Category Archives: Cultural Difference

Healing and Understanding Cultural Difference within our Relationships

Before Christmas I had a great session with a new psychologist. I went in freaking out a bit, because things were rough last year, and towards the end it all felt out of control. At the same time, I’d been doing a bit of reading on brain/neuroscience. Except… well, I’m no brain scientist, and I don’t think I really understood what I was reading. Somehow, in all of that, I convinced myself that I was behaving like a manic psycho and my brain was totally rewiring itself to model my behaviour; meaning I was falling further and further into manic mode. So despite all the pain of my first few therapy sessions, I decided to give counselling one more shot.

And just for the record – I’m glad I did. I was shaking going in, and launched straight into a cautious tirade about how I was “regressing” into infantile communication strategies (umm, like not talking to anybody and literally locking people out when I was feeling really down). Unlike the past therapists, this one didn’t focus on aspects of my behaviour that were abusive and crazy (not that there’s anything wrong with focussing on that). Instead, she calmed me down, acknowledged I was going through a hard time, and asked me not to be too harsh on myself. Wowie….

OK, so it’s obviously good for the ego to hear that locking people out of the house doesn’t make you a manic psycho bitch or regressive infant, and that it’s in fact a self-care strategy. What rocked my world about this therapist, though, is that she acknowledged my relationship (i.e. didn’t just focus on me as an individual), and finally (finally!) addressed the fact that there are some cultural differences between me and L which I should probably try to get my head around.

We’re onto something here folks!

I guess most people in an intercultural relationship don’t need a therapist to tell them  they should explore and understand cultural differences between themselves and their partner. But hey, what can I say, I’m not most people 😉 And the other therapists I’d seen had taken very different and more individualistic approaches to recovery and healing, with absolutely no acknowledgement of the intercultural dynamics within my relationships. Indeed, as readers of my older posts will know, one therapist even suggested I was only with L because I was fascinated by him as an object of intellectual curiosity and humanitarian assistance – implying that I was the type to fetishise difference. Needless to say this was rather hurtful, and made me self-conscious of exploring any kind of cultural difference between us, thinking such exploration would be evidence of pathology and co-dependency in our relationship, rather than an expression of love and understanding.

Don’t get me wrong. I have always been mindful of cultural difference. I started this blog, after all – and my very first post is about how I’d always resisted the label ‘cross-cultural’ when maybe the idea could actually help sort out some resonating truths about our relationship. Yet I’ve also been mindful of exoticising L, of appearing too keen and interested and naive, of making him feel like some kind of African specimen for an ignorant western mind. My attitude was (and is) compounded by the fact that L has, shall we say, very little patience for my discipline and profession of choice, anthropology. To simplify his position , anthropology is the most colonial, the most exoticising, objectifying western discipline. Ironically, my very training in social science took away any intellectual resources to argue back. First year anthro right through to graduation is all about the evolution of western social sciences in the context of colonialism, eugenics and economic expansion; about the academic discourse that justified the imperial control of bodies and minds and resources; about the privilege that makes western projects of objectification such as ours possible in the first place. It’s self-critique all the way, and speaking for myself and a few close friends, we certainly came out of it cringing at our naive fascination with ‘other cultures’.

After such wide-ranging accusations  of being exoticising and objectifying (from too-many-years-at-uni, from L, from the previous counsellor) it was refreshing to hear this new therapist encourage me to learn about L’s culture. She suggested I read up on the history of his country, the politics, and what he might have experienced in the early formative years. Read up on the position of women in his country, try to understand how this affects the way he relates to me.

I might cringe at myself all the time for wanting to learn more about different-ways-of-being-in-the-world. But the truth is, reading up on politics and gender and culture in other societies is right in my zone, and true to myself I stumbled across this fantastic article by a medical anthro from L’s country (redeemed, I hope, by the fact that she’s not a foreign researcher) writing about cross-cultural experiences of trauma and healing after the civil war. For many people in L’s country – which has been subject to a long period of political violence – physical and psychological ill-health can often be interpreted as a sign of malevolence in your relationships. That is, health is not just an individualised phenomenon, because the ‘person’ themselves in this culture (as with many cultures in the world) is understood via their relationship with others. Western ideas about healing can be counterproductive in such societies, as western medicine treats illness in a very clinical, scientific way that locates a particular disease/incident of trauma in the body or mind of an individual. So for instance, individual therapy would be considered an appropriate strategy for a rape victim in a conflict situation. Indeed, medical organisations such as Medecins Sans Frontieres often send out teams of psychologists to conflict and crisis zones. However, the western method of verbalising and essentially reliving trauma over a prolonged period of time until some kind of symbolic catharsis is reached, and what’s more in a clinical setting with just the individual and the therapist, can do more damage than good in cultures where recovery is not just about healing the individual, but about restoring fractured relationships in a symbolically potent and culturally resonant way.

The author uses an example of a boy from L’s region who was stolen by the rebels and forced to fight as a child soldier in the civil war. After being reunited with his family as a teenager several years later, the boy  did not respond so well to prolonged individual therapy. What really worked, however, was a subsequent healing ritual in which he was placed in a hut, the hut set on fire, and the boy rescued by his uncle. The ritual involved not only the boy himself (as therapy would), but his whole family, restoring familial roles and responsibilities torn apart during the conflict by allowing his family members to ‘save’ the boy from the fire, since they were unable to save him during the war. It’s a ritual then, that reinvigorates relationships and facilitates family healing in one symbolic moment (rather than ongoing and prolonged individual/group sessions where you would normally verbalise your trauma in a quite literal way). By overcoming the traumatic event symbolically, you can move an continue to foster healthy family relationships…and from this healthy selves.

Now I suspect a ritualistic approach to healing wouldn’t really do it for L, since his circumstances are quite different. And the truth is, I don’t need to read a paper about his country to know him and know what would work for him. But some cultural and contextual information doesn’t harm (that is, so long as it’s not used as the basis of simplistic generalisations…of the “Africans in conflict zones won’t response to individual therapy, they’re all collectivist and need to do these full-on rituals involving their whole family” sort). Ultimately though, in pondering cross-cultural attitudes towards healing (from brain science to fire rituals) I’ve come to recognise a truth about myself: that my health and wellbeing are also intricately wound up with the health of my relationships. I think most people in the world – including us ‘individuals’ in the west – realise that we can seek to heal ourselves by healing our relationships, even if the standard clinical and medicalised approach to health doesn’t always make room for this (with the exception of certain types of relationship/couples therapy). I think that’s why, as I wrote in my last post, lying to my father tears me apart so much. Because it undermines our relationship and is causing a lot of unhappiness (and health problems, my dad in particular has not been well in the last few months).

