The Surprising Truth About Being in an Interracial Relationship

I matched with Ayush on Tinder months before I met him. He was kind, attractive, and a good conversationalist. I usually only matched with Indian men to drool at their perfectly groomed facial hair and tasteful shoes (I’m an essentialist, I know). I told myself that dating an Indian would be impractical. Their viewpoints wouldn’t coincide with my feminist rants and my Christian upbringing would clash with their (probably) polytheistic background.

I wasn’t being racist; I was being practical. Right?

I’m your typical white girl. Although I think both Starbucks and Uggs are overpriced, I am blonde, blue-eyed, and come from a Christian family. However, after four years at UVic I started to consider myself more “evolved” than the ultra-conservative environment I came from. I’ve taken gender studies classes and have been to protests; while the Bible Belt town I was from gawked at my social media because my progressive attitude being posted online was “appalling”. My family openly refers to me as the black sheep and I have a reputation for being rebellious. It’s not like my family and the community I grew up in are so backwards that dating someone of colour was out of the question, but how they would fit it is definitely a concern.

When I finally agreed to go out with Ayush, I mocked his accent in my head as he asked for a table- all in good humour. I did it without thinking. It was how we operated back home where there was a large Indian community. I had already asked him before our date what he thought about feminism. I fully expected him to fumble a reply about how “women have made so much progress” and “what are we complaining about any more” and “even in India look how many women are in university, becoming doctors.” Instead I got “I come from a developing country where I have seen women getting unequal treatment. So I definitely support feminism.” Um,  What?!

 

 

My birthday was two weeks after we met, and he surprised me with flowers. When I spent the night at his house he would tuck me in with Netflix while preparing dinner or chai. I had never been treated this way in my fairly extensive dating experience. I usually dated white boys or Latinos, and honestly found the misogyny level highest with the white guys. And if you have made it this far into the article that probably doesn’t really surprise you.

Aromas that I once considered foreign were now comforting. The anxiety and ambiguity that usually accompanied Tinder interactions evaporated. I never stopped being curious about our different cultural backgrounds, but the harder I searched for difference the more I found similarities.

 I know that sounds like a cheesy line from a short-term missionary, but it turns out there is an embarrassing amount of things a well-travelled, well-educated and open minded individual like I consider myself to be did not know. For example, did you know that one of India’s official languages is English? I didn’t. Ayush frequently reminds me that his entire education was in English and although his single experience cannot account for the entire country, this is incredibly common he tells me. “Why do you think all the call centers are located in India?”

Did you know that cricket is like a religion in India and that their player's salaries are coveted worldwide? I didn’t. Did you know that although arranged marriages occur they are much more causal than many people think, and children have the right to refuse or accept? I didn’t.

 

 

But what surprised me even more is his awareness of the darker sides of India. He told me that in the state next to where he is from, female infanticide still occurs. And now that their men have fewer women to marry, sex trafficking ensues. We talked about the woman that was gang raped in on the bus in Delhi in 2012. “We were angry about that. There were huge rallies and protests.”

I did not know that.

I mentioned his easy-going attitude towards me teasing his accent. We had one conversation where I couldn’t understand the word he was saying and we said it back and forth trying to understand one another for a solid five minutes. I still say “BIK-in-ee” to tease him. But he never gets mad; partly because of his demeanor, but he also tells me that Indians are no strangers to prejudices within their own country.

“Oh yeah, racism is common between Northern and Southern Indians.”

 I did not know that.

Not long after we met and before we became official, I visited my German immigrant grandparents with my mother. As part of a memory project I had become aware of I decided to interview each of my grandparents about their lives and experiences.

The interviews went well, until my Opa (German for grandfather) got on the topic of “ragheads.” Since I wouldn’t let him get away with this racial slur, I pushed him, asking why he was so opposed to certain “types” of immigrants, especially considering he was once a war refugee. He argued that when he came to Canada he abandoned his culture and modern day immigrants should do the same. He doesn’t approve of political leaders wearing a turban or hijab because when he came to Canada, Germans wore their pants slightly wider. He opted to alter his pants. Somehow, in his mind, trousers and religious symbols are one in the same.

 

 

My Opa, a devout Baptist insisted that Muslims should not be afforded “special” religious rights (he was referring to a prayer room at the local university) since they don’t pray to God, they pray to Allah (…Allah means God in Arabic…).Then there was the inevitable, “They want to kill all Christians speech.” My attempt at informing him on the ratio of violent to peaceful Muslims was lost on him.

He moved onto blaming African American individuals who move into a white neighborhoods and bring down the property value of the street. I stated that this outdated problem wasn’t their fault, but the fault of the collective perception of an uneducated public.  He then turned the conversation more personal.

