This story at Salon brought me back to my early 20s. It’s by an honest Pakistani woman:
However, what we fail to acknowledge is our own internalized racism against black people, a legacy of 200 years of British colonial rule over India, where to be fair of skin is the standard of beauty, where to date and perchance to marry a white person is acceptable to some degree, but not a black person.
When our daughter Faryal told my husband and me ten years ago during her sophomore year in college that she was dating an African American young man of Jamaican heritage from the Bronx, I remember thinking it was a bad idea, hoping this fascination would pass. Jaleni, her then-boyfriend, must have sensed my disapproval, for he told her after I’d met him briefly on a visit to their campus, “your mom doesn’t like me.” He was 22 years old, about the same age I was when I first arrived in this country.
I remain deeply ashamed of my feelings of fear and unease about my daughter and her now brand-new husband’s relationship back then. Perhaps it was that disapproving vibe he got from me that day, perhaps it was his own need to grapple with what a relationship with a woman outside of his own race would mean for him in the future, perhaps my own daughter had feelings of insecurity and a need to please me, to “belong” to the Pakistani side of her heritage. Perhaps it was all of the above that led to their splitting up soon after they both returned to New York after graduation. My daughter took the break-up hard.
My first Serious Adult Relationship was around that age, towards the end of my first year of college. Being an Aspie, I’d studied by myself all year, but I told myself I was going to make an effort and be social and go to a study group for Intro to Biopsych at least one time. I awkwardly started up a friendship with the cute Middle Eastern girl who’d been there. After she explained that she was Persian, I said something dumb which revealed that I didn’t know the difference between Persian and Arabic. Anyway, we started dating, and I had these problems.
She had a younger brother who was free to do whatever, but she had to keep her dad updated of her whereabouts at all times and be home reasonably early. I wasn’t allowed to meet him, because she wasn’t supposed to be dating, ESPECIALLY not a black guy. I only met him one time, when they had car trouble and I could rent a ZipCar thing and give them a ride. I was introduced as an acquaintance from class. Otherwise never met the guy, and he didn’t speak much English.
It majorly put a crimp in our style and I didn’t feel like I was enjoying the benefits of adulthood that a normal person would have at that age. Everything required the same kind of sneaking around it took to smoke weed in high school.
Despite a lifetime in academia speaking out against and teaching students to critique and resist a racist, heterosexist, patriarchal, imperialist class system, I realized how deeply ideology exerts its hold on us. I recognize how the fear of rejection from our communities and peers constrains our every move, how hard it is to rise above the madding crowd even for those of us who fancy we are rebels of a sort. How, I had found myself thinking, will I be able to protect my daughter and son-in-law from the hurt of their brown/black kids when a racist society judges them inferior or a threatening presence? How will I deal with my fear for their future safety and well-being, the fear that all black folk live with daily in this great country?
My mom says she did hear comments like “But think of the poor children!” regarding her marriage to my dad. I think she was a bit naive about how it’d be. Before the autism diagnosis, I attributed a lot of my feeling-like-an-alien to mixed-race reverse culture shock issues. From Linda Alcoff’s contribution to Philosophy and the Mixed-Race Experience:
The mixed race person has been denied that social recognition of self which Hegel understood as necessarily constitutive of self-consciousness and full self-development. For us, it is not a question of reorienting perspective from the alien to the familiar, since no ready-made, available, or socially acknowledged perspective captures our contradictory experience. Without a social recognition of mixed identity, the mixed race person is told to choose one or another perspective. This creates not only alienation, but the sensation of having a mode of being which is an incessant, unrecoverable lack [Lacan…], an unsurpassable inferiority, or simply an unintelligible mess. This blocks the possibility of self-knowledge: the epistemic authority and credibility that accrues to nearly everyone at least which respect to their “ownmost” perspective, is denied to the mixed race person. Vis-a-vis each community or social location to which s/he might claim a connection, s/he can never claim authority to speak unproblematically for or from that position. Ramos warns that without a connection to an ongoing history and community, human consciousness devolves to an animal existence that has no ability “to project the imagination toward the future”. Only communities have continuity beyond individual life; cast off from all communities, the individual has no historical identity and thus is unlikely to value the community’s future.