Stress caused me to isolate myself last year. This year is all about health, healing and connecting with others.

9 Comments

Filed under Cultural Difference, Interracial Relationships, Race, Western Privilege

Migration, Identity and Language

When I started this blog, I vowed never to write about migration and identity. I hate being type-caste as a “migrant woman” from South Asia. I hate people assuming I have “clash of two worlds” identity issues, or assuming that my adolescent identity issues somehow differed from those of my non-migrant friends. The whole idea of writing about identity seems self-indulgent and egotistical. But hey, isn’t that what personal blogs are all about?

Probably my resistance to any kind of migrant-woman stereotype stems from an unconscious desire to identify with the mainstream, more powerful group. But we’ll leave aside the topic of my unconscious desires in this post (they’re not that interesting – desire for omnipotent power, for oneness with the cosmos, the usual kind of thing…).

I of course had my issues growing up – for instance, about appearance – but what kind of teenage girl doesn’t? For obvious reasons, my anxieties about my appearance were shaped by ideas about skin colour and beauty. But issues of race, migration and culture clash didn’t, unfortunately, dominate my childhood or teenage years. My ordinary life would disappoint a social researcher interested in the lives of migrant children. My parents raised me with values, as all parents do, but none of these values were at odds with the values I learnt everywhere else (I never felt our home or lifestyle to be somehow distinct from ‘mainstream’ Australian society). They never explicitly expected that I would do (or not do) certain things because of their background. Well, not until my mum chucked a wobbly about L, but by then it was a bit late, my upbringing was well and truly over (23 is not a good age to suddenly dump some heavy cultural expectations on your offspring). Growing up with only immediate family was a big part of this, as extended family expectations and obligations play a major role in shaping South Asian cultural identity and responsibility. As I’ve mentioned before, my parents now live in a city with visible South Asian communities where practices such as arranged marriage and extended family living are not uncommon. Mum now laments (or pretends to lament…in her melodramatic moments I’m unsure if she’s being manipulative or sincere) the fact that she didn’t bring us up “strictly”. Whatever that means. (Locking us up? I was such a bookworm that my mum would often hide my novels and force me to go out with friends. Coming from a collective, intensely social culture, she found my private, bookish ways quite strange, and worried about my lack of social skills.) Her regret doesn’t make any sense because my parents were never consciously liberal. We were all just living our lives; and everyday life doesn’t usually involve reification and objectification of your own actions – “are we being traditional enough?” When you’re working, going to school, meeting up with friends, living life….who has the time to even care?

One consequence of growing up in a monocultural city has been my weak grasp of the Nepali language. While Nepali is my first language, I only had a limited number of Nepali-speakers to practice with as a child (i.e. my parents, the only two Nepali speakers in town). Gradually, English became my normal mode of conversation at home, without my parents even realising. I would speak in English, they would respond in Nepali and/or English. It seemed natural to everybody until an uncle visited when I was 7 and exclaimed that he couldn’t understand a word I was saying.  I never thought explicitly about identity as a kid, but if somebody had asked me where I was from, there’s no doubt I would have said Australia. Not out of any rejection of Nepal – it’s just that ‘Nepal’ didn’t figure strongly in my life, except as a place I visited twice. (These days my response to that question would be entirely dependent on who is asking me and in what context). I’ve always felt like I’ve belonged in Australia. As a teenager, I remember visiting Sydney and meeting my parents’ Nepali friends’ children. It was quite an interesting experience because most of them had a strong sense of being Nepali, and demanded to know if I did too. One girl pointedly informed that she “doesn’t like white people”. And – this is not exactly the revelation of the century – having the ability to speak Nepali very obviously bolstered their sense of cultural identity (for instance, bantering in Nepali on the trains, often using this mechanism to talk about other passengers and exclude others from their ‘Nepali’ world…like most things, I guess such behaviour stems from human power struggles…excluding the mainstream world through the limited mechanisms they have because they feel excluded from it themselves).

Yikes it’s taking me a long time to get to the point of this post!

The thing is, I identify pretty closely with Australia (it’s always been home), and have never had any crisis-type identity issues while I’m here. Except for a period around 2005 when racism became quite overt (think Cronulla riots). When I’m overseas, I’ll usually say I’m from Nepal, because I’ve only ever travelled to South Asia and South East Asia, where people will simply think you’re a snob if you have brown skin and say you’re from a western country. Indeed, in India some people thought I was being a snob when I said I was Nepali, as if I was trying to deny my Indianness! (“You are Indian?” “Oh, Nepali”. “But your parents are Indian?” “My parents are Nepali”. “But your grandparents are Indian?” “No, they’re Nepali.” “But your face looks Indian!”). I was often treated quite rudely by workers at train stations because they thought I was pretending to not understand Hindi (all Nepalis should speak and understand Hindi afterall), or presumptuously flashing an Australian passport when I should have had NRI identification. But this was only when dealing with officials and bureaucrats – many Indians themselves don’t identify strongly with the Hindi language, and I was usually treated warmly when meeting people on the street (barring the men who assumed I was a prostitute because I was travelling alone, so you know, that’s probably barring about 90% of my interactions in India).

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for meeting ordinary Nepalis on the street in Nepal (I can say the same for a lot of men doing a lot of inappropriate groping). Of all the countries I’ve visited, Nepal is the one place where I feel like I can never belong as myself. Is this ironic, or just bloody normal as ‘returned migrant’ experience? Language has been a huge barrier. Nepalis (or, at least my family) find it pretty funny when outsiders are learning their language. While they consider teasing to be a kind of support and positive reinforcement, I find it hurtful and infuriating that they tease me when I’m genuinely trying to learn. For all the teasing, foreigners who learn Nepali are generally admired. But speaking with an accent if you actually look Nepali? There’s a popular catch-phrase in Nepal about “striking an airport accent” (referring to someone who’s left the country and then comes back pretending to have an accent). Here I am trying my best to speak good Nepali and people think I’m trying my best to speak it badly! Talk about discouragement. It got to the point where I was repeating certain syllables so much (I will never be able to say “chha” correctly) I was saying them (badly) in my sleep. Irrationally, I began to envy my cousins for being born in Nepal and for being able to move so seamlessly through society; while I was out there attracting stares, laughs at my funny accent, and constantly being ripped off and getting lost. I envied their fluent conversations, their sharp comebacks to sleazy men, their bargaining power, their ‘right’ connections, their dress sense, their hair and makeup…everything which made them so completely Nepali, everything which seemed to exclude me from their easy world (because how could life be hard when you’re so at one with society, right?). Maybe this is how people feel when they migrate to a different place – envy at the majority for their ability to fit in and work the various social systems; resentment at being teased, misunderstood and effectively excluded. No wonder people feel marginalised. I had one understanding cousin who tried to help. “Try not to speak when you go out”, she instructed, replacing my suitcase with her own clothes and encouraging me to dress more “Nepali” (more feminine) and wear heavy eyeliner. But the makeover wasn’t successful. “There’s just something about you. Even if you don’t talk, even if you wear our clothes, you don’t look like us. Even if you say ‘chha’ a hundred times” – seeing the dark look on my face, she drops her teasing grin – “The way you walk…your head is too high. They’ll pick you a mile off, especially the hawkers! You’re just…too different”.