“You have a family, you have a daughter. And she is going to marry a black guy.”

Given this wasn’t a question I asked him if he would be sad if I married a black man. And given my current situation, I asked, what about an Indian man?

“What about the children! They’ll grow up half white, half black.”

His explanation of his reaction largely revolved around religious difference: “If a Catholic and a Protestant marry, where will their children go to church?” I tried to argue that these differences are arbitrary, they both believe in God, so why should it be a fight? But even in my women’s studies classes, these questions of “picking a side” had come up on countless occasions.  Although the conversations more often were in regards to being mixed race in a society so fixated on difference and segregation, the struggle of coming from two different cultures comes with logistical problems that can’t be ignored.

Ayush told me his family would accept whomever he chose to marry, no matter her ethnicity. But further conversations revealed complications. His mother spoke mostly Hindi with limited English. How was she to communicate to a non-Indian daughter-in-law? My female brain trailed off to the topic of children. As a Spanish student, I had always dreamed of adopting a Peruvian daughter. Would she learn English, Spanish and Hindi? Perhaps the differences between Ayush and I were imaginary, but the logistical challenges our future would include were certainly not. In this way, I could not ignore what I knew my Opa was trying to get at.

When I asked my Opa for suggestions -- whether he thinks everyone should just marry within their “group,” or if it would be better for everyone to accept one another -- I got a jumbled response. To be fair, he is eighty-seven, but he did end up admitting there is less of problem with interracial marriage these days, and he supposed, if you really wanted to marry a black man, go for it. Although he would never marry a black girl…Okay, no one asked.

 

 

Many of the reasons my Opa is against interracial relationships are based on pure ignorance and hatred (ex. “Allah isn’t the same as the Christian God, all Muslims want to kill Christians,” and “African Americans are dangerous people out to lower property values”), he did bring up the logistical challenges that those in interracial relationships might face (albeit in the most offensive way possible).

Following the visit with my grandfather I found myself spinning out in rage over the outdated ideas he expressed. When I sheepishly told my friends the awful words by Opa had uttered, they were appalled at first, but quickly assured me they also had “that racist family member.”

As it stands, they will never completely accept Ayush as they do my sister’s white, blue-eyed, Christian boyfriend. This makes me angry and exceptionally sad. Much of it has to do with religious difference, but when that is separated out; preconceived notions of difference prevail in my family’s minds. Even though I have tried the vanilla dating choices, the “more suitable” Rob; but forcing romance on a relationship that “makes sense” rarely works. My relationship with Ayush developed for the right reasons, a deep connection of personalities.

Ayush and I pulled up to a grocery store one night to get the 50% off Asian food at 9pm (I just let you in on a student secret) next to a group of multi-ethnic university aged males.

“Do you notice how people stare at us?”

I was surprised he was so aware. I had brushed this off in an effort to avoid the “feisty feminist who tries to find a problem with everything” stereotype. But even in Victoria which boasts its nature of acceptance, I feel the stares of the young and old as they attempt to decipher if we are more than friends. I am not saying I would be any better if the roles were reversed and I was looking on, but dating Ayush has highlighted how even a progressive, well-travelled feminist like me can harbour ugly racist ideals without really noticing. This “accidental” racism is present in all of us. In myself it manifested as an assumption of lack of progress in a country I have never been to and know next to nothing about (although I thought I did). (accent mocking) By writing this I hope others will be more aware of the prejudices that exist within them that they perhaps don’t even realize. Yelling at the racist Uncle at Thanksgiving might not always be possible but I hope this article encourages someone to delve deeper into their interracial relationships to find and quash the accidental ugliness that was cultivated in secret by a society obsessed with separation.

 

 

One sunny morning as I drove him home we talked about the cartoons we watched as kids. He recalled the Flintstones, Dexter’s Laboratory, The Power Puff Girls, and Popeye the Sailor Man. It was this trivial similarity of Saturday morning cartoons that made me realize all the distance between us was truly imaginary.

I was simply a human in love with another human.

While Ayush’s and my relationship is still incredibly young and marriage and babies are far off the radar, these future logistical concerns are worth considering when one is investing time and emotional energy into such a relationship. What I wish my German grandparents knew is that the love and care he provides me is unprecedented. Who knows what the future holds. Perhaps I will end up with one of the Christian white boys from my past, and there’d be nothing wrong with that. But I am so grateful to Ayush, who let me into his life to see first-hand how constructed and arbitrary cultural difference truly is. I don’t know what will happen, but I do know I will follow the advice my cousin gave when me I contacted her, distraught over our family’s racist overtones:

“If he will fight for you, you should fight for him.”