When A Desi In The US Says Dating Or Marrying A Black Person ‘Would Be Unacceptable To Family’

Interracial marriages in the US – let's examine the very telling desi POV on mixed marriages between an Indian and a black person.

Interracial marriages in the US – let’s examine the very telling desi POV on mixed marriages between an Indian and a black person.

Are Indians not inherently racist? We seem not to be. With our shock at George Floyd’s death (which have some of us more shocked about than equally horrific deaths on Indian soil) and our demand for justice for black lives, we do seem to care.

Do we really care?

But it’s a very hard stance to believe in, looking at our matrimonial ads, our beauty preferences, and our treatment of certain segments of our nation (north vs. south Indian memes are easy to find on online search, and what comes up – for example pictures of south Indian women with tag lines on why no one would rape them and hence southern cities are safer – causes some serious need for introspection).

But as a long time US resident of Indian origin, at the same time, I do believe that it is not fair to conclude that we Indians don’t care just because of our inherent and implicit penchant for a light skin colour and our standards of beauty. We do care about a black man dying unjustly. But what requires discussion is that we do also, at the same time, assign higher values to a certain skin color vs. another and miss to connect the dots.

What do we think of getting into interracial marriages in the US?

One way to evaluate this is through looking at interracial marriages in the US.

I do know quite a few Indian women (and some men) who have a Caucasian (white) spouse. But I can’t recall any couple I know or have known where the partner is a black man or woman, barring one friend who had dated a black man at some point.

Now, my sample size of Indians here in the US is not a widely diverse one. For example, they are mostly first-generation immigrants, at-most second; and are mostly in tech or STEM, or even if in the arts, in white-collar occupations.

But this holds true for some blue-collar professionals and Indians in the service industries I have engaged with too. I have interviewed quite a few socio-economic demographics for my pieces in some other publications over some time, and have had exposure to a further extended segment through my non-profit. The closest I have come across (apart from the aforementioned friend) is a Punjabi woman who has married a Brazilian man who is mixed race.

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Indian expectations of an ‘eligible’ match

Now, this of course has factors beyond the Indian valuation of a certain skin colour playing into it.

For example, owing to socio-economic modulators black men have lower life expectancy, higher rate of incarceration, drug abuse and other such affecting them more, which make them an underrepresented minority in most tech workplaces and university research labs – where a lot of white collar Indians are.

In addition, it is statistically presented (Wilson Hypothesis, 1987) that the gap between married black women and married women of other race, primarily white, is significant owing to incarceration and unemployment causing a shortage of marriageable black men.

This is a circular problem, as this leads to more black children growing up in single parent households and the lack of family structure further perpetuates the cycle of poverty and crime.

So, there are less available black men to marry for everyone, and that plays into lesser number of Indian-African American interracial marriages. But when there is a man to marry, does the skin color-based valuation play a part?

Extended family and the community on interracial marriages

What about extended families having their say on interracial marriages? (given the strong role of Indian families in marriage and partner decisions).

A YouTube narration by Shantel Segolela from 2017, which has over thousand comments (a few of which corroborate her experience, while a significant number of others point out that she is dark too), is worth mentioning here.

While Shantel, who is Indian, met a to-be extended family (her in-laws to be) who were concerned on possible cultural differences, not skin colour; her now spouse – a black man – had quite a different experience. It is worthwhile to note here: this is an experience out of South Africa, not the US – but that makes the point on skin colour perception for Indians even more universal.

Shantel talks about apartheid causing this ‘black man is not acceptable’ mindset, and we often cite colonialism for fascination with lighter skin and higher valuation of the same.

Marrying a foreigner is Ok, but…

In the examples I know have had first-hand experience with, comments like ‘marrying a foreigner is OK, at least he is white’ and ‘I don’t understand how he married her (her being black female friend and him being a white man)’ from Indian relations has been common.

As is the fact that quite a few contacts (who have dated in the US) when asked, expressed that they couldn’t date a black man as they know it’s going to be unacceptable.

Why? I asked. “Well, along with cultural differences, which will be there irrespective of whom you marry unless you marry from within your community given how cultural obsessed we Indians are, there will be this additional ‘thing’ to deal with unless you and your family are very dark yourself” was one answer I got.

What mindset change is needed?

So then, would an Indian woman, under most circumstances, not consider marrying a black man? That would be terribly unfortunate. For the black men I know (quite a few of whom are very good friends) are the most kind, chivalrous, and compassionate of all the men I have come across. As I thought this, I remembered Neena Gupta and Vivian Richards, and realized that it is more in our minds. Of what we should and shouldn’t find attractive and acceptable, and who we believe we should and can love.

So yes, inter-racial Indian African American marriages are rare and hard to find statistics on. And yes, there is every reason to believe that we are conditioned to celebrate lighter skin. But it’s also true that with conscious effort and under aligned circumstances, this will slowly but surely cease to be an issue.

What is required is a constant exploration of all such matters to keep picking at the dots that need to be connected to expose the blind spots.

Image source: Unsplash

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About the Author

Tanushree Ghosh

Tanushree Ghosh (Ph. D., Chemistry, Cornell, NY), is Director at Intel Corp., a social activist, and an author. She is a contributor (past and present) to several popular e-zines incl. The Huffington Post US ( read more...

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