I’m yet to find a comfortable way of being in Nepal, without everyone questioning why I don’t quite look or act or speak ‘right’. As a teenager I never would have thought of writing this stuff down – language and identity weren’t an issue. Now they are, even in Australia, thanks to visiting Nepal.

There’s this popular perception that migrant children who return to their “homeland” experience positive and culturally-meaningful identity reinforcement. Have you seen the end of The Namesake, when Gogol eventually returns to India to put himself back together?

Bet he comes out more confused.

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Filed under About, Adolescence, Being a Migrant, Cultural Difference, Parents

Confessions and Questions of a New Blogger

I feel pretty new to the world of blogging, and still find myself having to google and wikipedia unfamiliar terms. Just for laughs, I thought I’d share some of the more obvious terms which baffled me when I first started:

Bangla

How could I not pick the meaning of this one right? It came up in one of the first comments on my blog. I considered answering with the question “what’s bangla?”, but decided I better google it first in case the answer was really obvious and I came across as the most ignorant intercultural blogger in the virtual universe.

Am hoping I have enough virtual street cred now to admit to this without it destroying my rep 🙂 I AM culturally aware, I swear I am!!

Desi

I’ve never heard/seen the word ‘desi’ used outside the online world. Before I started reading Desi-Link blogs, I’d only ever heard the word ‘bidesi/videsi’, which means ‘foreigner’ in my parents’ language. But as it’s not an everyday word, and hardly holds any currency when you’re living in bedesh itself (unless you want to go around calling everything and everyone bedesi), my parents never used this word at home and I heard it for the first time in South Asia. It never occurred to me that it might be linked to the word desi when I first saw desi online. Thank goodness Google is around to tell me what desi means, hey?

Still, even after I knew the meaning of both terms, it took a few months for the link between ‘desi’ and ‘bedesi’ to click, which actually happened very recently (hence this post). I’m comfortable with the knowledge that I’m not the most linguistically talented individual, but c’mon brain…it’s such an obvious connection. (Indeed, despite knowing ‘desi’ and ‘bidesi’, I still had to google ‘pardesi’ when I first came across it a couple of months ago).

Ironically, just like the word ‘bedesi’ (foreigner) seems to have more meaning and use in one’s home country, I get the feeling ‘desi’ is a word used more outside of South Asian than inside it…? Given the region is so linguistically, culturally and religiously diverse (not to mention politically fraught), this pan-subcontinental identity doesn’t really make sense until you’re taken right out of context, and commonalities take on more meaning than differences (at least for some) as you try to make yourself feel at home in bedesh. (…?)

I’m not sure how widely desi is used in Australia. I’ve certainly never heard it used amongst my family or friends. Those friends who do identify strongly with their South Asian heritage are more likely to come out and say “I’m India” or “I’m Fijian-India” (etc.). So I’m curious to know…does anybody actually use this term in conversation in Australia or elsewhere? Or is it a word that tends to be thrown around more online, where we do need shorthands for defining identity, blogging context, subject matter and so on?

ABCD

I never paid much attention to this term, assuming it was a variant of ABC – Australian Born Chinese – when I first saw it. But it kept coming up in the intercultural blogging sphere, even when no ABCs were involved, and imagine my shock when I discovered it stands for Australian (or American) Born Confused Desi. I mean, why are you automatically labelled as confused if your parents are South Asian, but not if your parents are East Asian? or white? I was as confused as any teen growing up, but I never linked it to my parents’ cultural background. Because that’s what growing up and life and existence is all about, for anyone, from anywhere – sorting out who you are. (In fact, some would say this existential and self-reflexive aspect to human existence is what distinguishes us from animals, at least to our knowledge…confusion regarding identity is hardly exclusive to South Asians, it’s a distinguishing factor of our humanity).

That said, I do understand the need to identify with others like you, to find a community for yourself (because we are social beings, and community is central way of finding ourselves), and to have a language which lets you readily share you pain and your joys to somebody who immediately understands, because they too have South Asian parents, what you’re going through.

Again I am curious – does anybody out there actually consider themselves to be an ABCD? Is there something about having South Asian parents that gives a distinctively desi spin on existential confusion?

And a shout-out to a reader -The Ideal Indian Woman?

Until a reader commented on this blog under the name Bharatiya Nari, I’d never heard this phrase. Initally I thought it was your actual name! Then I saw a few unseemly google searches referencing the ‘name’ (nothing unusual – most of the search hits this blog gets are from unseemly search terms), and I realised there was much more meaning to it than I’d first assumed. After a brief stint on Google, I’ve come up with “woman”, “good Indian wife”, even some articles about feminism and hardcore rightwing Hindu mens’ rights stuff. Is ‘woman’ just synonymous with ‘good wife’ in India? Is this phrase/ideal common in most Indian languages? I should probably do my research but I’m gonna be lazy and ask if somebody knows what this phrase means (or at least what it means to you), and why it appears in such wide-ranging subject matter? Your thoughts are much appreciated!

At the end of the day…

I’m hoping I’m not alone in this, and I’d love to know what ‘new’ terms you guys have come across in your blogging adventures (including reading and commenting). There’s this entire vocabulary out there to help frame certain experiences through the lens of culture (especially when it comes to migrant/intercultural/second gen stuff). And as I’ve already said, having a language which helps express your experiences in a shared idiom goes a long way in doubling the joy, halving the pain and feeling less isolated when things seem tough.

I can’t say I will ever own the term desi myself though…it seems to confer this really strong sense of identity which I can’t/don’t/won’t relate to. The phrase South Asian (which I prefer and use in this blog) is just as generalising, but in my mind it points more to heritage than identity, and is less prescriptive and presumptive. At the very least, saying “I have South Asian parents” doesn’t automatically imply that I’m confused!

