Navigating an interracial relationship

Identity

Image description: Two hands clasped together. The hand on the left has had henna applied, a wedding tradition common in India.

I still remember calling home to tell my parents about my partner, and my father’s response was “Why are you doing this to us?”. I was hurt by the blunt response, but honestly, I got off lightly for telling my Indian immigrant parents I was dating a white boy. I do not want to stereotype all Indian parents, but mine were strict and I did have a more reserved upbringing, especially with regard to dating.

In India, there still exists very outdated and dangerous relationship prejudices. People are encouraged to date within their caste, village and region. Otherwise, there is unbearable friction between families, which can even lead to disownment in some cases. My parents themselves, originally from two different Asian cultures but both residing in India, had a love marriage. This resulted in many of my mum’s family not attending the marriage out of disappointment. Fast forwarding to within the last 10 years, I was incredibly happy to see my cousin marry an Irish white man and my family accepting it with little resistance.

I got off lightly for telling my Indian immigrant parents I was dating a white boy.

Yet given all this, my parents were still surprisingly reluctant about my dating choices, and there was an undeniable dismissal of the longevity of my relationship. I have been with my partner for a year and a half, and I still hear things like “Let us find you an Indian boy” from my parents. I sense in them a fear that I might lose my cultural identity, but there are other concerns too that stem from the general prejudices they have against white people.

Some of those stereotypes, I hate to admit, have filtered into me. I remember having a conversation with my partner about marriage just months into our relationship. Marriage is very sacred in my culture, and is also the only acceptable reason one would start dating someone. My partner was naturally reluctant to speak so far into the future when I brought up these thoughts, and that made me feel as though he did not understand the value of commitment or the duty within love. I also felt that maybe he did not want to dream of the long term because he didn’t see himself with an Indian woman.

On other occasions when my partner’s care for me was apparent, I formed new worries that my partner’s regard was a result of a general fetish for South Asian women. I worried that I was simply an exotic token girlfriend, and I also couldn’t shake the feeling that perhaps I preferred him over an Indian boy because of the colourism I grew up with. The scepticism my parents had fed into me about being in an interracial couple had taken root, and it took time to revaluate this mentality and to see my partner as someone who cares about me as a person, and to know the way I felt about them was valid and genuine.

The scepticism my parents had fed into me about being in an interracial couple had taken root, and it took time to revaluate this mentality and to see my partner as someone who cares about me as a person, and to know the way I felt about them was valid and genuine.

There are situations that a lot of Indian people in interracial couples find hard or embarrassing to navigate. Trying to convince my partner to call my parents aunty and uncle was met with some awkwardness that made me feel very self-conscious. The difference in family dynamics such as the lack of privacy, independence and formality amongst my family compared to his was also something that made me feel shy. When he stayed over at my place, my parents did not accept that we would share a bed, and gave me extra sheets to take to Oxford so he could sleep somewhere else. The idea of him coming over and being served a potent curry or being bombarded by religious pictures on the wall made me worried. I also remember his confusion when we drew family trees for each other, and I included all my distant cousins in mine. I know there are many more cultural differences he may find alien, but we will overcome any challenges together.

Although I wish this was not the case, I do receive validation in someone finding parts of my culture attractive or exciting. When my partner finds my Indian outfits as beautiful as any other formal dress, when he enjoys the masala chai I make for him or the food from a dosa park takeaway, or finds the dances in Om Shanthi Om exciting; it makes me feel safe to truly be myself. Being a person of colour in Oxford can be difficult at times. Sometimes, racism is apparent and overt, but most of the time there is just a sense of loneliness and need to find your people, or to listen to Indian music at a bop, for once. I have become more aware of my own cultural background too, having come from a very South Asian populated city and school to a place where there are a mere handful of South Asian people in each college. I feel like a 24/7 ambassador of my culture and faith.

I know there are many more cultural differences he may find alien, but we will overcome any challenges together.

My partner is very considerate when noticing this dynamic, and prompts open, honest and reflective conversations. He does not try to educate me on my lived experiences, but helps to reassure me when I feel unhelpfully self-conscious around people. For example, his family are very welcoming people, but I often wonder, as those in interracial relationships commonly do, if would it be easier for everyone if he were to date a white person. I can’t help but feel judged when I do not drink a lot with them in public due to my reserved upbringing, and I would never feel comfortable wearing Indian clothes or a bindi if I was meeting them. I, like many others, fear to come across as too Indian, and so we opt for palatable.

As my partner and I learn and grow together, the feeling of “otherness” is not as overwhelming these days. It can be wonderful to share your culture with someone who genuinely has an interest in your upbringing, and to educate them while challenging my own internalised fears and stereotypes. There is a lot of internal conflict to sort out on my part, but I am glad to have a supportive partner who gives me the space and care to do so.

Image credits: afiq fatah on Unsplash

 

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