Sunday, January 14, 2007

Cross Culture Marriage and Racism

Around two years ago I briefly raised the topic of marrying a non-Bengali with my father. I had no one in mind, just a general inquiry. My dad turned to me, eyes narrowed, and in that baritone voice mouthed "What?"

"Um," I replied, somewhat meekly, "some people say it is recommended in Islam to marry outside your culture."

"I see." My father nodded understandingly.

"But," he noted, "some people also say it is recommended in Islam to wake up at 4 am in the morning and offer 20 rakats of Tahajjud prayers everyday."

End of conversation.

I was reminded of this anecdote this morning when I was getting my daily dose of Canada's news. The Toronto Sun reports that according to a survey they conducted, half of Canadians are racist. Which is pretty surprising as I must be running into the other half only then.

What was interesting was one of the questions used in the survey.

Would you have a positive reaction, negative reaction, remain indifferent or it would depend on the ethnic origin if your child were to marry a person of another ethnic group than yours?

So if you have a negative reaction when your child tells you he or she has found a partner but it's from a different ethnic group as yours, you are branded a racist? I don't agree, and frankly I am surprised that with a question like that the figures are not higher than 50%.

I am not going to debate whether marrying outside your ethnic group is right or wrong. That's like debating whether liquid soap is better than a bar of soap. There is no right answer. Each has its merits and drawbacks and it depends on the individuals and circumstances to choose what works for them and make it work.

When people object to their children marrying someone different, it's not based on racism but on fears about their offspring's happiness. For every success story like Suroor or Abu Sinan, there are also many unhappy stories. I personally had a Bengali female friend who married a Pakistani guy against her parents' wishes. Couple of years down the road, she wrote a letter to her parents.

"It is better for both your peace of mind and happiness that you forget you ever had a daughter."

Why? The husband had turned from Prince Charming to Abusive Drunk and Playboy, especially after the couple decided to settle in Lahore. Their story has become fodder for all Bengali fathers in our community who warns their daughters against the charm of 'deceptive Pakistani' guys. Racism?

I think when parents object to such marriages, it is more of a desire to see their own cultural traditions maintained in the next generation, and to ensure their children do not start their new life with the additional challenges of a culture gap.

On the other hand, a couple of friends of mine are somewhat involved with IMAP. They were telling me it's amazing how many girls do not want any man from their own community. Moreover, it is now becoming a trend in many mosques for the preachers to promote cross-cultural marriages, as they tackle the problem of lack of partners in the Muslim community here. I spoke to one such imam recently.

"Kids here are Canadian," He told me. "So it doesn't matter if you come from Guyana or Bangladesh, you are part of the same North American culture."

His point was that it's hard to meet prospective partners in North America if you constrict yourself to your own ethnic origin.

"Besides," the imam continued, "if we stop our daughters from marrying a Muslim man of a different culture, ultimately, they will end up marrying white Christian boys." Now, is this racism?
* * *

On a lighter topic, here's confirmation of the worst kept secret in India.


Farah said...

I don't think it's racism and I think both sets are right. On one hand interracial marriages have statistically a higher chance of breaking down. On the other hand these Muslim preachers have a point.

Beside we all know how khat Bengali guys look like *sigh*

Present blogger excluded of course.

mezba said...

Um, ok.. just for the record I think Bengali girls are the prettiest.

Also Indian girls, Pakistani girls, Arab girls ...

M&M said...

interesting topic. its coming up a lot recently

In the end it depends on the individuals, because obviously marrying someone from a different ethnicity, both individuals should realize that they have to learn more about each others background because in the end a marriage is not just a union between two people its a union between two families.

my mom actually said once, "I think if brown girls marry a white Muslim guy etc, it works out fine because girls usually have it in them that they know they would have to adjust etc, but for brown guys to bring home a differnt culture's bride can be troublesome for the poor girl because of in-laws expectation" hmm i dunno, it makes me wonder

but in my opinion as a Muslim girl is that as long as the guy is Muslim who cares as to what his ethnicity

n personally Aishwarya Rai could have done so much better than her present fiance.

Maliha said...

