discussions”) to get there.

Harbeer: I’ve only brought one of my former partners into my family/community in any meaningful way. She has always been welcomed. She’s pretty bad ass–everybody can tell that from the get-go. For some strange reason (stuff I did as a kid?), unless I’m delusional, I’m pretty well-regarded in my home community and my parents’ friends all trust my judgment. Or maybe I just self-select the company of people whom I project this onto…I don’t know.

I have a ton of privilege. At this point in my life, I do what I want–openly. Maybe people talk behind my back, but I don’t know or even care.

If you have not dated interracially, what has contributed to the reasons why not?

Anna: There are two factors:

1) the two disastrous experiments I detailed earlier

2) this is going to sound way harsh, Tai…but I’m just not that in to it. I don’t care to be someone’s cultural tourguide. I don’t want to be a fetish, a line item on a bucket list or a way to expand horizons. I don’t get down like that. Hold your rage– I am well aware that all interracial relationships aren’t so tawdry; many of them are beautiful works of art. But people have very specific, very personal tastes in art. I’ll never be a fan of Gaugin, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be!

I’m attracted to South Asians. I always have been. Beyond phenotypes, I love that I don’t have to explain that curry smell to them, or even that curry is a problematic term. I don’t get asked a million questions about my past, my family, my values. To me, dating another brown person is like using a Mac. They’re sleek, intuitive and elegantly easy. They just work and they’re less likely to get a virus. KIDDING. Does that make me a narrow-minded, lazy person? No, it makes me a fan of an excellent user experience and great design. 😉

Comedy aside, I’ve never considered marrying out– and that has nothing to do with my uber-strict parents’ issues with it. Though my sister and I were both born in California, I was always the “Indian” kid in our house. I spoke Malayalam before I babbled English. Unlike my little sister, I wanted Indian clothes, books and music. I wanted to major in South Asian Studies. I dreamed of a hazy, far-off day when I’d have brown babies. I have always been this way. Just like how my only sibling has never spoken our “mother tongue” and has always dated interracially, despite being raised in an identical environment. To each, their own.

Maybe it stems from an adamantine core forged during the isolating experience of being the only brown kid, everywhere, for years. I don’t want to feel that way at home. When I walk through my front door after negotiating all the bullshit I do on a daily basis, I just want to exhale and look at brown eyes that relay pure understanding back at me.

If I call my mom “Mommy”, I don’t want an eye-roll; that’s what she prefers to be called and I don’t mind. If I worry about what intangible debt I owe my superhero parents, for all they sacrificed for me, I want someone who commiserates with me about living on the hyphen. It’s not productive to hear well-meaning platitudes about living my life for me. Nursing homes are not an option. Ever. I don’t know if non-Desis would find that fair or understandable– and I don’t blame them. It’s not necessarily how they were raised.

I also don’t feel comfortable with asking someone to walk away from themselves or their past for me; some of the most successful interracial couplings I’ve observed– a few in my own family– involve that level of super-human denial of self. These spouses become Desi, in every possible way. I’m happy for them, but it makes me a little bit sad, and I always find myself thinking, “if that’s what it takes, why not just date brown?”

But you know what? It’s none of my business. All I really hope is that people find a partner who loves, cherishes and respects them, no matter what their color. After all, dating someone Indian isn’t a guaranteed way to find love and respect; I’ve dated plenty of jerks who look like me. Brown gets their foot in the door, but it doesn’t keep it open.

Am I missing out by not considering loyal, kind, smart, funny, compassionate, feminists who are not Desi? Quite possibly, but my South Asian, South Indian boyfriend is all that anyway, so it doesn’t matter. I got mine. Here’s hoping you get yours, too. And if I can give an unsolicited tip: get you a corn-fed Midwesterner. 😉 After being born and raised on the West coast, and choosing a home on the East coast, people from Michigan are like an invigorating, sweet gust of thoughtful, fresh air. They’re so nice! Whee, stereotypes!

