I started reading Slate’s “Dear Prudence” because it reminded me of a beloved Siouxsie Sioux cover from 1983 (and you scoffed when I said I was a Goth in high school); I continued to read Prudie because her work is quite interesting. Beyond composing her advice column, every week, Prudence (also known as Emily Yoffe) chats online via the Washington Post with people, “about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems”. Today’s chat included a doozy of a problem, starring an EVIL BROWN MAN!
Q. Interracial Relationships: My long-term boyfriend recently informed me that, because I’m white and he’s Indian and Muslim, I could never be a good parent to children (that don’t yet exist) that are half his. Basically, he didn’t want to continue our relationship because he believes that Indian/Muslim children should have two Indian/Muslim parents, not one white parent and one Indian/Muslim parent (although if we had children, obviously half of their genes would come from me). When I tried to counter his arguments, he called me racist and said that I would never understand. I had to break up with him, but I’m still so enraged–I would be a great mom to any children, and I seriously think he’s wrong. I think he’s afraid to talk to his parents about our relationship (they have relatively firm religious beliefs, whereas he is nonreligious but values Muslim cultural traditions), so he decided that ending things was the best plan. How should I have reacted, and how do I react now, since he still wants to be friends? (Note: This isn’t about religion. He is quite firmly against organized religion, so he would never ask me to take up any religious beliefs, and offering to do that wouldn’t help the situation, as it would fly in the face of his beliefs about organized religion.)
A: I’m afraid that when someone says he finds you unsuitable as a potential mother to his children, he wins that argument by default. You are understandably enraged at the end of this relationship. But over the long run, you will be happier that you didn’t try to force someone to merge his DNA with yours just to show you how wrong he was. For some people, when it comes time to make marriage and reproduction decisions, their spouse’s ethnic or religious background doesn’t matter. Other people find it does. Of course it’s painful that your boyfriend has now informed you he’s in this latter camp after several years together. But since you want to become a mother, you have to move on and find someone else you can spend your life with. And for your own emotional health, that may mean taking a pass on his offer of “friendship.”
Oh, dear. I don’t want to seem unsympathetic to this woman’s complaints because, sister, we’ve all been there…brown, white, black, olive…who among us hasn’t been blue over love? As someone who spent the totality of her teens convinced that she would never, ever have a boyfriend and would never, ever be loved, I will always feel for anyone whose heart is aching. It’s pure awfulness with a chaser of real pain. There’s no denying how brutal rejection is, how it reaches in to your core and eviscerates you as if you are an extra in an extra-vile video game. It hurts. It hurts so very much.Having typed all that– and though it is none of my business except to the extent that she asked a public question knowing that I might witness it as well as the answer she was seeking– I have to say that I am skeptical. Not about the veracity of her suddenly being single: certainly not. Not even about how her ex-bf is at best, a spineless, feeble wimp and at worst, a huge, festering penis. No…I’m skeptical that he’s a nasty old racist, which is what the people whom I overheard discussing this at lunch called him.
Frankly, Mr. Shankly…I think he decided that he didn’t see a future with this woman, probably for a few reasons, and so he wanted to end this relationship. Maybe he was too much of a coward to end things in a forthright fashion, so he started spouting gibberish like “White people suck at parenting!”, knowing that she’d do the needful and kick him to the curb. Maybe, as harsh as it may sound, he had an epiphany that she wasn’t worth fighting for– and a fight is what it would have taken. Maybe he loved her and during hazy, blissful moments with her, he felt his mind wander to that blurred daydream-like glimpse we each occasionally see in to our own futures– and maybe he saw her there, too…but upon later reflection, he realized that he couldn’t bear to commence the necessary negotiations, the grave discussions, the inevitable arbitration between two, disparate people which is required to decide how to get married, whether to baptize children and even, what to feed them.
I also think that her intro, “My long-term boyfriend recently informed me that, because I’m white and he’s Indian and Muslim, I could never be a good parent to children” might potentially, perhaps just a wee bit possibly be tainted by her rage– and why wouldn’t it be? We’re human, colored by emotions and shaped by bias. If we are brown, or “ethnic”, we are colored and shaped by loyalty, obligation and especially guilt. What do we owe to the people who dreamed a dream in a faraway nation, who left, who sacrificed, who suffered, who quietly worked, lived and loved like protagonists in a Jhumpa Lahiri novel, only to be crushed when we didn’t get in to Ivy League schools, and then didn’t take the MCAT or the LSAT or the GMAT and THEN refused to get married by the time we were 25? What do we owe the men and women who created us, who are frail, flawed, selfish and yet, saintly? Could anyone unlike us ever understand that gnaw within? That stubborn pull to please?
Do we ever understand it?
Here is what I like to think about this story, because at my core, I am an idealist. Someone who believes that amor vincit omnia and that good lurks everywhere, even in online advice columns and the lives of those hurt enough to seek them out…and the crazy bit of conjecture I’m about to bestow is buoyed by his desire to still be friends.
I think he may love her. I think he may love his parents more. And I think he knew that if he was an offensive caricature of a “foreigner”, if he rejected her for something she has no control over, suddenly and without warning, he would, in some bizarre way, make it easier for her to get over him, because if she was seething, she’d want nothing more than to see him leaving, even if she was confused and outraged and wronged as he left. That, oddly enough, might be easier than being honest about filial loyalty and facing question after question in a hostile, heart-broken interrogation filled with “But, WHY aren’t I good enough?”s. Sometimes, it is much easier to be a dick, to kick a puppy so that it doesn’t follow you, to turn on your lover in such spectacularly appalling fashion that she doesn’t even recognize you, let alone agonize over the incomprehensible way that you order your priorities.
But as I said, I am an idealist. A dabbler in fiction-creating. A sucker for stars crossed.
For all I or anyone else knows, she unflinchingly conveyed her story exactly as it went down…in which case, brown or not, he sucks. I hope he didn’t mean what he said about her potential as a Mother; I wonder if she was lying down at that point, her tears streaming to her ears, obscuring her hearing. That’s an excruciating way to attack a person, to insinuate that not only is she unworthy of his love and life, but that she’s also not skilled enough to nurture her own children (!), simply because she isn’t exactly like him. Such a sentiment is ugly, afflictive, the lowest sort of blow. I cringe at the thought of it.
Still, after all I’ve seen and heard…well, just know that the fanciful, “maybe”-laden explanation I offered wasn’t the product of my fecund imagination. And that while dozens, if not hundreds hate on this man for what he’s done, I am reminded of others who did similar, who are not honorable, but who are also brown…and human. They, too, need to be loved…just like everybody else does.