On Being Down With Dating Brown


This Sunday, I woke up to an email from a girlfriend who is not Desi. She said that there was a really thought-provoking article in the New York Post, which reminded her of some of our conversations. She thought I might enjoy it. Enjoy it? I could have written parts of it. It was about Dating While Brown– and dating other Browns, to be specific.

The piece was called, “MELTING NOT: Why Young People Like me Started Dating Within our Race“. In it, NYP reporter Raakhee Mirchandani wrote a sensitive, honest explanation of her views on love– and I can just imagine the nastiness she might be encountering because of it.

It’s never easy to put yourself out there, so I salute her for doing so. Besides, with this issue, you can’t win. You date outside your community and you’re either a sell-out, desperate or a coconut. Date within it and you’re insular, insecure and biased. Ugh. Can’t we all just get along? I hope we can remember to be kind to one another, as we discuss an issue which affects all of us, albeit in different ways. We’ve got to let love rule, or whatever Lenny screams. On to the story.


I know so many friends, whose experience mirrored this:

Growing up, the man in my dreams was a mystery; he was white, he was tall, he was dark, he was slick. He was always handsome. In my fantasy it didn’t matter if he was Catholic or Muslim, European or African, if he ate pigs or worshipped monkeys. It didn’t matter if he understood that I came from a rich tradition of Indian Hindus who were strict vegetarians, quietly conservative, obsessively dedicated to family and maniacal in their love for cheesy song-and-dance movies with mediocre acting and music.
And so when we met, freshman year at Boston University – the street smart Eastern European with a gorgeous smile, big heart and wicked sense of humor and the artsy Indian girl with a penchant for big hair, Bollywood and Biggie -it seemed like the perfect cross-continental match.

Ah, Biggie. I pour some of my Robitussin with Codeine out for you.

But somewhere along our six years together, the Indian girl from Jersey, who had naively promised him Catholic children, steak dinners and consistently defended his refusal to hang with my family as a simple difference in opinion, had a change of heart. And he did, too.
I remember him looking at me on an evening not far from our last and saying, “It’s like all of a sudden you became Indian.” In a way so quiet I didn’t even realize it was happening, the brown from my skin must have seeped in and colored my heart.

That line just slays me. I project emotions and explanations all over it. Is it accusatory? A blurt of hurt? Is becoming “Indian” a negative thing? The defending “his refusal to hang with my family” is also poignant. America may be a country of individuals, but most of us who are of South Asian descent are tightly tied to our families, for better or for worse. No one wants to be caught in that vise between one love and another.

Surprisingly, I’m not the only one. While the rate of intermarriage among races increased over the past half-century, the last decade has seen a reversal – particularly among Asians and Latinos. According to a Ohio State University study, from 1990-2000 the number of Hispanics marrying outside their race fell from 27% to 20%, while Asian intermarriage dropped from 42% to 33%.

I’m no Razib, but this matches what I feel like I’m witnessing around me (and yes, this is the same stat Abhi mentioned in this post). At one point, if I saw a second- or third-generation Asian-American with an Asian spouse, I was surprised, because so many of my friends had married “out”. Now, I see a reversal of that. Maybe it’s easier for us to find each other, thanks to the internets. Then again, maybe Ohio State and I are full of it (highly probable– I’m supposed to be a Michigan fan).

After brushing it off for so long, many of my relatives and friends are listening to that nagging voice in our collective heads. You know, the one that sounds like a hybrid of your mom/dad/grandparent/aunt/uncle/neighbor-in-the-old-country telling you in heavily accented English, “Have you found anyone yet, dahling? Can we introduce you to Mr. Kapoor’s son? He is doctor. Ven vill you finally give us good news?” Despite my better efforts to buck the traditional Indian girl inside me – glossy black locks turned to bleached blond in a weak moment of teen angst; pre-med was never an undergraduate option and much to my parents chagrin; I have always favored copious amounts of worthless costume jewels over precious museum-grade family heirlooms – I discovered that I’m not really that much of a rebel after all.

Yeah, me neither. Well, except for the remaining defiantly single at 34 bit. Maybe it’s because I’ve retired all five pairs of my Doc Martens, but I don’t feel like a rebel…until grateful letters from some of you label me as such; “I’m so glad there’s another Desi girl who isn’t married…I’m 26 and the pressure is horrid!”

Note to 26-year old: don’t allow yourself to be rushed in to a damned thing. The people who nag you to get hitched now won’t be sympathetic to you if you separate or get a divorce. Then you’ll be THAT girl, the one with the “past”.