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  • PotentPotables

    I’m an black woman in a LTR with an Indian-American guy, and it hasnt’ been easy dealing with his parents opposition to me and our relationship (I don’t know if they will ever accept me they way I would like) but my partner is a pretty strong guy and has been willing to be clear that pressure from them will not break us up.  Whether we last or not is completely up to us.  We had several discussions about that at the beginning of our relationship, because I’d heard horror stories about non-Indian women dating Indian dudes who hid them from their friends and families, and were willing to sleep with them but not claim them as girlfriends.   Those talks were  a comfort to me at the beginning, and allowed me to trust him more than I maybe would have otherwise.

    So good luck!  

  • Rainwater

    Well at least your dating will come to that. I am a black woman and dated an Indian guy for a little over a year without meeting his friends and family who all knew about me.
    I was in love or so I thought, but once I realized that introduction was never going to happen I left. I’ve talked to a few other sistas that have had similar experiences..
    I dont know if i would ever venture into that terrain again, but good luck to those who do.

  • Rainwater

    Well at least your dating will come to that. I am a black woman and dated an Indian guy for a little over a year without meeting his friends and family who all knew about me.
    I was in love or so I thought, but once I realized that introduction was never going to happen I left. I’ve talked to a few other sistas that have had similar experiences..
    I dont know if i would ever venture into that terrain again, but good luck to those who do.

  • Mickey

    True. But at the very end of the movie, you see the white boyfriend playing a friendly game of cricket with the father, who used to play the sport and gave it up due to racism in England. The ending gave me the impression that her parents were accepting of the coach being with their daughter.

  • CB

    Aqua, I’ve been there (albeit on the other side), and all I can say is 
    1. all families are different; though there are common threads here, don’t get worked up over this until you have a real reason to believe this is an issue in your particular situation. 
    2. communicate with your guy about it! silence over an issue like this – if it exists – will not make it go away. you will have to approach the hardships of being together together. all the best :)

  • Anonymous

    Does anyone have any perspectives on interracial dating for South Asians in the US vs in the UK? From my limited knowledge, it appears to be more accepted or at least more visible in UK (London and urban areas specifically). Is this true?

    • http://twitter.com/zatoichiblack Eugene Blackman

      @Charlotte86:disqus I have personally never dated a south Asian from the UK but on some other forums and a few people have told me that even though some tensions exist that it is no where near the social taboo as here in the states. I say this as an African american. I’m not sure what the experience is like in UK for South Asian and white but that is what i have been told.

  • Priya

    Well personally if i meet a black guy (or any other guy outside my race) and if i like him and am deeply attracted to him (and he the same towards me) then i WILL date him – i dont care what my parents say (even though i know my dad is slightly racist) i will date whoever i want – i deserve happiness and so does everyone else in the world!

  • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

    In my experience also most of the South Asian families I know hold all sorts of negative stereotypes of different groups based on racism, colorism and classism that influence how they view different interracial pairing, which all comes down to (grudgingly) accepting their child’s intended spouse is white and nothing else. Even if their child were to marry someone Black or Latino who was of the same or higher socioeconomic class than them, just the skin color could get in the way of them being fully accepted by the SA child’s parents. 
    What I notice also is that most of the white/South Asian pairings that I know of involve couples from the upper to middle class backgrounds. Poor or working class South Asians (especially those who are 1st gen) usually wind up marrying within the community (and only within the specific guidelines set for who in the community can be a suitable bride/groom). If they don’t find anyone from the community suitable here they often agree to return to their parent’s country of origin to search for that suitable someone or marry someone 1st gen even if they themselves are 2nd gen. 

  • Anonymous

    i find the concept of an intercultural couple choosing one cultural over the other fascinating because it’s the complete opposite of what my interracial, intercultural, interfaith family has done.  i also don’t consider it a successful interracial coupling.  this is not to say that it’s not a good marriage, but to me a successful interracial coupling means learning how to blend cultures and accepting that you can’t please everyone and there will be times, even after decades of marriage/partnership, that you feel like an outsider in your extended cultural community.  but you know what, that’s life, and relationships, and how it feels to live between cultures and communities.

  • Mickey

    There is a scene in the movie “Bend It Like Beckham” where the main character, Jess, is discussing her sister’s relationship with her girlfriends. She indicates that her sister’s engagement was a “love match”, meaning it was not arranged. When one of them asks her that if she can choose, does it mean that she can marry a white guy, she said, “White, no. Black, definitely not. A Muslim… (she makes a slashing motion across her neck.)” Eventually, she develops a relationship with the White guy in the movie. Evidently, the parents were more accepting of the interracial relationship than previously thought.