My existence as a mulatto is taken by others to validate their “post-racial” colorblindness stuff.
As my husband and I have gotten to know Jaleni better over the past couple of years since he and our daughter picked up their relationship again; as some of my upper-class Pakistani women friends have met his hard-working single mother, different in race and class from their own privileged selves, at the bridal shower I threw for my daughter a few months ago; as we now hear these same bougie desi friends from Scarsdale and Briarcliff Manor starting to say “he’s a lovely man” and “your daughter looks so happy” and “her mother in law seems so loving and down to earth,” then I know my husband and I have contributed in some small way to lifting the burden of racism and classism from the still-colonized minds of our South Asian brethren, including ourselves.
The palpable feelings of joy and love that filled the upstate New York barn where we hosted our daughter’s dream wedding just a month ago, uniting brown, black and white friends and family who attended, brought home more viscerally than any sermon or speech or book could the multicultural and multiracial reality that is this country’s greatest strength and gift to humanity, beckoning a post-racial world that the Trump era’s backwards-facing racism is powerless to resist.
I agree that someone doesn’t have full personhood without belonging to the community of people it’s okay to have sex with, at least in principle. It really is good for people to recognize basic human commonalities and bond over those.
It’s also possible to marry someone and be racist toward them.
Now assume the author’s experience is very representative of people with “a lifetime of speaking out” about racism when it doesn’t cost them anything. Having spent a lot of time among Good Liberals, I can say I definitely pick up on the fact that, when the Nazis start exterminating people, these people aren’t going to have my back, and they might openly join the other team. #AllLivesMatter
This is the reason my dad once said of white people, “They all bad ‘cept for [my mom’s name].” I didn’t understand at the time he told me that. His observations about women included “They don’t think right” and “Son, you ain’t never gonna make ’em happy.”
It sucks when someone will only have sex with you in shameful secrecy, because you’re one of Those People, and that’s the MOST acceptance you’ve ever received from the opposite sex. If people mean what they say about needing Confidence to be attractive, you might as well just kill yourself if that’s what you’ve got to work with, right?
It sucked being autistic that whole time and not realizing how insecure and full of shit the normal people are. I believed they were actually confident!
It’s hard to know what it must be like to be normal. The normal people are deathly afraid of an existence like mine, but they don’t seem to have anything resembling peace of mind. From Baudrillard’s America:
And that smile everyone gives you as they pass, that friendly contraction of the jaws triggered by human warmth. It is the eternal smile of communication, the smile through which the child becomes aware of the presence of others, or struggles desperately with the problem of their presence. It is the equivalent of the primal scream of man alone in the world. Whether I am right in all this or not, they certainly do smile at you here, though neither from courtesy, nor from an effort of charm. This smile signifies only the need to smile. It is a bit like the Cheshire cat’s grin: it continues to float on faces long after all emotion has disappeared. A smile available at any moment, but half-scared to exist, to give itself away. No ulterior motive lurks behind it, but it keeps you at a distance. It is part of the general cryogenization of emotions. It is, indeed, the smile the dead man will wear in his funeral home, as he clings to a hope of maintaining contact even in the next world. The smile of immunity, the smile of advertising: “This country is good. I am good. We are the best.” It is also Reagan’s smile–the culmination of the self-satisfaction of the entire American nation–which is on the way to becoming the sole principle of government. An autoprophetic smile, like all signs in advertising. Smile and others will smile back. Smile to show how transparent, how candid you are. Smile if you have nothing to say. Most of all, do not hide the fact you have nothing to say nor your total indifference to others. Let this emptiness, this profound indifference shine out spontaneously in your smile. Give your emptiness and indifference to others, light up your face with the zero degree of joy and pleasure, smile, smile, smile…Americans may have no identity, but they do have wonderful teeth.