I am not confused thank you very much…only when it comes to desi words and phrases 😉

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Filed under Adolescence, Blogging, Cultural Difference

Woman, Femininity and Feminism

These thoughts are inspired by a few recent posts in blogland around feminism, being a woman and negotiating gender roles in intercultural contexts.

Although it’s an offshoot from the main discussion (which is very robust :)), it got me thinking about how I identify as a woman in a highly personal  way.

I have never been a feminine or girly girl. Like most adolescent girls I was extremely uncomfortable with my body growing up. I developed a terrible posture (which I still have) spending my teens hunched over in baggy trousers and t-shirts trying to cover my curves. I never had the confidence to learn about makeup, and privately rolled my eyes at girls who did (hmmm…so I obviously had some issues). The result? I always felt like the plainest girl in school. It didn’t help that I was one of only a few non-white girls, so I never had the faintest chance of coming close to normative standards of beauty.

This personal horror at anything feminine far outdates my teen years. I was 4 when my younger brother was born. I remember my mum had bought me this brand new pink outfit featuring a rather restrictive skirt (a skirt!) to see the new baby in. Of course, Dad made me wear it when he took me to the hospital for the first time, and I was so mad with both my parents for making me wear this ridiculous outfit I refused to look at the baby (ok, maybe I was jealous and insecure too, but all I remember is how ashamed….yes, ashamed….I felt at wearing a pink skirt and looking so bloody girly).

I also grew up acutely aware that my parents  come from a country where gender differences are entrenched in ways that can be very restrictive for girls (i.e. for me). Children are highly sensitive and pretty intuitive, I think, when it comes to these sorts of differences. I heard my mum use a more deferential term for ‘you’ when addressing my dad, and this didn’t sit comfortably with me. When I was 9 my mum took me to their home country, in South Asia, for the first time. Coming from a spotless, tiny and quaint Australian town, the dust, the people, the poverty was absolutely overwhelming.  Girls my age were vigorously handing washing clothes for their entire family outside during the freezing mornings. They were cooking, they were cleaning toilets, they were looking after their baby siblings. And what was I doing? Being a bratty foreign kid with a lot of culture shock and giving my mum a hard time. I saw, with observant 9 year-old-eyes, just how differently women can be treated. And for a presumptuous 9 year-old, who thinks her-way-is-the-best, this was wrong. Like wrong. I hope I have more maturity, cultural sensitivity and understanding now (I certainly hope I have less ethno-centricism), but there’s no doubt the experience was highly formative. I’ve said this before, most of my friends hadn’t even been to mainland Australia – forget about overseas – and I struggled, in grade 4, to explain to my friends just how lucky and privileged we are, how most of the world has to work much harder just to survive day to day.

From then I became very interested in social justice and feminism. You know the scene in Mary Poppins where the mum is encouraging her female domestic helpers to become suffragettes (“our daughters’ daughters will adore us…”)? Loved it. After visiting South Asia I became even more conscious of not appearing to feminine, especially in front of my family. I didn’t want to appear weak. I spent hours in the shed with my dad. I didn’t want to remind them I was a girl, in case they treated me differently. There were days in high school I would wake up feeling so trapped by body, ashamed by its weaknesses, and secretly wishing I was a boy. (While I wasn’t a girly girl, I wasn’t sporty or physically…uhm…’gifted’either. I’m tall compared to all my female cousins, but compared to most of my western peers I usually get labelled ‘the smallest girl in the room’).

Ironically, my parents are the ones who taught me that girls can do the same things as boys and that women deserve the same respect as men. They’ve never treated me any differently to my brother (except for making me wear a skirt when he was born). I wouldn’t have known what the terms feminism and social justice mean at such an early age if my dad hadn’t spent many hours sharing his views world politics and ideology. And he never taught me to think of feminism as a dirty word; he taught me it means women are equal to men, and we should fight for the social changes necessary to make sure they are treated equal to men.

Still, I couldn’t shake off that nagging feeling that being woman, having a female body, with breasts and thighs and curviness, demeans me in the eyes of others. When we eventually moved to a larger city where extended family lived, I spent many anxious nights worrying about how all my cousins are male and how I wouldn’t be able to keep up with them in games of cricket. (Of course I couldn’t, I’m completely uncoordinated and terrible at sport!) Thinking about it now, I almost had a misogynist, hateful attitude towards my own body.

Now that’s hardly feminist.

There were other things too…I resisted learning to cook because I didn’t want to fall into gendered stereotypes (my brother has always been the better cook). I was rather gung-ho about showing my family I would never become a quiet submissive daughter or woman. You know, just in case they hadn’t realised. I was quick to scream ‘traditional’ and ‘sexist’ at every turn, even though most of my white friends came from households which had much more restrictive and openly-expressed gendered (and racist) stereotypes. Like men do all the handy work around the house and fix up cars (my mum’s always been more ‘handy’ around the house than dad!). And direct threats of “I’ll kill you if you ever get with a Lebanese boy”. Etc.

It’s silly isn’t it? Thinking I would lose my parents’ respect by appearing feminine. It wasn’t just about fighting South Asian gender roles either. There’s a pretty active tradition in Australia of demeaning ‘hot’ women as ‘bimbos’.  Plenty of guys at uni had no qualms about checking out good-looking girls, while standing outside tute rooms wondering aloud how they were ever going to pass. Because surely they have no brains. (And these were the new-age sensitive guys doing Arts courses at an institution well-known for liberal arts; imagine the lads over at Engineering?!)

My mum always encouraged me to dress up a bit, to wear nice things and bright colours that showed-off my figure. Instead of just hiding it, which for a long time was the aim of the game for me when it came to clothes. At uni I finally felt more confident and comfortable ‘being a woman’, and having that reflect in my appearance. But funnily enough it wasn’t until I took a gap year and went to South Asia again that I became truly comfortable being more feminine. When I finally recognised that people wouldn’t demean me for embracing my womanhood, and for looking – gasp – nice. I spent most of that year travelling alone. And when you’re travelling alone in India, you never, ever forget that you’re a woman. Nor can you hide it, no matter what you wear. But I also spent a lot of time with my family attending weddings (big fat weddings), and having amazing, strong female cousins doll me up in colourful saris (no way would I ever show that much stomach at home: wedding or club), beautiful jewellery and graceful makeup. And did anybody think the less of me for it? No, they all said I looked great. Did seeing my body remind them that I was some weak, pathetic female who is supposed to quietly submit to male authority? No, they were all actually in awe that I would travel by myself and said I was “tougher than I look”.

