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Open Heart, Approach With Caution

Columns | October 10, 2017

“Mixed babies are so cute.”

I have heard this weird comment many a time in my life, sometimes made by White people, but most of the time by my fellow South Asian peers. There’s an obsession in our community with being fair-skinned, and when you have a child with someone who is White, you’re more or less guaranteed a baby with South Asian features, except for the skin.

As much as our parents have grilled into our brains that we have to keep out of the sun to make sure our skin doesn’t darken, they’re not too keen on us marrying outside of our culture to someone who is White, even if it means we’ll probably have a child that has a “nice” caramel complexion. And for that reason, I didn’t tell my parents I was dating my current boyfriend until a whole two months into our relationship.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I always approached dating with hesitancy. My high school was full of people I had grown up with since I was five years old and in summary, most of them were White, simply because the town I grew up in reported more than a 90 percent White population a few years ago. I wanted to date someone who understood the hardship I went through as a brown face in the crowd of White, but even that didn’t look too hot for me. All the Bengali kids I knew were entitled assholes and didn’t find Bengali women too desirable, so alas, I was at a standstill and convinced myself, for better or for worse, that I would never marry. My mom couldn’t be mad at me for marrying someone who didn’t fit her standards if I didn’t marry at all, right?

But then I came across a boy.

I told my mom in the food court of my local mall that I fully intended on going to his school’s prom and my school’s prom with him, and that we had been “talking” for about two months, and that he was—“really a good guy, really smart, really nice,” oh and “his mom has a PhD, that’s pretty cool, right? He wants to go into engineering!” A few minutes later, I departed down the escalator as she stood at the top and I dropped the bomb on her: “he has really long hair and a beard—okay bye, I’ll see you in an hour in the Macy’s shoe section!”

Now, reflecting on it, I’m trying to see why I made the choice seven months ago to date this White guy with skater boy long hair, a broken pinkie he struggled to drum with, who told me his biggest secret was that he told his friends he was 6’ when he was 5’11”. What about him made him the exception?

Here’s the thing: I couldn’t deal with the White boys at my school because, well, they oozed with privilege. I grew up upper-middle class, and so did everyone else in my town (or even upper class, depending on who their father was). Most of the people I grew up with hadn’t really experienced hardship or struggle, and their main focus in life was making sure they got into an Ivy League or something of similar caliber for absolutely no reason at all. I couldn’t find someone with direction—or honestly, someone remotely interesting. Now, maybe this was an overgeneralization, but when you’ve grown up with the same exact guys since kindergarten and seen them pee in their pants countless times on the playground, that attraction is minimal at best.

Then I met a boy who somehow acknowledged his privilege and worked towards educating himself constantly by surrounding himself with people who had gone through different hardships than him, and was willing to listen to the hardships I went through and empathize with them. It felt like something I had never experienced before—like my voice had a place in the world because an ally was willing to listen and not speak over me.

But just because I fell completely in love with him doesn’t mean our relationship doesn’t come with unique challenges. There will be times where we are walking in the street of Boston and an elderly couple will look at us with distaste, and we’re forced to remember the difference between our skin colors. In light of recent political administration enacting legislation that targets my family and loved ones directly, I have to turn to my significant other for support and still feel a slight twang of envy that he won’t ever have to go through the same thing.

And of course, perhaps the hardest thing is the cultural acceptance from my immediate family. I’m constantly on a tightrope, making sure that neither side feels uncomfortable with the other. The hesitancy with trusting White people is inherent in many of my loved ones, and helping him earn that trust has been a journey I’ve been happy to take, regardless of the strenuous nature.

At the end of the day, my culture—and subsequent hardships related to it, both religious and racially¬—matters a lot to me, but beyond that, so does my happiness. I realized I couldn’t block myself completely off from the idea of dating someone who came from a different background than me because I was afraid they couldn’t understand. But just because he didn’t go through the same exact experiences I did doesn’t mean he doesn’t have empathy, and that matters to me more than anything—a strong-valued person who is willing to try and understand, acknowledges they will never go through the same discrimination, but puts in effort to use their privilege and be an ally.

So, to any person of color who reads this column, understand that you don’t have to completely cut yourself off from dating White people. The capacity to love shouldn’t be limited to race, but no amount of romanticizing changes the fact that you and them will go through separate experiences in life. Sometimes, it may get too hard to constantly explain the everyday racism—the things that aren’t blatantly obvious, and that is okay. Take a step back and reevaluate. Realize it is not always your responsibility to explain, and you can take a break. Open your heart to new possibilities, but approach with caution.