Around 4am this morning, i was reading ‘Dating out of your community does not make you less’ by Aafiyah Shaikh, and it made me deep a few things really–like how me dating a white man can be seen as a betrayal of sorts to some people in my community, and to my ethnicity. Usually when i tell people my boyfriend is white, i’m rewarded with surprise and an “oh my god really?”, which i understand, i do.
but it’s annoying.
Of course, there is history of colonialism in my homeland, a country i have not visited in over 12 years, so i understand the hesitation and disbelief at my revealing that my partner is white. I can argue that it’s not his fault, because of course it’s not, though that will do nothing to change the history of Bangladesh and the war and deaths as a result of British imperialism.
A friend once told me that though she likes and dates white men, she can’t ever see herself in a long term commitment, or marriage, with a white man because of the history and colonisation of India, the heartbreaking outcomes of the massacre and the Bengal famine, amongst other atrocious events that occurred as a direct result of British rule. The countries India was later partitioned into (another tragedy because of the displacement, separation, rapes and deaths) are still, to this day, trying to recover and regain the wealth and power taken, to heal from over hundreds of years of colonialism. Where i would, of course, like to go more in depth on how Britain impacted India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, i can’t–because i don’t have enough knowledge, nor do i remember what i studied about the subject. (i do definitely plan on learning more about it though, considering it is still my–and my people’s–history.)
Being part of a diaspora community is tough, with many identities attached to it and values to uphold or tackle, having to decide which part of your identity feels more like you, without letting go of either one. i am a first generation british citizen, so when my parents migrated to the UK in the 1960s/1970s (dad), and the early 1990s (mum), they packed their traditions, norms and values in their luggage with them, tightly holding onto what they were familiar with. they are, still, unwilling to adopt the change that came with settling their roots in another soil, wanting to keep the same ideologies from Bangladesh, believe in the same mannerisms, behaviour, and traditions. this attitude further impacts the offspring, in this case me, through them not being able to see, accept or be willing to understand mental health and the severity of it, or how things, and society, are a lot different now. the South Asian community is so immersed in preserving and nurturing their traditions, they tend to ostracise anyone who fails to fit into their narrative of ‘normal’. In their eyes, normal means straight, marrying another desi person, no pre-marital relationships (more so within the Muslim community) or sex, and obeying the elders. Despite the differences in certain beliefs and the history, and current news, of tragedy between Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, there is one main similarity that stands out across all three nations, which is respecting and obeying the elders at all costs. in this, respect and obey are two words merged into one, where one cannot exist without the other. but of course, both words can co-exist, without being intertwined.
The maintenance of those age-old beliefs, to this very day, is one that, in my view, needs to be abolished, particularly how the honour, respect and reputation of a family, or family name comes before the safety and happiness of the people within that family. it is this very issue that makes someone feel guilty for daring to date outside of their community, for not just fear of ruining their family’s reputation, but also because of their lack of acceptance and seeing it as a betrayal to their people. though in ways i understand my parents reluctance to accept or believe that i am with a white man, due to there being a cultural and language barrier, as well as having their parents live under British Rule, Partition, and them living through the Bangladesh Liberation War, i still hate that their primary reason is because of how it will impact our family’s name, what people will think and the image of it all. i fail to see, however, why people from my generation have such a problem with my boyfriend being white. one person, after telling him that J is white when asked whether my partner was Bangladeshi, said “wow a shada [white] guy? i’m disappointed.”
question is why? Why do you feel disappointed? What right do you have to feel that way about someone i choose to be with? i don’t want to be defending my choice here, when i had to do that very thing with my family, because it’s not wrong of me to be in a relationship with someone who is white. yes he’s not directly responsible for the atrocities caused by the British Empire, but he, as a white person, does benefit from that system, and has white privilege. we’re all aware of that.
Choosing to date someone who is white does not make me any less Asian.
i don’t want to be following blind tradition and doing everything expected of me, or required of me as an only child and daughter, just because we’re “Bangladeshi and this is what our people are like”. it is unfair on me to have to live my life for my family, to please them, and deal with the shaming of going against cultural normality and parental expectations. Being with someone white does not mean i am throwing away my heritage, lineage or identity–if anything, i am embracing it more, because these are things i plan to pass down to the family J and i make. My culture, the language, the food, the traditions (clothing/mehndi/parties-slash-dawats), the movies, the style, the history of our people, will not die with me. but what will end with me is the cycle of emotional blackmailing, forcing the beliefs and values onto another person and belittling and stigmatising love and relationships. i will not raise our children to fear me or worry about how i will react to anything they have to say.
my ‘Asian-ness’ is not defined by who i date, because regardless of their race, i am and always will be a Bangladeshi woman, proud of being Asian. hating aspects of my culture and the toxicity does not mean i don’t love my culture, btw. and dating a white man does not, and never will, erase my Asian identity.
I love this. Such a well written insightful piece. You always manage to articulate the rambling thoughts that bounce around my brain. Particularly the problem when our parents merge respect and obey. It is healthy to question, to challenge and to want more from life. It’s not even wanting more. It’s just living on your own terms. Go out there and carve out your own world. It will be worth it.
thank you so much, naz! this means a lot to me. you’re right, challenging the cultural obligations and traditions of obeying our parents is not wanting more, nor is going against them. it’s finally choosing ourselves, in a culture that tells us to put our family name before everything.
So insightful and well written. You can articulate things that bounce around in my head all the time. Especially how obey and respect have been merged into one. I whole heartedly agree. I love my parents. But the respect does not come unconditionally. And the obeying is something I’ve fought against my whole life. Blind following is dangerous. It is healthy to challenge and question and make up your own mind. I know everything shouldn’t be a constant battle, but don’t stop fighting for your happiness. Carve out your own future and build your own world. Another amazing piece of work that really spoke to me and I’m sure will resonate with many others.
i agree (re: respect does not come unconditionally) — it is something that has to be earned, and can’t just be handed off, even if they are our parents. love them, yes, but respecting them for trying to make choices for us or putting their needs and desires before our own happiness is so demeaning and a lack of self-respect. trying to find a balance between choosing my happiness and keeping -them- happy is a battle im struggling with, ngl, but in the end i know i will choose myself, since like i said in “Brown Girl Guilt” and “Muslim-ish, Brown & an Only Child” it is my life at the end of the day and they won’t be here forever, or when i have to live with the decision, or sacrifice, i (will not) make. thank you so much, naz!! your compliments, and you, are so appreciated.