It’s taken me a long time to sit comfortably with my body, and truly understand that physical differences do not translate into differences in personal worth and social status. That I can be feminist and feminine at the same time. Feminism doesn’t mean turning into a boy! My partner L has a rather romanticised (and hetro-normative) view of sexual differences – that one sex completes the other. He thinks it’s crazy I used to hate my body for being female. I’m not so sure about the idea of the sexes complimenting each other (“you have what I need to propagate myself and spread my seed…a womb”) because it comes dangerously close to socially-prescribed gender roles. But I would be deluding myself if I didn’t admit that our differences are pretty central to our sexual attraction for each other. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I did dress up for L, appear more feminine at the start of our relationship because I equated this with attractiveness. Obviously my ideology and my feelings are not yet completely in sync. But hey, I’m only human: there is room there for confusion and inconsistency I hope 🙂

29 Comments

Filed under Adolescence, Beauty, Cultural Difference, Feminism

Sex Before Marriage? I Should Have Lied

If your mum is anything like my mum (strong-willed, dramatic and South Asian), there are some things you should probably hide until the time is right.

Unfortunately for me this realisation has come a little late.

L and I live together now (we’re not married) and there’s no point in hiding the obvious. But back when I was still living with my parents, I could have spared both mum and I two years of feeling hurt and betrayed if I’d just told one tiny white lie. “No mum, we’ve never slept together”.

I’ve always been honest with my mum. In the early days of my relationship with L, I was keen to share, hoping my openness would warm her up to the idea of us being together (in case you’re wondering, this strategy didn’t work). Clearly there were things I would never have told her. Usually these were things that left me feeling dirty and low myself – having a one night stand, for instance.

But making love to the guy I love, and having such intense feelings for each other the whole thing felt almost sacred? That to me was something to cherish. It was certainly not something I would ever deny when asked about, as if we were naughty kids doing the wrong thing. To hide it would have felt belittling and dismissive of our love.

Which is why, when I told mum the truth, and she hit the wall and basically implied I was a whore, I came out of the battle badly badly bruised. Yes, she apologised for saying it (after I didn’t speak to her for a couple of days), and now that L and I live together the issue barely rates a mention. All mum has said is, “Make sure you don’t get pregnant”. But the memory still stings. It was after this episode that I clammed up about L…avoided mentioning his name, stopped hinting that he and mum should try to get to know one another better. All I could think about was how my friends’ mums welcomed their partners with open arms (they didn’t all do this, but I wasn’t looking out for such reality checks at the time). And how my own mother, in contrast, had not only refused to be happy about my relationship, but had actually shot down my self esteem and selfishly turned the whole special thing around to make it be about her. How could she insist that my making love to my own partner is the ultimate betrayal? How is that logical? Or loving? Or anything else a mother is supposed to be?

And it’s not just with me either. She once found a packet of empty condoms in my brother’s room and went wild at him, replaying the betrayal script once again. (My suggestion that at least it was empty and at least he’s being responsible didn’t quite go down as I had intended).

It was after the fight with me that mum became explicitly anti-L. On some warped level of reality, she obviously did recognise the seriousness of the relationship, because she realised at this point that we were in it for the long haul. But the whole thing also allowed her to crystallise her objections, to turn our relationship into – out of the all the special things that it is – a personal attack against her!

I do understand that my mum has sacrificed a lot for her children. And I do understand that it must hurt so much when your kids act in an almost alien way, completely disregarding some of your most dear values. Just as it hurts me deeply when I feel mum has betrayed some of my dearest values – like the assumption that she would be happy for me when I found my long-term partner.

But hey, at least I was honest.

I wonder how mum would’ve reacted if I had approached my relationship with L the way most of my cousins have approach their relationships: by hiding them from their parents until they’re ready to get married or move in together. And then, in the case of monocultural relationships, asking for their parent’s permission and hey pronto, turning it into the perfect (self) arranged marriage. Everyone’s happy and no one’s asking questions.

I never grew up knowing my cousins or how they interacted with their South Asian parents (maybe if I had I’d be better equipped to handle my mum). But I do wonder: doesn’t it hurt to hide your relationship from your parents? Doesn’t it feel demeaning of your love? Maybe these cousins understand better than me what their parents can and cannot handle. And maybe they know better than to feel hurt by lack of parental understanding.

I’m not so sure sharpened cultural awareness would have made me less honest (and therefore more sensitive) with mum back then. There was definitely a stubborn assumption and expectation from my part that she would react just like all the other mothers I knew. Considering all these other mums were white, this was hardly a fair expectation and I don’t think it’s entirely mum’s fault I came out of it feeling so hurt and resentful. And anyway I’ve learnt my lesson. With cultural understanding has come a much less militant attitude towards honesty.

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Filed under Arranged Marriage, Cultural Difference, Family Acceptance, Parents, South Asian Marriage

Meet the Parents

I’ve been wanting to write about my mum for ages now. Actually, I have been writing about my mum for ages. Just on everyone else’s blogs except my own. A shout-out to all those bloggers who’ve put up with my long, obsessive comments…I need to write to process things, and during the last few months it’s predominantly been my own things rather than genuinely responding to the thoughts of others. When people raise South Asian ‘issues’, to me it’s usually an opportunity to directly or indirectly think about South Asian culture (particularly gender) and try to come to an understanding of my own mother and why she acts so…well, just so damn impossible sometimes.

My mum is actively anti my relationship with L, a relationship which has been going for well over 3 years now. She wasn’t always like this. When I first told her about him, her reaction was generally positive. Or more accurately, it wasn’t overtly negative. She did ask “Is he Muslim?” with concern when she found out he’s black, but on the whole she managed to refrain from any other ignorant stereotypes (quite an achievement considering she’s not the world’s most politically correct person). She even stated that she would never wish for us to break up, because she would never wish such a painful experience on her own daughter.

Still, she was relatively cold to L during their first meeting…avoiding his eyes, showing little interest, and letting dad lead the conversation (this is a total role reversal for my parents – dad is usually the quite thoughtful one and mum the cheery social butterfly). Because I sensed this hostility from mum towards L, I gradually avoided bringing them together and even avoided speaking about him in front of her. My dad, fortunately, has always been gracious enough to ask how he’s going, but even then I would feel prickles from mum which would kill the conversation (although at that time she never said anything explicitly anti).