  • Rochelle

    I have to disagree with you, Nicthommi. Yes, we cannot analyze Asian beliefs about Black people without taking into account hegemonic (white) discourse, imperialism, colonialism. I agree with you there. But to say that all Asian prejudice against black people is a direct result or can be fully attributed to white discourse is really problematic. Are you saying that Asian cultures just had a blank slate or positive view of black / dark skinned and/or African peoples before the rise of European colonialism? In my opinion, that view is naive, and it’s infantalizing pre-colonial Asian cultures as if there was no racism/colorism/ sexism/imperialism/inequality/discrimination/bad-stuff-of-any-kind in those societies before white people came along. Give me a break. White people don’t have a monopoly on discrimination. And you’re letting Asian cultures off the hook for their own racism by attributing it only to white influence.

    • Anonymous

      Actually, that’s not what I was saying.  And in fact, I’m well aware that colorism exists in many parts of the world and in some cases has little to nothing to do with imperialism.
      I’m not letting Asian cultures off the hook at all.  But at least some of the things that some East and South Asians believe about black people does come from what they see in Western Media.
      And that’s not what my comment meant, so please don’t try to make it into something that it wasn’t and suggest that I think that Asians are so weak-willed or weak-minded that they only do what White people tell them.  
      Tell me where I said that they were fully influenced?  I said that there is a lot that is packaged and exported that gives them a lot of new reasons to fear/hate black people. 

  • http://commentarybyval.blogspot.com/ Val

    Every single thing you said is sooooo true!

  • CB

    As the daughter of South Indian immigrants who settled in a small, upper-middle class town in Westchester, NY where everyone was mostly white, my pattern of dating black men was horrific to my parents even though I had never received explicit messages that this was bad. I’d love to hear more about if anyone else experienced this: the way my parents expected that, naturally, the farthest I’d stray would be into the arena of white, and when that proved to be wrong, how much they seemed to retrace their steps and question how this (my desire to bring a black man into our home) could have happened?  I wonder about this sort of surface open-mindedness that some parents project until you do the one thing they thought you’d have somehow internalized was wrong. I think my parents sought to distance our family from certain other races/communities, and so, while we weren’t outwardly forbidden from dating specific races, it was perhaps meant to be understood that they were outside our realm.

    My experience in my South Asian community that I came to know through family, a very small number of family friends, and then later the other Indians at Duke, where I went to college, was that the obsession with class and status pervades all aspects of interracial dating… the “hierarchy” of preference is so obvious and palpable and there is an understanding of what’s dating “up” vs dating “down” – almost an obsession amongst Indians, I felt. My own South Asian peers looked at me as dirty or slutty (despite the fact, not that it matters, that I held on to my parents’ sexually conservative values) for choosing to date black men. It’s something I’ve been experiencing since I was about 14 (I’m 28 now). I completely identify with Neesha’s story of seeing in others’ eyes the way things change when they learn that your significant other is black versus South Asian or white (the default other). I recently had a fellow Indian girl at a professional networking conference tell me, frankly, that I “don’t look like the kind of girl who would date a black guy.” I didn’t ask her to elaborate.

    It got to the point where this was (and is?) such a huge part of my identity – I felt like, to outsiders, even friends, I was first and foremost an Indian girl dating a black guy, and THEN I was a writer, a social justice advocate, a New Yorker, a sister, a feminist, a fashionista, whatever. That aspect of my life was just so highly visible and scrutinized by everyone. So sad. 

    • http://twitter.com/zatoichiblack Eugene Blackman

      Do you have any idea as to what type of Indian women dates black men. As an African american male i would like to know. Great post CB you are a strong and smart women. My heart goes out to you.

