The tribulations of interracial, interfaith and cross-cultural relationships.
There is not a single “right” opinion on this topic. This is not an attack on any particular community. This is an exploration of different viewpoints and experiences within the British-Asian community, in regards to relationships outside of one’s community, ethnicity and/or religious background. The fact is that this subject has an impact on most of us in some way or another – we live in an increasingly diverse society.
For the purpose of the article, I will need to generalise a lot of statements to simplify it for you and for myself.
Okay, so here goes.
For some of you, it’s not a problem. You can be with who you choose to be with, regardless of their background. As long as you’re happy, right? Unfortunately, for many others, this is not the case. There are hurdles to overcome. There are impossible challenges. You’ve heard the same phrases just as many times as I have:
“My family would never approve”
“What would other people say?”
“What a disgrace to the family”
There is an expectation; to follow your family’s wishes, tick society’s boxes and align with tradition’s guidelines. Marry someone of the same religion, from the same ethnic background and (in some cases) from a good caste. The problem is that culture has consumed people. Going against these standards can result in an enormous amount of pressure from your family and community; they look at you differently, as if there’s a stain on your reputation. You’re no longer the golden child – they’re ashamed of who you’ve become and chosen to be with.
Some of you might be aware of the following rule, “no BMW”. It means no Black, Muslim or White partner allowed. This is a phrase known in certain Indian communities – the expectation is that as a Gujarati Indian you should only marry another Gujarati Indian. There are negative stereotypes and prejudices attached to Black, Muslim and White people that don’t fit the agenda.
I’ve never been able to work out why, but the very ugly truth is that Asian families are less welcoming to black people than they are to white people (in terms of marriage for their child). Even if the person is a Black Muslim, a Pakistani Muslim family may be unlikely to accept them.
I think that this stems from the “White is right” indoctrination that has been drilled into us generation after generation – Asians are taught that fair skin is associated with beauty and higher class. Ironically, for a community that regards culture with such high value, you would expect that we should be able to relate more closely to Black people than with White. Yet, here we are, with the complete opposite way of thinking.
I know too many people that have been disowned and disregarded by their families because they’ve chosen to marry outside of their faith and/or ethnic background. They live a separate life now, in rejection from the very people that raised them. They are isolated. They made a choice for themselves and for their future, but in return they had to sacrifice a huge part of their life. It isn’t our place to judge whether or not these people have made the right choice – it’s an impossible decision that I hope we may never have to face ourselves. Ultimately, everyone wants to live happily with their family and their partner in unity.
Here’s the thing that I’ve never been able to fully understand:
As a parent, how are you even able to cut them out of your life for any reason at all? Is the colour of their partner’s skin, or religious belief, that intolerable that you’re willing to abandon your own child? As a parent, are you willing to miss your child’s wedding for the sake of pride? Are you willing to miss the birth of your grandchild for the sake of reputation? Now, of course, I’m not a parent so I can’t relate. But I would hope that one day when I do become a father I would stand by my child no matter what.
If you’re from an ethnic minority group in the UK, you are more likely to suffer from mental health problems than your British-White counterparts. Some of you who reached out to me about this topic described your own battle with anxiety and/or depression as a result of cultural burdens. This is a real problem – we cannot allow ourselves or others to become victims of damaged mental health because of cultural consequences and family feuds.
Suicide or even murder. You read and hear stories about people that have been victims of “honour killing”, beatings and acid attacks. Why – because they deviated from expectation. Given, this a very extreme and far less common occurrence. But it happens, it’s a fact. We need to talk about it. We need to prevent it. And not so surprisingly, women are even more at risk of being attacked or killed for breaking traditions than men.
So I’ve spent a large part of this explaining the consequences and challenges. I think it’s about time I probably shared ways in which to navigate these situations and resolving potential problems.
First thing’s first – communication is crucial.
Ultimately, you don’t want to break off from your family and I’m quite sure you don’t want to have to leave your partner. What I’ve learnt is that if you put your trust in your family, they’re more likely to put their trust in you. If you don’t have a close relationship with your parents, then honestly it will be much more difficult for you. Keeping secrets is a burden – the pressure of secrecy is heavy. Creating dialogue and approaching these situations diplomatically can ease the taboo of this topic. But be patient and go in with an open mind. Time will only make things better.
Next – your priority.
You need to be very clear and honest with yourself. Whose opinion matters to you most? If your family and your faith are of great importance to you, then it might be better to avoid interracial/interfaith relationships altogether. If not, then be prepared to make tough and taxing choices.
Let me be clear, there is a difference between unintentionally having feelings for someone and intentionally pursuing that person. If you know that they won’t be accepted and you know that the relationship can cause turmoil, it may be wiser to avoid proactively trying to be with someone or getting closer to them.
I know that other situations arise, circumstances are what they are, and you end up becoming attached to someone you didn’t expect to. These things happen – it’s natural. But then you have one of two choices; stop before you become closer and risk an upset later on, or alternatively, carry on and hope for the best.
It’s also important to consider the future. Assuming that you’re very serious about being with this person and that you want kids, you need to think about how you want your kids to be brought up. As a Muslim, if I were to marry a non-Muslim, would I raise my children as Muslims or of my partner’s faith? You don’t want to confuse your kids or create uncertainty. There are examples of interfaith households working very successfully, but that’s not to say it’s easy either. Ensure you have this discussion before you decide to start a family and come to a mutual agreement.
Finally, always remind yourself that it will get better eventually, no matter how heavy the burden is today. A family that is broken is not finished – there is always another way. There is always a solution, even if it doesn’t exist right now. A lot of patience, open communication and just that little bit of extra hope will take you a long way – believe me.
If you’ve made it this far into the article, then thank you. Honestly, this topic is so deep and diverse that I could write so much more about it. I haven’t even touched on sexuality within the Asian community, nor have I mentioned a number of other related topics. Maybe I’ll start a series – who knows?
I’d like to take a brief moment to show my gratitude to all of you who reached out to me to share your opinions and personal experiences. Honestly, it gave me a tonne of perspective and insight. Some of you have endured unimaginably tough circumstances for the sake of your family’s happiness or for your own relationship.
I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again – learn from the lifestyle of others and define your own culture.