I guess from there I let it slip. Maybe if I’d been more insistent that they get to know each other from the beginning, she wouldn’t have such a hardline stance now. But at the time, my thoughts were, “it’s my life, he’s my partner, I don’t expect my mum to love the person I love, but I do expect her to just accept him”. Given the fact that my mum is constantly advising her nieces and nephews that “you should choose who marry, it doesn’t matter these days where they’re from”, and that both my parents have told me in the past that they don’t expect me to marry a South Asian since I’ve never actually lived in there, I certainly hadn’t expected her to launch a covert personal war on L a couple of years down the track.

She’s even genuinely happy and beaming when all these cousins in intercultural relationships get married and engaged and have babies, and I find this so bloody hurtful. In my eyes, by acting cold towards L she deliberately snubbed her chance to know him, and yet here she is celebrating everybody else’s love and future happiness.

After two years of pretending L doesn’t exist, mum launched her offensive a year and a half ago. All of a sudden, I’m betraying her by being in a relationship she doesn’t approve of. In her attempts to express her frustration and anxiety about our relationship, she’s pulled many strange things out of the woodworks. I’m with L only because I feel sorry him. L is with me only for my money, it’s obvious because I have family and support in Australia and he doesn’t (not sure how that relates to L being after money I don’t have…). By marrying out of the caste I am jeopardising the life-after-death of the whole family (even though we were screaming at each other at the time, this one had me laughing out loud…my parents never mentioned caste when I was growing up. As I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in South Asia I gained a fair idea of how the caste system works in my early 20s; my brother, who’s only left Australia twice in his life, doesn’t even know what caste our family would fall into). She once said it would be better if I was with a white guy who wouldn’t face the amount of racial discrimination that L does; what’s the point of them moving to Australia and battling all that racism when I’ll end up going through the same hardship anyway? (Because it makes total sense to discriminate against L on the basis that he’ll be discriminated against by others…).

Nothing she says is consistent or logical or rational. It all comes across as desperate and unreasonable. And as I’m not the world’s most patient person when it comes to petty racism and unfair personal attacks, it’s hard during our fights to maintain even a semblance of respect for each other. What hurts more than anything else is the fact that she feels betrayed – on such unreasonable grounds – yet doesn’t realise how betrayed I feel by her unequivocal rejection of my partner (though I’ve yelled about it often enough). Aren’t parents supposed to smile and celebrate when their kids meet the love of their lives? Instead of threatening them with emotional blackmail?

I should note that I have a dear friend who’s in a very similar situation to me. Except her mum isn’t South Asian, and my friend is not in an intercultural relationship (she’s Australian going out with an Australian). So having your mother unreasonably object to your relationship and refuse to engage with your partner (while being nice to everybody else’s partners, just to rub salt into the wound), is not just a South Asian thing. Seems to be more of a strong-willed, opinionated mother thing. But there’s no doubt that the way my mother formulates and expresses her objections is culturally-informed. And that my “mind your own business and just accept who I choose” attitude is culturally informed. As our personal battle of wills continues, guns blazing, it’s becoming painfully obvious to me that to my mum, minding her own business means…uhm, minding my business.

My parents will be visiting in a month’s time, and spending a week with me and L. I can’t speak for L (as I’ve never quite come clean to him about how intense mum can get), but I’m feeling a tad nervous about the whole thing. She would never say anything to his face, but we are planning to go out to a national park for a few days, and if L has to work it means being captive in the car to both our tempers whenever we have the L discussion. I guess it means dad will do most of the driving…

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Filed under Cultural Difference, Family Acceptance, Interracial Relationships, Parents, Race, Racism

How Do You Get a Guy to Dance?

L comes from one of those African countries with a reputation for deadly booty-shakin, feet-groovin funky tunes, whose music and dance culture is rapidly growing in global popularity, particularly via South America. Whenever we’re out and people realise where he’s from – and that he refuses, point blank, to dance – I never fail to elicit sympathy and surprise from friends. “A [Insert African country here]-ican you doesn’t dance?!”

Yes it turns out tv lied to us: not all Africans groove and shake the night away.

Now I’m the first person to admit that people from foreign cultures are in no way obliged to fulfil our misguided stereotypes of them…

But geez I wish L would dance! Even just a little.

I’m no party animal in any definition of the term. I prefer to spend my time reading, writing, camping, hiking or any other activity that’ll set me down at the end of the day with either a good book or a good feed. But I love dancing and loved clubbing in my late teens and early twenties: The buzz of the music, the pulsating beats, the thrill of busting it out with randoms who I was too shy to actually speak to. Dancing is human bodily communication par excellence – you can be anonymous yet connected. And as a withdrawn and socially awkward 20 year old in a club at 3 am, it’s hardly surprising that I got such a high out of it, completely unassisted by alcohol or drugs. In fact, I can still dance non-stop til sunrise on water alone.

Which is why I’m a bit bummed that L refuses to dance, or even go out most of the time. We’ve been in a new city for a while now but I still haven’t made too many friends to go out with, and I was hoping L would morph into my partner in crime. Unfortunately, things haven’t quite gone to plan. The only time I’ve seen him on the dance floor is when a friend asked him to look after her mum, who was visiting over the weekend and had joined us at the pub.

(Which makes me think…maybe I should drag him out clubbing with my mum when she visits….and then they’d both get dancing…and maybe my mum would actually give him a chance…but that’s a story for another post!).

When I recently complained about his lack of enthusiasm for a good night out, L gave his usual Oscar-the-grouch-reply – “Bah, I hate dancing. Go without me”. He mentioned that his ex-girlfriend, before he moved to Australia, would also always complain about his refusal to dance. “I used to go up to other guys at the club and ask them to dance with her.” He twinkles remembering. “Nobody ever said no, they’d have big grins on their faces”.

Then confusion slights his eyes.

“But I don’t know, she would always just get annoyed with me anyway”.

Sounds like she doesn’t know how luck she was. At least he took the girl out!

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Filed under Cultural Difference, Music and Dance

Colonial Fantasy, Sexual Desire and Saving the Exotic Dark Other (aka Why Are You With This Guy?)

One of the most insightful articles I remember reading during undergraduate anthropology was by an English literature scholar examining western fascination with the ‘exotic other’. He described how the white tendency to fetishise and ‘study’ colonised populations was driven not only by the need for expanding markets at the economic level, or the need for greater territory and military prowess at the political level, but also by sexual desire for the exotic at the psychological/unconscious level. Indeed, he suggested that cross-cultural interaction and influence during the colonial moment (which is ongoing in many parts of the world) spreads through a limited number of ways – namely, language and sex (I can’t remember if he included trade). He often referred to colonial anthropologists and geographers who were well respected in their home countries and professional fields, despite of (or because of?) their wide-ranging sexual relations with ‘the natives’. Such sexual desire for ‘the natives’, according to this writer, was underpinned by a sense of adventure and conquering the unknown, and a drive to realise and strengthen one’s own civilised whiteness and identity by saving the exotic other from the dark throes of savagery.

