Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Racism in our dating and marrying preferences

Even before I reached my teens, I knew that I was against the tradition of arranged marriage.  It did not seem right.  Into my teens and as I passed those years, I was all the more convinced that the arranged marriage was a screwed up system.  Looking back, I am all the happier that I have lived out a life in which there has not been any place for that tradition.

Even if I leave alone the emotions of love and going after what the heart wants, I could not understand how one could restrict the choice of a spouse in that arranged marriage context only to a suitable mate from similar backgrounds.  It was nothing but a rigid institutionalization of us-versus-them.  A Tamil Iyer Brahmin will be set to marry only a Tamil Brahmin Iyer because the others are inferior?  Not worth a look?  Isn't such a narrow-minded approach nothing but racism by another name?

 If we want to systematically associate ourselves only with people who are like us, well, isn't that racism?  Yes, in a way I am returning to the racism topic; you thought I will leave my dear grandmothers in peace, eh!

Back when I was still in graduate school, I once wrote to The Hindu that inter-marriage is the key to harmony in India--harmony among people who are otherwise defined by differences.  Marriages across caste lines. Marriages across religions. Of course, that was one of the many unpublished essays that I have authored.  Blogging has at least taken care of that problem--after all, I am my own publisher ;)

Now, I live in a different country.  Thankfully!  (No offense meant to the readers from the old country ... hehe)  A country in which racism is not anything new either.  A part of life here too, though most people think of themselves, especially here in the white Pacific Northwest, as beyond racism.  In my adopted country, could one ask whether it is "racist to date only people of your own race?"  Reihan Salam raises that very question and the byline gives away the answer: Yes.

First, about Salam.  I have been reading his commentaries for a few years now.  A sharp thinker.  Well informed.  And, of course, I am especially excited that he has made himself a name even when young for one reason--he is a fellow South Asian.  Well, his parents immigrated from Bangladesh.  BTW, is it racist to get excited about some stranger all because he comes from that part of the world?

Anyway, Salam seems to be slowly evolving in his own views.  It appears that he is not as sharply conservative as he once seemed to be.  Or am I imagining it?

So, back to the issue of racism and dating only people of your own race.  Salam writes:
Is a strong same-race preference something one ought to be ashamed of? Or is it enough to say that the heart wants what it wants and to leave it at that? This is a more important question than you might think.
Now, ask yourself this.  Our hearts might like whatever our hearts want, yes.  Perhaps the heart likes slim people. Or fat people. Or short people. Or tall people.  Notice how I have only referred to "people."  But, even before we allow the heart to fall for a person, if the brain is screening out people from "other" races, then, well, isn't that racism?

Salam writes:
To be sure, dating is about more than the sharing of bread, and OkCupid users who express strong racial preferences may well be doing the world a favor by being open and honest about their wants. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask those who do express such preferences, and those who live them in practice, to reflect on them, and on how there might be more to fighting racism than voting “the right way.”
My grandmothers lived long lives for their generation, but not long enough to witness the changes in the lives of some of their grandchildren, when it comes to this spousal issue.  It was well beyond an arranged marriage in my case.  One cousin wed an Oriya. Another is married to a Marathi. Yet another is married to a Christian.  A pretty darn good record, though the number of cousins with arranged marriages to Tamil Brahmin Iyer spouses outnumber those of us who did not care to remain in that box.  A healthy start, nonetheless.  If the rest of the Tamil Brahmin Iyers and entire world begins this practice ... hey, a man can dream, can't he?

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