Even if you end up happily married, they will never stop butting in to your life, because sometime after your wedding reception commences, they’ll be demanding a schedule for when you’ll be procreating offspring, or where you’ll be purchasing a home. As I like to say to my long-suffering Mother: “If I don’t get on that merry-go-round, I don’t have to worry about vomiting.”

You third-generation tykes owe us big. We smug singles are facing the wrath of our community now, so that one day you can actually take advantage of this “30 is the new 20″ bullshit, and go to weddings, funerals, housewarmings or any other Desi-infested event without cringing, or hiding from the Auntie mafia in your car. Don’t worry about thanking us, just hook us up when we’re 65, since Social Security isn’t going to do it.

Back to Raakhee:

During the Obama campaign, commentators asked if younger people were growing up in a colorblind society. I certainly hope it’s a more tolerant one – but not blind. Living in harmony doesn’t mean camouflaging our differences, or denying that we have any. And while I would never judge an Indian person who chose an interracial relationship – love in whatever way it comes is flawless – I know that I could never do it again.

I could never do it in the first place, mostly because of what I’ve bolded below:

Relationships are hard enough, no matter who you love. Maintaining and sustaining them requires a combination of courage, compromise and dedication. But there’s a comfort in building a solid foundation with someone who comes from a similar place. I don’t want to have to explain the minutia of my complex culture, hoping for both understanding and approval. I want to begin on equal footing, roots already firmly planted in a common garden.

I’m more of a wanna-be geek, so my declaration contained something like, “I want someone pre-loaded with all this software, I don’t want to have to install anything”. Please don’t tell me if that makes no sense. :) Just focus on my alternate line, “I ain’t no one’s cultural tour guide.” Classy, I know. That almost sounds like I hate non-Desis. Not at all. In some of those memorable instances, I desperately didn’t want to be the object of someone’s fetish or part of that one guy’s UN fantasy which involved…well, you get the picture. Even if the rare non-Desi guy who expressed interest didn’t fall in to one of those two weird categories, I worried that having to explain every little thing or answer a plethora of questions would become exhausting.

Yet I know friends and family who feel the exact opposite of such sentiments (well…not the UN thing). They love sharing who we are with their significant others from different backgrounds. They relish building bridges by spreading the Brown love and Gods bless them for it. I just can’t do it, Captain. To each, our own, right?

What’s right for me or Raakhee isn’t even right for some of my immediate family members. While Raakhee found her prince, two of my girls got no love or interest from boys within our community; that’s not an exaggeration. I could write horrifying posts about the Desi boys who met them and said, “You’re much darker than I thought you would be”, or similar ugliness. I had a Cross Colors shirt in the early 90s which said, “Love see no color”. We could easily amend it to: “Stupidity see no color.” A douche is a douche, regardless of race.

Those two beautiful women are now marrying outside of our community, and I’m glad for it. I’m not implying that only people who strike out with brown go hunting elsewhere. I’m just mentioning two specific family members who are marrying amazing people and that matters more than skin. If brown boys/girls aren’t feeling you, to hell with them. If you only find that “amazing” with someone whose Mom makes sambar too (guilty), then more hand soap to you. We each need to make this decision for ourselves (are you reading, 26-year old?? You’re fine! Stay strong!).

I’m the kind of girl who is as comfortable worshipping multi-armed deities as she is worshipping at Chanel. The kind who can easily wrap herself in to a 5-yard sari in a public bathroom but much prefers Uggs and leggings. Certainly the kind who washes down a spicy curry with a glass of Johnny on the rocks.

Yeah, I’m just going to state for the record right now that I could never put a sari on in a public bathroom. I don’t even like to put a sari on in my current apartment, because the full-length mirror is unfortunately near where I put on and take off shoes, near the door. Eeek. Oh, Raakhee, you are a better ladki than I. While you’re not asking, I also like Black and coke instead, thanks!

That makes me Indian and American, and the truth is, it’s easier when someone understands the first part of that as much as the latter.

YES. I agree, 100 percent. At the same time, I have noticed that interracial couples where both parties are from minority or “ethnic” backgrounds–which emphasize family– do seem to find some common ground.

So now I’ve taken the UPS approach to dating: What can brown do for me?
More than I ever thought.