It's a fuzzy topic...I see both sides of the coin. I married someone from my own culture, and for the longest time I thought it would be otherwise. I am so happy, because I took so much for granted (that I don't have to explain, we are on the same page, etc).

I think mixed kids are the cutest though....

shaz said...

The first time I really encountered this was in university and I was totally shocked. an afgani girl friend of mine wanted to get married to a pakistani guy and her parents were so totally against it, that she ended up in tears over the whole thing and maybe got an arranged marriage. I was so shocked because they were both muslim! I just could not get over it.

Then, when I got married to my husband, I was again shocked to learn that they had more of an issue with me being from trinidad (fake indian), than me being muslim!!! what would you make of that? (his family is hindu, btw)

So... I think it kinda is racism to a degree, because I would not have issues like that. I would be more concerned about the righteousness of a potential mate for my children, than their ethnicity. This is not to say that there is not genuine concern about the mixing of cultures, but having grown up totally in the west, to parents and grandparents who grew up in the west, I think that our idea of 'culture' is a bit looser than those who grew up in the east.

I have to agree with the imam here, that we are Canadians after all. My husband and I are from totally different cultures and religions and alhmadulillah we are making it work... it is more difficult than if we had the same background, however any marriage is hard work. I do also agree that cultural differences should be a concern, but not THE most important one, and should not be the deciding factor, and if that is the most important concern, then I would have to say it is racism.

mousehunter said...

What Shaz said.

I am from an Indian (from India) hindu background, while she is from Trinidad and muslim background. Now Indians have HUGE issues with West Indians (as she stated). But if both parties go into it knowing that the road ahead may be tough as cultures collide then I think it can work. My biggest struggle was that my parents know many "not-so-religious" muslims that married hindus that allow themselves to get involved in hindu ceremonies etc which as we know is risky business. But my parents are aware of what I will do and what I won't do now, and don't bother asking anymore. I think if parents go in with an open mind, it could be an opporunity to share their culture with an outsider while broadening their horizon and learning about other cultures.

mezba said...

m&m: I think you are right in what you say, brown girls are quite compatible with all, but from all brown guys I seen that hitched it up with white girls, there was always problems with the inlaws.

The problem with 'as long as h/she is muslim' is that we are not ONLY muslims, we are also a product of our cultures and we have certain expectations of a spouse based on that culture, I feel.

As for Ashwarya, I think she got a better deal than Abhishek.

Maliha: I think 'we are on the same page' is so important, and it's made easier if one is from the same culture. Though of course, hard to say.

I agree - mixed kids seem to get the best from both sides - physically.

mezba said...

Shaz and Mousehunter: as far as I know, from my experience helping friends who are involved in IMAP/CAMP and others, is that Pakistani guys have a very bad rep, for whatever reason (now that's a racist comment if there was one). But it just is. I personally know a lot of Pakistani girls who will not marry Pakistani guys for this reason. Maybe that is why the parents of those Afghan girls were like that?

I was not aware of the "fake Indian" syndrome. I always thought Trinidadian was Trinidadian, not Indian.

I agree with what the imam is said in principle, but not in practice. Lot of marriages seem to be "let's get married and then Allah will take care of it" policy. They are unprepared for the problems they get and then blame Allah for their own shortcomings.

shaz said...

your last paragraph is very true... but it has nothing to do with different cultures mixing...

do you know mike from imap?

shaz said...

oh, and additionally... ok if Pakistani guys have a bad rep... but I do notice A LOT of east indian ppl, regardless of their religion, have this very territorial thing about they offspring getting married to their "kind"!

mezba said...

Shaz: I only know a couple of guys from IMAP well. Mike? I might have to see him to tell you, might know by face but most likely no.

As for the statement of the Pakistani guys, that was actually told to me by a Pakistani guys. Lot of desis are very territorial as you say, especially about the women.

Suroor said...

In many cases parents don't want mixed marriages for their children because they want to maintain their roots and culture. In other cases they just don't like the culture of the suitor, which would be racism.

I know that my children will perhaps not marry into South Asians or Arabs and I think I won't have any problems with that. Globalisation means this too.