Thankfully, ALL the people he referred to were male and white. In fact, the entire article was about white male sexual desire and how it is indulged through colonial relations and the western missionary/saviour complex.

Phew! thought the starry-eyed humanitarian in me. I’m not white, I’m not male, I don’t have a penis which can hide my brain when it doesn’t want to work, or a libido that can be titillated by a brown-skinned girl in a coconut bra. So my desire to help all those dark people in all those poor villages is not at all related to white colonial sexual fantasy and an unconscious saviour complex, right?

Ummm…wrong, according to my therapist.

To backtrack slightly, L and I are having some pretty major issues right now as he goes through a rough patch. To deal with all of this, I booked myself into a counselling session, because I don’t really know what else to do besides cry tears of frustration and slam all the doors in the house until they disintegrate into cracked splinters. (Oh, and blog).

The therapist took one look at my situation and saw western-wannabe-humanitarian-meets-black-boy-in-distress. She gently explained to me how, sometimes, people with a human services orientation meet somebody ‘interesting’ and initiate a relationship with that person not for who they are, but because of who they represent, because of all the potential in them to change. Or, more accurately, the potential in them to be changed (i.e. be saved). She reminded me that “He is not a project; he is not a member of population you are interested in studying; he is a human being who can only help himself”.

Yup, thanks for reminding me that my partner is a human being.

Forgive my sarcasm. I just can’t help but feel completely misunderstood and patronised. I know she was well-meaning and concerned for my welfare, but implying that I am with somebody for all the wrong reasons and that I am incapable of loving somebody outside of my professional and academic commitments, is hardly conducive to healing. And the more sinister implication that I am with L only to realise an aspect of my own identity (western saviour to this ‘traumatised’ black boy) was absolutely devastating.

(I guess my therapist, if she ever read this, would read a lot into my defensiveness here. But whatever).

I fled that counselling session and am yet to get up the courage to go back. Maybe if she had asked questions about how we met, how long we’ve been together, the nature of our relationship and how we feel about each other, she would have realised that I am acutely aware of this dynamic. It took me almost 3 years to agree to go out with L because I wanted to make sure my feelings were genuine. I would never have been that careful had he been a white guy; I would have plunged into the relationship, ‘given it a shot’, and sorted out the issues later. Yes, I treaded water carefully because of his personal and cultural background, even tolerated things that I would not have tolerated had I been with the guy-next-door. But ‘giving way’ in such a relationship (where there is an imbalance in racial privilege, at least publically) – or even BEING in such a relationship in the first place – does not automatically call into question one’s basic reasons for loving their partner.

These thoughts have arisen in response to a great conversation amongst South Asian intercultural relationship bloggers about balancing their ‘gori’ identity with their partner’s culture. Some, like Sara at A Little Bit of that Too, went through a stage of enthusiastically courting South Asia. Others have never felt the need to embrace their partner’s culture so enthusiastically.

Adding my two cents worth, I commented on a number of posts that I would never overtly embrace the markers of L’s culture, or even directly express interest in the cultural differences between us. If I did, L would think I was just being a middle-class, confused white person who doesn’t truly understand cultural difference at all (and worse still, a try-hard white person because I’m not actually white: trying to be white by trying to be ethnic!). On the back of his interactions with westerners here and in Africa, he very much associates this fascination for ‘other cultures’ with white fantasy and colonial exoticisation (in Australia, it’s certainly true that most people’s perceptions of and questions about Africa are based more on personal ideas/fantasies than on any real knowledge of what life is like over there).  So, if I expressed interest in his culture, for him it would be more about me using it to explore an aspect of my own identity (Eat, Pray, Love style), rather than actually understanding where he’s coming from (even though I LOVE learning about other cultures, and from my perspective it’s about understanding others as well as myself). And in so far that I have the privilege, education and resources to make such dips into another culture to ‘discover myself’ and ‘have a spiritual awakening’, yes, the process is inherently exploitative and tinged with racism. In the extreme version of this argument, embracing Africa would simply be a tool to solidify my own sense of self as an enlightened cosmopolitan westerner (the ‘trying to be white by trying to be ethnic’ thing isn’t a joke).

A lot of this stuff also comes from my own experience of fielding ‘culturally sensitive’ comments and questions from people in Australia who, despite their good intentions, come across as infuriatingly ignorant. But it’s best not to get started on this…

Until now I have felt just a wee bit smug populating the blogosphere with my clever commentary. The “I’m so enlightened and cosmopolitan and suave that I don’t even have to embrace another culture to prove my enlightened-cosmopolitaness” type of smug.

Then I remember how hurt I felt when my own motives for being with L were bluntly questioned. And how angry I felt when we were typecast into a saviour/other script that, at least in my mind, ran with the more extreme points of the exoticism and colonial desire argument; without once acknowledging all the love, frustration, joy and anger that goes on between us as two people, independent of any historical and psychological meta-narrative we may fall into.

Having spent much time at university examining patterns of racism, exoticisation, white fantasy and colonial guilt in western culture and politics, it’s been easy to project these same patterns onto other people’s intercultural relationship experiences, based on this-or-that post which I just happened to read. What’s been harder, I’ve discovered from hurtful personal experience, is to let go of my assumptions and understand people’s experiences from their point of view rather than my own.

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Filed under Blogging, Cultural Difference, Interracial Relationships, Race, Racism, Western Privilege

COOL Vs DAGGY

I’m a dag: a nerdy, wordy, bookish kinda gal who spends more time than she should dancing to 80s and 90s pop. (Ahem…thank-goodness-this-blog-is-annonymous!)

One thing I love about being with L, albeit on a rather superficial level, is the fact that he can’t tell the difference between indy-folk-‘local’ music (uber cool) and American-style-big-named pop (not cool). I’m not sure whether this is a cultural or personal thing, but to L, all Western music sounds pretty similar.

This is great news for me because it means that while L is on the computer studying, I can thump out the back of his chair to the likes of ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ blasting from YouTube. And all this without (I think…?!) losing his respect.

Dancing to me is fantastic stress relief. I’m not sure though, how this covert 80s and 90s fetish would go down if I was with a too-cool-for-school-Radiohead-loving guy (with all due love and respect to my friends :)).