Here comes her happy ending:

My current boyfriend, Agan, is the kind of Punjabi prince dreams are made of. He held me last year when Bombay burned and I broke. He high-fived me when “Slumdog” took home eight golden trophies and I squealed. He rolls his eyes when I talk about Yankee Stadium like it’s The Bronx version of the Golden Temple. He’s from the left (wrong) coast, you see; not everything can be Disney fairytales.
But he understands without questioning that I will live at home with my parents until I get married. That family obligations trump any evening plans we may have made. Without my suggesting it, he mentioned that when we grew up and had a house of our own, there would be room for both sets of parents, his and mine. I was enamored.
In that moment I knew why it never worked between me and anybody else. I had underestimated the power of my parenting, the grip of my culture and the strong but subtle shades of India that I reflect.
In less than a year he has earned his way into my parents’ hearts, fielding near daily text messages and e-mails from my mother, approving but curious glances from my father and even joining my brother in a weekly basketball league. It’s as if they already knew each other. And in a way they did.

Your mother can text?! Mine thinks GChat is annoying. Lucky you! Speaking of superior communication products made from Goo, I GMailed Raakhee to ask if anything important had been cut from the story. Sepia Mutiny: we’re like the DVD with deleted scenes! Here’s what she had to say:

What we had to cut from the essay which I thought was important was the idea that being Indian was something I had to grow in to. Not in a conscious way, but something I had to sort of become comfortable expressing. And just being.
Also, I grew up in a way I imagine many desi chicks did who are my age (27); I was a nerdy, hairy (omfg the ‘stache, the unibrow, the horror!) and completely convinced that I would never, ever date. I thought Indian guys wouldn’t get me and all the others would think I was gross. In a way, despite my ridic inflated sense of self (and trust me, i thought i was some super hot shit when i was younger!!), when it came to dating and relationships, I didn’t think I was good enough to date either, brown or white.

Oh, if that isn’t Junior year of high school revisited, I don’t know WHAT is. Sigh.

Back to the article, for the last two paragraphs:

Despite the countries we share, we are still different. His family is Sikh. He wears a turban. Mine are Hindu and we don’t accessorize. But the fundamentals are the same; family first and everything else next.
As usual my parents were right, bless their darling immigrant hearts. It turns out I am both New Delhi and New Jersey, and the man in my dreams finally has a face to reflect that.

I’m happy for you, Raakhee, the same way I’m happy for anyone who finds their lobster. Everyone deserves the bliss that is real love. We may have different desires, preferences, approaches to searching for it, or ways to label it, but in the end, we each want the same thing, no matter with whom we may find it.

409 thoughts on “On Being Down With Dating Brown

  1. Then I’m only ever, ever attracted to brown guys. But, and this is why I’m so weird, I’m always mean to the brown boys who flirt with me, especially if I’m attracted to them. Like I’m super-mean, for some unfathomable reason, and I’ll just act really stupid and stuck-up and superior. And I’m nice to white boys whom I’m not remotely attracted to. At 23, I’m beginning to think that it’s becoming patently obvious that I will be alone forever.

    interesting. what doyou mean by “nice to white boys” maybe a little clarification would help.

  2. “Like I’m super-mean, for some unfathomable reason,”

    frankly Rayyan if you are self aware enough to know this and yet STILL act badly then honey you’re just an asshole and you deserve to be alone…change immediately!

  3. If those horrid people say these things in front of your parents and cousin, they should be telling these people to f— off and mind their own business.

    The sad thing is that these people own families are so screwed up. One time couple of years ago, there was this guy who one grandson been killed in the past year who was a gang thug, and another grandson was involved in gang shooting. Yet when he saw my sister, he started talking to her about he she was a bad person for not marrying a jatt boy. The old guy was those uneducated punjabi types who been in Canada for more then 20 years and yet had no effort to learn English and was stuck with his old pind way of thinking.

  4. thinker: I mean I actually talk to them and make friends.

    glass houses: Ouch! I am not either! And I think you’re totally abusive; like get a grip because you don’t even know me, and my problems with boys. Clearly you’re a guy (and an insensitive one at that). I mean honestly, I shouldn’t have to explain myself here, but I’ve had some problems in the past: once I had this brown dude (who was totally old, like in his 30s at least) stalking me, so I dunno maybe that’s why I’m pretty messed up about boys…but really I didn’t owe you any explanation but I’m not an asshole at all. I’m sorry I had to get so personal but you’re comment was pretty personal too.

  5. My parents attended a wedding about 5 years ago where an incident like this occured. The groom was Punjabi Sikh Jatt and the bride was white (they are still together). The bride and groom’s parents and siblings got along just fine (they still do) but it was some members of the groom’s extended family that had a problem. Some went on about how “white women are w—-s” and others thought the groom was such a pimp because the wedding functions were going to be full of “freely available white girls” (in reference to the bride’s sisters, cousins, and some of her friends, and also some of the groom’s friends; most of these women were either married or had boyfriends). The groom’s father found out about this, and told those relatives to not attend any of the wedding functions if they were going to say such horrible things (the groom’s father no longer has any contact with those relatives).