Personally, my grandfather and father both married non-Pakistanis which makes us a lot more tolerant.

Thought-provoking post, Mezba and I think I like what the imam said.

Maliha said...

One more point I forgot to mention, my hubby and I both spent a long time in the US and some time in the ME. I think that helped a lot too...similar experiences of where we lived etc.

I don't think it would have worked as great, if he had never left Yemen or Kenya..both of which would have created mad issues for us. Does that make sense?

Anonymous said...

I think many pple think that by marrying someone outside their ethnicity would create problems. I always prayed that I marry someone similar to me. My husband is from the same cultural background as myself,so we have the same upbringing and the same origin. Racism exists in different forms,but other pple would say it is not racism but just indifference (?). There is also the *class* issue whereby pple from the same culture/ethnicity cannot marry someone who is below their *class*. Now what is that called? sf

mezba said...

Suroor: thanx for your comments. As usual, you are very unique. Most parents would definitely have a problem with their kids not marrying into their own kind. I guess coming from a background of mixed marriages has broadened your opinion.

Maliha, sf: I think you are right. I lean more to "why marry outside your culture, you might get additional challenges" view but that's the easy way out.

Abu Sinan said...

I dont think your example is a good one Mezba. I think most cross cultural relationships break down for other reasons, not because the other person turns out to be a drunk.

I know of more than a few same culture relationships that broke up because of alcohol abuse and the like.

As to the success rates of these marriages, how much of that is due to the couple themselves rather than the nonsense done by members of both sides of the family who are against the marriage in the first place?

I have seen, first hand, how much of it IS based on racism. Like the girls I knew who wanted to marry someone who wasnt Pakistani, but that turned out not to be the problem, the fact that the guy was black is what was the issue. If she had been marrying someone like me, it would have been okay.

It is often about "marrying up" so to speak. A black American, an Indian, an African is "going up" but a white American sure is.

There is a lot of racism involved in this Mezba, and I can also tell you that the failure rate for such marriages would probably drop 50% if the families kep their noses out of it and stopped MAKING issues.

Abu Sinan said...


Mixed kids are the cutest! Although I am

'liya said...

I don't want to put my email on my blog, but I'm curious to know! What's yours? - I'll email you first :)

M&M said...

Mezba, you are right, we are a product of our cultures too and that sets up certain expectations

and ya the above comment by Abu Sinan

"... I can also tell you that the failure rate for such marriages would probably drop 50% if the families kep their noses out of it and stopped MAKING issues."

which is also said by quite a few commentators, i would agree. a lot of times these marriages end up breaking up (or even same culture marriages) because families make problems.

i am still hoping to see an asian(oriental chinese/japanese etc) and brown couple's kid. so far i have never come across one.

shaz said...

"Lot of desis are very territorial as you say, especially about the women."

you know I tend to think that there is some feelings of superiority involved here. at least I see it blaringly with my husband's family. and I have to said it is racist.

Of course this is not to say every desi is like this, but the ones I have encountered at least. And I say that it totally shocks me, because I would never think like that, I would never say someone is not 'good enough' for my kids based on their ethnicity.

totally agree with Abu Sinan.

Abu Sinan said...

I am with Shaz. There are two things that matter to my wife and I. Is the person decent, and how is their deen? Race? Ethnicity? That means nothing.

Zehra said...

i agree with a lot of things you talk about, mezba, but i have one question: (with all due respect, of course)....if i may ask, why are you even considering the Toronto Sun as a reliable source? from what i know it's a shoddy newspaper that publishes a lot of questionable material and does not in anyway compare to papers like the Toronto Star or even the Globe and Mail? i understand that you don't necessarily agree with their survey but i wouldn't be surprised that such unwarranted views are coming from them in the first place.

once again, no offense intended ... :)

mezba said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Salacious Samosa said...

That marriage is such a set up. Each time I see that stupid Ashwaria's (sp?) face I want to smash it with my backside.

Onto other matters. As much as we like to live in our own lala land. Canada is a very racist place. And you'd be suprised to note that even mixed-race couples can be racist too. Trust me, I was in one.

