Having written the comic, I of course love the idea that it prompted even one reader to comment, whether out of agreement, disagreement, anger or curiosity--in the ocean of media available to us, it is a rare category of material that causes any reaction these days, don't you think? (Then again, that would mean I would be impressed by "W" because its horribleness moved me to tears and made me bemoan two lost hours of my life...) That it has provoked so much conversation and that, for the most part, the level of dialogue on everything from assimilation, acculturation, and insidious racism has been amazingly impressive and enlightening--all the better. One of the many lines of commentary that struck me strongly was the thoughtful presentation for and against marrying non-Indians. In attempting to make sense of what, at first blush, seems like "racist older generation Indians," "NaraVara" on Sepia explained that "[c]ulturally I think our parents were raised under traditions that were geared towards thinking in terms of retaining a sense of community into future generations...My parents would not be comfortable with me marrying a White girl...That doesn't mean they would not accept her with open arms or love the grandchildren we have any less. But the fact is that if I marry a Desi girl they will be much more secure in the knowledge that our kids will be Indian. With half-White grandkids it's a toss-up. Call it retrograde if you want. But this is the mentality that allowed us Indians to retain our unique cultural identities over a thousand years of being ruled by foreigners..."
On this blog, "Shimarella" expressed surprise that the issue of Indian parental disapproval of dating outside the race was even still an issue: "I know Indians of my parents generation still feel this way. But seriously? Are there still younger brown desi divas who think this?"
From shock over racism to shock over people being shocked--an entire spectrum of opinion was presented with authenticity and candor.
Humor too of course. Perhaps foreseeing the hot-button nature of this penumbra of issues, "glasshouses" offered words of advice to any non-Indian interested in an Indian girl: "Run from desi girl and don't look back."
And what commentary would be complete without some vitriol. Check out "GetOffMyLawn," schooling everybody on blaming parents for everything: "Don't forget that the very values that many ABDs knock are the ones that have allowed South Asians to be the most successful minority in the West. Emphasizing family structure, respect for elders, respect for education, respect for one's body and sexuality and emotions, and above all, respect for the collective community rather than the individual are all why Asians can come from the poorest of regions during the worse of times and have their children in graduate schools within one generation...We have served you well. Show back some respect. Buying into facile discourses about race and identity and denigrating your own is an insult to those of us who came to a brand new country to give YOU a better life. This discussion about desi parents or community being racist is really disheartening...You may see us as old fashioned, racist, obsessed with color, etc. That may be true, but we are also obsessed with feeding you, clothing you, making sure that we, and not the school teachers, are parents, and we also took painful steps to make it in a country alien to us so that you can come on this blog and whine about not being able to openly date a black man. If you feel that you want to date out of your race, then have the strength of character to openly date that person."
LOVE all of this. I want to talk with "GetOffMyLawn" and ask her what she would think if her daughter brought Obama home to her. He emphasizes family structure, shows respect for elders, values education and I would guess respects his body and sexuality (Barack: I know you are reading, feel free to chime in...!) Yet I am willing to bet that an "I walked uphill both ways to school in the snow in Delhi where it doesn't even snow" guilt-trip would ensue nonetheless. Hence: The personal-Bradley effect.
The personal IS political.
Even on Sepia, where the audience is--I would hazard to guess--a bit more vigilante than the average Devi with Baby, the crux of the discussion centered around social issues and our parents. Why they think the way they do. How that affects the way we think. How we interface with them when we disagree with them. Taking this a step further and addressing you Devis--who actually are parents: What would you do if your daughter brought Obama home to momma? Would you be cool with it ("Is this even an issue?")? Want to be cool with it but not REALLY be cool with it ("I know alot of black people! They are some of my closest friends!")? Be REALLY uncool with it ("Over my dead body, and I make no apologies")? And is there a disconnect between the way you would answer this particular question, and how you view the issues of race and racism more generally?
It doesn't seem fair to pose these questions and not try to give some sketch of where I'm coming from so: By way of background, my parents called me the "United Nations dater" before I married my Punjabi husband. They were cool with it--but they essentially wanted to hold a parade when I went Brown. And I'm not alone. There are many of us out there who dated outside of our race but then ultimately married within it. Whether there was personal Bradley at work or not--definitely a part of this debate.
So what's my take-away. As much as I can read and agree with bits and pieces of so much that has been said in the back-and-forth on racial politics that the comic has provoked, I come back to the notion that it's horribly depressing that we think we have to "stick to our own" to preserve some sort of ethnic heritage; that an African American is for any reason unacceptable in our homes just because he is African American; that we can and do justify subtle racism in the name of "culture." Couching our concerns about race in the language of "cultural preservation" is, in and of itself, a personal Bradley effect. Taz, the original poster on Sepia responded to some of her critics by saying that she thinks it will become easier to bring a black man home if Obama is elected. I think she's right. As Manju said, "Obama will do for racism what Goldman Sachs did for anti-semitism on wallst, which is not to say he'll end it, but rather show us the way to overcome it." And, although Rahul is correct that "the the FDR presidency didn't create an epidemic of polio afflicted grooms," it begs to be noted that FDR (with the assistance of the press--can you imagine?) kept the extent of his handicap a secret from the public for the vast majority of his presidency.
Our buddy Barack's race is no secret. It's out there, looming large, for all of us and our personal Bradley-mechanisms to see, internalize, learn from. This can ONLY do good things for our little devis and boy-devis: The President of the United States--dark and "different"--is going to look more like our kids than those of the Smiths and the Jones. Yes it's superficial but so is discussing politicians' haircuts, Neiman Marcus shopping sprees, use of spray foundation, love of pretzels. Superficial isn't always as superficial as we think. Unpack a comic and you might find a debate.