      • CB

        Eugene, no I don’t know the “type” but I was kind of too scared to hear what she’d say if I asked. I think she might have been working off another, related assumption that many South Asians I’ve met seem to hold: that Indian girls who date black men are somehow desperate, haven’t had luck with their own kind or with white guys, and so are forced to enter this new, dangerous terrain (ridiculous!). I hoped for it to be known that I have the agency to CHOOSE whomever I date. At this point in my life, I’ve come to find these opinions amusing versus hurtful, and I feel sad for the people who have been so brainwashed by our f*cked up society that they think such garbage.  I appreciate your kind comment – it’s nice to grow up and find a world of like-minded individuals. 

    • Kaicheur

      Dear CB,

      As a black Guyanese male (with other cultures/ethnicities mixed in my lineage–but hey, isn’t that Guyana and the rest of the West Indies???  LOL!?) who is happily married to the daughter of Indian immigrants, I will tell you not to lose hope and, if it is any consolation, you have at least two people who fervently believe that you should be appreciated as the strong Indian girl who obviously is MUCH MUCH more than who she dates…and who she doesn’t date.

      As for our experience (my wife and I)?  Well, I won’t bore you with details, but I will echo the sentiment that you expressed later in the comments section.  Love and communication between the two people are SOOOOO very important!!!!  And you’re right, families are different!  We can attest to that.  However, I don’t think that we would have been able to get to where we are now, had we not been (and continue to be) honest with ourselves and each other.

      • CB

        Thanks Kaicheur, I appreciate your comment. I was younger when I first came to terms with the adversity I’d face in this specific type of pairing (older than the 14 yr old who had an idealistic, “love conquers all” take on things), and now I know that I am strong enough to take what comes my way if I reunite with the wonderfully kind, patient, and courageous black man whom I dated for almost 6 yrs or if I start anew with another black male. I’ve seen probably all of the hardships associated with this – difference in race, class, religion, and family structure – and I do hope that my experience has prepared me for whatever is ahead! But it’s support from people like you who remind me that this is no longer uncharted territory. YAY for change :)

        • Kaicheur

          You’re welcome, CB!   My wife and I were talking about this panel discussion and we realized that when we stopped caring so much about others’ reactions, and just focused on the love between us, it made us stronger.  It made/makes it easier for us to walk proudly, and lovingly as a couple no matter where we are (India included!).

          YAY for change, indeed!  :)

  • refresh daemon

    I’m really glad that this panel got together. I actually see a lot of similarities in the discussions held here and the ones of the East Asian panel, although the dimension of religion seems much more prominent in this discussion. I think at a later time, it would be interesting to re-approach these kinds of panels, but with a live group of panelists and a moderator to help direct the conversation. Of course, I think organizing such a thing would be a feat of heroism, but I think it would help get even deeper into the issues, especially the ones that are hinted at in these discussions.

  • http://misshydroangrymotor.wordpress.com Irminasultana

    As an Indian Muslim chick, I’m not too surprised that Muslim south asian partners (guys are girls) are often the ones Hindu/Sikh south asian parents warn against. It goes both ways. My parents would basically disown me if I ever got with a Hindu or Sikh guy. I really is a shame and travesty, since we just about look the same, eat the same food, have the same culture….basically are one people. 

    • Anonymous

      One thing that is interesting to me is that I have an Indian-american friend whose Indian immigrant parnents are a “mixed” couple.  The mom is Hindu and the dad is Muslim.  So originally I was kind of impressed when I figured that his parents’ marriage was a ‘love’ marriage, since all of the Indians (as in Indian born and who only came to the U.S. as adults) I know who are in ‘love’ marriages are under 40 (and in some cases, one person in the couple did get somewhat disowned or is ignored by certain family members).  But now, hearing this panel, I’m even more curious about how this couple in their late 60’s came together.  It seems as though it may have been quite a scandalous union in their day.
      However, out of three sons, one is married to a white woman, one has always dated black women, and the third had always dated non-Indian but after a failed engagement to British lady, quickly let his parents introduce him to a young Muslim, Pakistani American woman who he married a couple of months later.   
      So it’s funny to me that the only person in the family who seems to following “tradition” is the American born, 30 something year old son.  

  • http://commentarybyval.blogspot.com/ Val

    Fire is one of my favorite films! I watch it a few times a year.

    Back on topic. I find it interesting that African Americans are so off-limits to some of the panelists and yet I see and know quite a few African American/ South Asian couples. Both str8 and lesbian.