But hey, I don't want to get into this. It is 'easier' if you marry within your own culture. It may not be rewarding for some, but there are difficulties in mixed-race/culture marriages. There is nothing to say which is better or worse, it's simply a matter of preference. I say this all from experience....

Your dad is a funny man.

I like him.


PS: About the mixed kids always being good looking... ha ha ha, I used to think that too. I can show you how that equation is not always true!

Shabina said... what possible way is bar soap better than the liquid stuff??

mezba said...

Samosa, I could do a whole post on Ash - Abhishek. So far Ashwarya is only involved with guys she is making movies with, and then dumps them once the career flops.

As for the mixed race, I read your blog, I believe you! I think you got it right, it's easier to just marry into your own race.

Shabina: um, trying to put it in halal terms, but, um...

let's say your hand is, er, dirty, and how are you going to press the liquid soap dispenser button? And who is going to clean that?

grossed out yet?lol

arafat said...

I think the issue is quite complicated. And I also think that it's hard to explain it with anecdotal evidence, since as you said yourself, there are stories of both success and failure. In itself, the case of your friend doesn't prove much; that her "husband had turned from Prince Charming to Abusive Drunk and Playboy" has little to do with the fact that he's Pakistani. A different person of a different ethnic/national background could've ended up the same or worse. Of course, I'm only saying all this to make a theoretical point, because I totally agree with your casual statistical observation (in one of the comments above) re. drinking and Bengalis -- almost all of the abusive drunks amongst my friends happen to be Pakistanis, not even American, and certainly not Bangladeshi!

The factors that complicate this matter include not only culture and ethnicity but also gender and stereotypes. For example, compare a desi son approaching his parents about marrying a white girl versus a desi daughter approaching her parents about marrying a white boy. The situations are likely to be strikingly different! Furthermore, I think the question of race does play a strong role, albeit implicitly. The person who helped me realize this is a friend who has been in a stable "interracial" relationship for several years: she pointed out that the situation will be very very different, undoubtedly worse, if a desi boy/girl were to approach his/her parents about marrying a Black girl/boy. And I think she's damn right.

In the end, the topic of "interracial" marriages isn't limited to desis/Muslims (though for us it becomes more complicated). I was reading a brilliant sociology paper on racism, where they wrote about a survey in which a sampling of white people were broached on the topic of interracial marriage, and some of the answers were so ridiculous, in a way it was almost enlightening!

Abu Sinan said...

I work with a Pakistani mahajaba. A very nice girl.

She is married to an Arab, which used to be very rare. In crass, racist ideas that are pretty common in the Arab community, such a marriage would be considered "marrying down."

Funny thing is many Arab women would love to marry white converts, there are just not enough of us, and the problems the MEN in their culture would give them.

sonia said...

"I think when parents object to such marriages, it is more of a desire to see their own cultural traditions maintained in the next generation".

well it all depends on how one defines racism doesn't it? at the end of the day for some reason it's achieved more notoriety than other forms of social discrimination. or a sub-set of what i call the wider problem of 'group-ism' i.e. Race is a type of 'group' that has come to have great social significance for people.

Now a lot of people think their cultural traditions are superior to others. One could say that was similar to the issue of some perceiving their race is superior. Of course one could say - well i wouldn't say my cultural traditions are superior, i just prefer them to others. Fair enough? Well as you say - it's up to them isn't it. Food for thought isn't it? One might add that similar sentiments were voiced with reference to racial segregation back in the day in the US... And ditto for the anti-miscegenation laws - which in Alabama were only lifted in 2000. (Frankly, I personally think the anti-miscegenation laws were highly racist.)

But yeah - of course it's all subjective!

But at the end of the day what i find highly presumptuous is not people expressing their opinion that people of 'different cultures' should not marry -but the idea that people who come from the same place have the same 'culture' in the first place or that they are less likely to have 'differences'.

And there are plenty of playboys in Bangladesh! NOt just in Lahore..

mezba said...

Arafat: I would be VERY interested in reading that paper you mentioned. You are right, it would be different with girls than guys. When a brown guy snags a non-brown girl, we think he "got" her. If a brown girl goes with a non-brown guy we "lost" her.