    Its just jatt’s being jatt’s. What more can you say about the way they behave. The funny thing is that when ever I go to a punjabi wedding, I notice I never see any punjabi women at the bar. Yet there will be a token 20 something white or asian female and when she goes to get a drink, a bunch of middle aged punjabi jatt guys will all surround her start talking to her. But if some punjabi girl was to go to get a drunk, I don’t think they would behave the same way.

    One thing that I always found funny is when you go to downtown Vancouver on a Friday or Saturday night on Granville St where most of the bars are is. That the punjabi girls are not so innocent and by closing time many are drunk just like those so called slutty girls of other races and they even dress the same way. But when alot of these girls leave the house they always tell there parents that they are going to study and spend the night at there parents house. Yet when they are at punjabi weddings they have to behave while there brothers can make drunk fools of themselves and nobody cares, yet if punjabi girls behave the same way its the end of the world.

  6. Rayyan – You obviously have very low self esteem. And thr sad part is that, once you are out of your teens, it’s pretty tough to change who you are.

  7. also, it looks like you like to graft experiences with a small group of people to the entire group. and you might be a racist.

  8. glass houses: Ouch! I am not either! And I think you’re totally abusive; like get a grip because you don’t even know me, and my problems with boys. Clearly you’re a guy (and an insensitive one at that). I mean honestly, I shouldn’t have to explain myself here, but I’ve had some problems in the past: once I had this brown dude (who was totally old, like in his 30s at least) stalking me, so I dunno maybe that’s why I’m pretty messed up about boys…but really I didn’t owe you any explanation but I’m not an asshole at all. I’m sorry I had to get so personal but you’re comment was pretty personal too.

    i actually agree with glass houses and i’m a girl (of the same age group), but maybe not as harshly. as they say in AA, the first step to finding a solution is acknowledging that you have a problem. if you know that you treat white vs. brown guys differently, why don’t you just… change your behavior? especially since it’s the brown ones you’re attracted to! unless you’re trying some hard-to-get strategy, but it must not be working if you’re saying that you’re the weirdest indian girl ever. it sucks that you were stalked (seriously stalked? or just a malfunctioned dude following you around in a bar? i don’t mean to doubt you, stalking is a serious issue, but that’s just the thing, it gets thrown around so lightly), but a) 30s is kind of old but not ‘totally old’ and b) if it made you have problems with guys, why does it only cause problems with brown guys but not with white guys? and honestly, if you write something like that on the internet, where you acknowledge that you’re the ‘weirdest indian girl ever,’ then you do owe an explanation rather than just exclaiming, ‘you don’t know me!’ and people will get personal. just don’t take it so seriously.

  9. …and I think you asked for it, Rayann. You can’t say incendiary things and then claim you’re being abused when people call you out for your bullshit…and yeah, it IS bullshit. No other word for your attitude is more appropriate. You let one bad experience with a guy cast a pall on EVERY person of that ethnicity? Bullshit. How would you feel if someone got cheated on by a Desi girl, and so they treated YOU like shit? Is that fair? Well neither is what you’re doing to brown guys…but that’s just it– I think you’re making excuses. Either that or you’re the least self-aware person to EVER post on this blog, and let me tell you…that would be astounding.

    As for your “Ooooh, look at me, I don’t look Indian…people think I look white! Isn’t that weird? Did you notice how I said that I don’t look like the rest of you common darkies? I mean, that’s weird, right? And I’m totally not fishing for compliments or trying to let you all know that I’m fair and thus, hot.” Your use of the word “weird” as a fig leaf is not effective. Why even throw this bullshit description of yourself in? On the internet, no one can tell you’re a dog. Or that you look “Italian”, you fair flower– and no one gives a shit.

    If you’re only attracted to brown guys, but you’re always mean to them, then you have issues. Either you’re a bitch or…amazingly immature. Being mean to people you secretly like is something second-graders do. Isn’t that weird, and by weird I mean LAME? If you’re aware of this tendency of yours to act stupid, super-mean and “superior” (your words, not mine), why wouldn’t you work on THAT instead of just babbling about it online? Unless you dig being alone. Which is fine, you shouldn’t inflict your “weirdness” on normal people, no matter what color.

    If at 23, it’s becoming patently obvious that you’ll be alone forever, then perhaps you ARE self-aware…and just lazy. Or so pleased with yourself that you won’t bother changing patently dysfunctional things about your behavior. Or maybe you dig solitude. Whatever. I think “asshole” works, too. No, you don’t owe us any explanations…but spare us your bullshit in the first place, and there won’t be anything which needs explaining.