Welcome back to the final 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.
Rohin: I think you’re right, in that there’s a notable scarcity of accurate depictions of South Asian Americans, with Mindy Kaling’s character on The Office serving as one of the more accurate depictions.
I also think you’re on-point with those observations. And I think the reason South Asians are presented as “hopelessly single” is because making them asexual makes them an easy fit for the model minority archetype. “She’s too busy for love because she pursuing her M.D.!”
But maybe all of these representations are sending any number of irresponsible messages to the effect of, “You might not be American enough unless you fit either of these prescribed roles.” Scarier: There are South Asian Americans who are currently buying into these characterizations.
RB: First of all, I would disagree that depictions of South Asian Americans are rare. Considering the fact we constitute less than one percent of the population, I would argue that we’re increasingly well-represented in the media industry. With that being said, the quality of those depictions is still open for debate. Yes, many South Asians on-screen still end up in the arms of white folks, especially attractive women. It seems obvious that this is because 1. Most American TV shows and movies are marketed towards white people and 2. Indians are slowly being viewed as one of the more “acceptable” candidates for interracial relationships with whites, likely because of our generally above-average socio-economic status.
But I don’t think you can blame Hollywood for the fact most Indians would prefer a white partner to one that’s black or Latino. Preference for fair-skin is deeply ingrained in Indian society, a remnant of thousands of years of occupation and a lasting colonial hangover. Watch any Bollywood movie and the actors could pass for Persian, Latin or even white in some cases. I’m sure there are Indian kids sitting at home watching these shows and thinking that finding a hot white guy/girl would constitute success. That is tragic, but sadly also brings them in line with most of the U.S. population.
Anna: Well it certainly benefits the fair and lovelies. The female protagonists are never as “black” as I am. It’s interesting, in Bollywood, female stars are pasty. On “E.R.”, when they finally got an Indian doctor on that show, Parminder Nagra was fabulously brown. I love America. Incidentally, I believe her character married a black doctor, not a white person.
Honey: I really think it depends on generation, geography, and community. And I don’t agree that the depictions of SAA are always partnered with White people. I often see them partnered with another Asian person — which is just as annoying as seeing them patternly partnered with a White person.
In my communities and family, there is no “ideal partner.” It’s understood that our diaspora is complex, our dreams our complex, therefore dating is tremendously complex.
Neesha: See, dating is a huge issue in the South Asian community as a whole. The big question is still, “Are you allowed to date?” whether you’re an adult, or a teen still living at home. More parents are okay with dating, I think, now than ever before, but the dating – as far as I know (it’s been ages since I’ve even had to think about dating) is still pretty monitored and the parents still have a lot of input. But I do have a younger brother and he is dating – mostly white women because of where he lives. My parents are surprisingly okay with this. It could be because he’s the youngest of three and they’re getting older and mellower. Because for my middle brother it was still a colossal battle to date white women.
Harbeer: I ignore pop culture and people who are heavily influenced by it. (I’m old! And I like nerds who’ve lived wild lives.)
Rohin: Honestly, people like who they like. Sometimes that might be you, but most of the time, probably not!
RB: I think a lot of South Asian people come to the dating issue with a lot baggage. When you are young there are only so many opportunities to interact with large group of your brown peers and after a certain age those interactions inevitably come accompanied by a certain amount of appraisal and sexual tension. Being rejected from a group you expect to accept you as you are is probably one of the most traumatic experiences one can go through.
Still, my general experience is that most Indian people seem to prefer to date within their race but are sometimes held back by their perceptions of what “other” desi folks are like. Almost every Indian kid thinks they are somehow “different” and that other Indians would never “get them.” My experience is that those are the people who 1. are mostly like to date outside their race and 2. have the least experience in India or among large groups of Indian people, which are inevitably more diverse than one would ever expect.
Neesha: Like Anna, a lot of my partner choice all throughout my dating years had to do with the way I grew up. The light/dark thing. I hated feeling like the ugly dark girl. I was that in my family. I was that in my community. I didn’t want to be that with my partner. The first time I ever even considered the possibility that I might actually be attractive to anyone was when I visited Jamaica. The first time anyone ever told me I was pretty was there – an immigration official. And he was looking at a picture of me as a little girl, when I was facing the most hostile racism I’d ever experienced in Canada from white folks, and when I was feeling the ugliest within my family and community. I think partner choice is incredibly complex – who we’re attracted to and why is based on so, so many factors.
Harbeer: I think Desi parents who want their offspring to partner up with Desis do themselves and their cause a big disservice by having us all grow up with this conception that we’re all each other’s de-sexualized “brothers and sisters.”