Abu Sinan: I better not say anything about racism of Arabs. Living in the middle east for quite a while has taught me that not everything with Arabic on it is holy. You are right - they look down on subcontinent and look up to white people.

Sonia: So true.. it all depends on how one defines racism. I think if someone believes their culture should be preserved amongst the future generations it is not racism. Your comment is quite fair.

PS. Bangladesh also has lots of playGIRLS

mezba said...

This was the original comment that I deleted above because it had an email in it.

Abu Sinan: Yes mine was one example that's quite commonly used in the Bengali community when warning against marriage to a Pakistani boy. On the whole drinking (while it happens) is less of a problem (as it is less severe) in Bengali communities than others (except the army).

Yes I think there is a distaste associated with dark skin. Even if you have two people of the same community, people as a spouse will pick the fairer one. It is about people's preferences so I cannot say it is right or wrong.

Maybe it is less of a problem amongst Arabs, but amongst Bengalis marrying a white guy is seen as a sign of getting "lost". On the other hand, marrying Arab girls by South Asians is becoming more common.

I do agree though that families sometimes contribute a lot to the failure of such marriages.

Liya: My email is ____

M&M: I know one friend whose father is Indian origin and mother is Chinese (they are from Mauritus where such mixes are common)! Now imagine how smart this guy is!!

Shaz, Abu Sinan: I think it depends on your cases as well. Like you both are from mixed cultures which makes you more broad minded.

If I married a Bengali woman (and truth be told I would like to because I am used to and feel at home with them and so on) I would probably take a dim view of another ethnicity when it comes for marriage of kids (long in the future).

Zehra: OMG you are so polite!!!

I took the Sun article because it is getting a lot of press recently - it was even on the National!

I don't agree with their news or their editorial (Peter Worthington is an a-hole, only Eric Margolis is the true good guy) but it's still an important publication and when it raises some issues (rightly or wrongly) they need to be addressed.

Anonymous said...

I am a Bengali guy and I'm not defending Bengali guys at all (Bengali girls are on average way better than Bengali guys, attitude wise etc.).

But I do think the tired outdated stereotype of Bengali guys marrying outside more often than girls needs to go. It'#s part of a broader issue in the Bengali community whereby anything Indo-Pakistani (North, not South Indian) can be applied to Bengalis. That's not the case.

I feel like the colorism is present among both Bengali girls and guys (we're talking born in the West here). But Bengali guys are slightly more likely to marry a Bengali than Bengali girls are. Bengali girls are more likely to go for White, Arab, Pakistani etc. particularly because of the light skin (Bengali guys too, but lower rates).

Also, Islamically it does not say anywhere that's it's recommended you marry other ethnic groups. It just says there's no problem with it and it's allowed etc (Back then Arabs wouldn't marry other Arabs due to tribalism etc.). The idea that it's recommended or even a must, has been created by young Bengalis/Pakistanis/Arabs/insert group in order to try and "Islamically" justify the dating/in some cases sleeping around they have done and so get married.

Regardless, people can do whatever but my biggest pet peeves are people who say Mixed babies are the cutest or Mixed people look the best. This is subjective as people of the same "ethnic group" are mixed anyway. Race and ethnicity are social constructs. 2 black people can be more different than a black and a white person. Africa is the most genetically diverse place on Earth.

Cutest and best looking are highly subjective and these ideas have a highlight charged history of being used against "full" black girls and boys and today against "full" desi boys and girls. As we've seen with the whole team lightskin and team darkskin stuff.

I just want any full Bengali couples out there or full Arab or whatever to know your baby is not ugly! My Bengali relatives have been told by other Bengali/White and Bengali/Arab couples their babies are uglier than theirs and I won't stand for it.

Beauty comes from within. Raise your child to be educated, thoughtful, caring, a good Muslim etc, know their language, culture, history, struggle etc. This will be more than enough.

Anonymous said...

Actually there is a verse referring to the creation of nations and tribes that they may know one another in the Qura'n.

Anonymous said...

Actually there is a verse referring to the creation of nations and tribes that they may know one another in the Qura'n.