Obama vs. Brown ... vs. Brown

Tuesday, October 28, 2008
The continuation of the debate on race, sparked by Brown Girls, ignited by Sepia Mutiny, and spreading back to Devis with Babies, has us fascinated, perplexed and downright amazed. It seems a lot of people feel the need to have their say on the matter of interracial dating vis-à-vis the Obama candidacy.

In 1991, Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury brought the controversial topic of Brown + Black romance to mainstream America. (Who can forget that steamy love scene? Way to go, Mira Nair!) Guess what? Seventeen years later, we’re still debating the same issue. What’s even more incredible: A lot of us were teenagers ourselves when that movie came out, and thoroughly related to Choudhury's Meena as she professed her love for Washington's Demetrius to her parents. Now, as parents, a number of us seem to relate more to the Indian parents in the film than to Meena.

For the most part, discussion on this topic is good discussion. We need to talk/write these things out and understand one another’s perspectives. As I was reading all the comments, I thought of how a localized variation of this topic came to light in my own family twenty years ago, when my brother married outside our “community.” She was Indian and Hindu, as were we. But she was Telugu, and we were Gujarati. The union was met with caution from all sides. Her relatives questioned my brother’s lack of advanced degrees at the time; our relatives wondered if she would “fit in.” Looking back, all the concern was laughable. But at the time, South Indian/North Indian unions were less commonplace than they are today, and different communities viewed each other with a lot of suspicion. Today, I don’t think any of the commenters concerned about their kids marrying outside their race would mind them marrying outside of their ethnic Indian state.

Am I wrong though? Is this still an issue, in much the same way Indian/African-American dating is to a number of you, twenty years on? We all know the stereotypes we have of one another: Southies vs. Northies, Punjabis vs. Gujaratis, Bengalis vs. Malayalis. Does the personal Bradley effect exist even amongst Desis who share common religions and homelands, but who hail from separate states? How would you feel if your kid brought home someone from a different region of India? What’s been your experience with introducing your parents to a boyfriend or girlfriend from a different Indian state?

We'll get back to regular Devis with Babies programming shortly. But it’s clear our community has much to say on these topics right now with race/otherness in the national spotlight, and we want to hear you!
lopa said...

my parents are STRICT bengalis and used to think less of other indians. they always told me i could date whoever i wanted but that in the end, i choose choose a bengali husband because they are the most high-minded and least money hungry. of course, i didn't, my husband is kannada and we have been married for 6 years. although it took them awhile, they realized what your family did, which is that these state boundaries matter less than your core values and belief. i do think it's important to find someone who has this in common with you, and that sometimes that does correlate to your background, butthese stereotypes we have of other indians usually don't hold much water once you get to know a person.

Roma said...

For this exact reason, I think that it has been much easier for desis I know to bring home white girls and boys than bring home desi from other parts of India. My friend (currently married to a white girl from Kansas) said, "she's a blank slate to my parents. They don't have as many prejudices against her. And, honestly, my family is a blank slate to her, too - everyone is so much more open to each other, and accepting, because they are *more* different. Our wedding and our marriage and the in-law thing have all been incredibly smooth, especially when compared to my Tamil friend who married a Bengali. Too much baggage."

Coconut Rice said...

This has always been a bizarre issue to me. Indians are so specific in who you marry that not only is being Indian good enough--it has to be from the same city practically. It really makes me think Indians are the most prejudiced and racist people in the world.

My parents are from 2 different states (he is Kutchi, she is from Karnataka). Now, they both were born and raised in Bombay yet they are still considered to be "mixed race." They both have such stereotypes of every state that I wonder who the hell they would actually want to marry. To this day, my dad's side esp, gives them all kinds of crap for marrying outside their community.

They make it seem like it was such a terrible move that me and my sister are some kind of weird aliens. Well we turned out perfectly ok, better than some of those "non-interraccial" marriages' children.

As if they're cultures are that different. I like masla dhosa, you like bhajra roti. Big deal! You're practically the same. The only thing that separates people is elitism.

lyvia said...

I am shocked that the topic of "inter-racial" marriage would generate 33 blog comments in California in the year 2008! America (and especially California) is a melting pot. If your children don't marry outside your race, be assured that your grandchildren will! It is inevitable that the color of Californians, two generations from now, will be some middle shade of brown. If you don't like it, you need to move back to India.

"Separate but Equal" is racist. Coming to a melting pot country and expecting your kids not to assimilate is racist. It's very sad and disheartening to hear people still think this way ...

Anonymous said...

That's the point Lyvia. Check out the Sepia Mutiny post if you are amazed at 33 comments. Seems like people don't want that watered down brown. At least some people.

Anonymous said...

It' still shocking to me how uptight desi's are about marrying other desi's from india. these are probably the same desis who believe that divorces don't happen to indians and if their son commits adultery it's the wife's fault.

"Denzel" said...

Yo. Arriving here very randomly from my friend DJ Black Adam's blog. Thought I would give my two cents. You guys need to just be grateful you are such a succesful minority in this country. Jockeying about where exactly in Indian you are from? Wow. We are struggling to make people take pride in our culture at ALL. If you think Obama is going to change your lives, imagine us! No seriously, I have read some of the posts (you guys can really...um...talk alot) and yes some of it is just, I'm sorry, completely racist. But alot of it I can see my friends and I saying in similar situations. For instance, do we wish more Black men married Black women? Yea, we kind of do. Just by way of example. Anyway, it's been some interesting reading. What's a Devi?

sandhya said...

I'm from the Hindu Sindhi community where Sindhis marry Sindhis marry Sindhis marry Sindhis (except for the few exceptions) and I always understood that the reason for that is the fact that it's the simplest way to hold on to a sense of community in a community that has no clear physical terrain to lay claim to. Sindhis, for those who may not know, are spread out all across India and across the world - and have been so since partition.

Anyway, my husband is a TamBram, Tamil Brahmin, Iyer specifically, another group that's very particular about marrying within. When he and I met, I had little doubt that my family would be OK with it - in the years preceding my marriage, I had family marry Muslim Moroccans, Irish Catholics, etc. And, I was right. It wasn't an issue in my family. (They were just glad I was getting married!)

On the other hand, what did surprise me was the response of my husband's family. They live in India and I thought it would be a big hullabaloo, but in fact, it was just the opposite. They welcomed me into their family from day one despite the fact that our families speak different languages, eat different foods, have completely different traditions ... And, none of the things I expected to be issues were issues.

This summer, I went to a temple with my mother-in-law and another Tamil lady started speaking to me in Tamil. Of course, I looked at her blankly and my mom-in-law told her, "She doesn't speak Tamil." The lady switched to English (she was a NJ aunty) and said, "Oh, my son is also going to marry a North Indian this year. Everybody's doing it these days. We have to adjust."

"Times are changing and we have to change with them," my mother-in-law says often and I know that she means that even in India, people are accepting that the old ways can't simply continue.

roma said...

hey "denzel" - thanks for stopping by! the more we all read about each other and talk the better it will all get. 'Devi' is the Hindu word for 'goddess'. :)

TJ said...

What are some of the stereotypes? As a person outside the community, I'd love to know. I have a good Punjabi friend who's great with the ladies, is that one of the stereotypes?

Ashwin Sodhi said...

Black and Tan: a time-tested formula.

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