L has always been genuine with me, without ever feeling the need to prove himself. Maybe this is all a part of being intimate – attracting and loving each other at our daggiest, rather than impressing each other at our wittiest.

Not that L is daggy. His taste in music is much more meaningful than mine – e.g. Zimbabwean folk songs recounting exchanges between sorcerers and healers (how can Cindy Lauper compete with that?!). And while he puts up with my not-so-groovy moves, he sure as hell draws the line at my not-so-in-tune-tunes:

Me (getting into bed): Caaan you feeeel the looove toniiiight.

L: Stop making noise darling.

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Filed under Cultural Difference, Music and Dance

Family Gossip, Acceptance and Racism

As I’ve said before on this blog, I’ve never really considered L and me to be in an ‘intercultural’ relationship. Cultural differences don’t figure that much in our day-to-day lives (unless you count our heated differences of opinion!), or even in our plans and hopes for the future. Yet I started this blog because I closely identify with issues being discussed on existing intercultural relationship blogs. Reflecting on my responses to other bloggers, I’m increasingly realising that it’s more my relationship with my parents that is ‘intercultural’ than my relationship with L.

This observation must be obvious to anybody who knows me. But as L and I are going through a tumultuous, uncertain time at the moment, I’ve managed to forget for a while the equally pressing issue of whether my family will ever actually accept him. When I was still living with my parents, I often aggressively confronted them about their (non)acceptance of L. Unsurprisingly, given my juvenile mode of communication, this never turned around their attitude towards L. But until reading some stories in the intercultural blogging world (thanks to all bloggers who share their experience :)), I haven’t directly confronted the question of broader family acceptance, beyond a tacit recognition that it will never occur without a bunch of relatives I don’t really like gossiping and judging me behind my back.

Don’t get me wrong – my parents’ acceptance is the thing that means the most to me. Neither of my parents are gossipers, and they’ve brought me up with the belief that uninformed gossip and judgement of others is distasteful at best, and harmful at worse (i.e. it’s bad bad karma). Since moving to the same city as certain members of the extended family in my teens, I have actively avoided having to spend time with them. I certainly have not confided in them regarding my relationship. Unfortunately though, as my mum likes to say, you might avoid the gossip but the gossip never avoids you.  These loud-mouth relatives are an integral part of my parents’ social world, and without ever reflecting on it explicitly, I have even convinced L to follow me to the other side of the country in the hope that we can be together without having to deal with the hurtful comments of ignorant aunts and uncles. (So much for my self-professed claims that I don’t care what other people think!)

One aunt in particular comes to mind. She is well-known for her hospitality, particularly towards nieces and nephews who have just arrived in Australia, but at the same time she is just as well-known for judging and criticising these same guests behind their back – down to their looks, the shade of their skin, the fact that they are overstaying their welcome. This might seem like an irrelevant aside, but I’m struggling to understand why people act like this (I’m probably indulging in ‘uninformed gossip and judgement’ right now…my parents would be disappointed).

In particular, I find it unsettling that a lot of ‘ignorant aunt’ comments I hear are blatantly racist, especially towards black people, and I’m hesitant to expose L to this. My mum has expressed some racist views too, but at least I’m close enough to her to challenge them (topic for another post). I’m quite happy to confront other family members on their views…if I share any trait with my family, it has to be my sharp tongue. But alas – I can only express my witty, sophisticated responses in English, a language not fluently understood by middle-aged relatives (at least not to the point where they pick up on ironies and nuances in meaning). And alas – it’s not just particular relatives in Australia, I’ve noticed that a lot of relatives in South Asia can hardly talk about black people without throwing in some kind of derogatory, racist remark. Here are just a few examples to illustrate my point (I’ve thought long and hard about expressing racist views on this blog, but I can’t really talk about them without tackling them directly):

Example 1 – A visiting uncle from America describing African Americans as lazy and crime-prone (that’s the toned-down version). I was in my late teens when this occurred and decided to argue the point with him…he was quite shocked at the ferocity of my attack (‘what’s so racist about stating the truth?’) and I was reduced to tears about the fact that somebody I am related to could be so ignorant (I had just been exposed to the rest of the family at this time ;))

Example 2 – Aunt commenting about Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s appearance  on the evening news. “Look at him, his skin’s like that, his face is like that.” Fortunately her husband jumped in and pointed out that the guy has been tortured numerous times…

Example 3 – Uncle in South Asia…without giving away the details because I don’t want this post to appear on google searchers by crazy white *supremacists, let’s just say he drew parallels between certain types of people and certain types of primates. This time his daughter, who had just returned from studying in America, confronted him and countered his argument (not that it changed his views). And this guy is an urban, educated college professor…

Example 4 – Aunt in South Asia going through her daughter’s wedding album with me. She spoke proudly of all the white and brown-skinned guests at the wedding, but then gave an embarrassed laugh and skipped quickly over photos of the black guests…they’re ‘just the guys’ her daughter worked with last year at UN.

To give an idea of how unthinkable it is amongst the extended family to marry somebody black, at family dinners some of my cousins will mercilessly tease their parents with the “I’ll marry a black Muslim” jaunt. Apparently this is the ultimate threat, but always said in jest because everyone implicitly agrees it will never happen. Again in this view black people are not acknowledged beyond the colour of their skin; there blackness is instead a currency, a barometer-measure of a person’s intended (never actual) rebellion against parental expectations.

I wonder why there’s such a tendency towards racism amongst South Asians, and I have found myself increasingly resentful of the extended family as, over the years, they have heard through the grapevine that I’m with L and have taken the opportunity to throw in snide remarks here and there. People will always talk, but obviously the nature of the talk would be very different (and much less hurtful) if I was with a fair-but-brown-skinned Brahmin doctor. I would love to heal the rift with my parents, but if I’m going to be honest, as long as my parents live in the same city as extended family I wouldn’t want L and I living there, or if we do I can’t imagine ever socialising with these relatives in a positive way.

The irony here is that the extended family is not rejecting me for who I’m with – at the end of the day, as long as I’m not their own daughter, they don’t care beyond the juicy gossiping opportunities L and I create. Instead, I find myself rejecting THEM for who I’m with, partly out of growing frustration at their ingrained racism, and correspondingly out of a desire to shield L from such unacceptable views.

Perhaps, in this matter, I am the one who has to accept them?

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Filed under Cultural Difference, Family Acceptance, Interracial Relationships, Parents, Race, Racism, South Asian Marriage