“What’s the matter?”
“I can’t be with you”
As we stood on the tube platform, tears slowly ran down my now wife’s cheek. “What’s the matter?” I asked, confused at what had caused her to suddenly become emotional.
“I can’t be with you,” she replied.
This was the moment that I realised the guilt that consumed her for being in a relationship with a Black man. And how it had presented an emotional albatross for her. As a Black man, I was the antithesis of all her culture had taught her to seek in a partner. I represented a betrayal to her family, her culture and all that she felt it was her duty to manifest. Alas, sometimes cultural expectations can often be void of rationale but they can carry more weight than logic itself.
In the taboo hierarchy of interracial relationships, being with a Black partner typically sits at the bottom of the league table within South Asian communities. What I didn’t appreciate was the extent of the guilt that one could assume on account of pursuing this.
With time, that was eroded. Yet I too was presented with a measure of guilt in representing the source of my wife’s anxiety. However, these feelings never reflected a belief that she was doing anything wrong; it was a reflection of the effect her decision might have on her parents and family.
Meanwhile, my wife’s parents had no idea I existed. Although as our relationship progressed, my wife made the decision to tell her parents she was seeing someone. And that someone was Black. In the back of my wife’s mind was how her parents would react and if their reaction would be a bridge or a bollard to our future together.
My wife’s parents accepted her revelation. There wasn't any anger or articulated expression of disappointment. But I had destroyed what they had long envisaged for their daughter’s future. A Gujarati partner from a ‘good Gujarati family’ who reflected their culture and image. I was the reason they would no longer realise the joy of a huge Indian wedding that every Indian parent seeks for their children, especially a daughter. I had shattered another long-standing expectation but this time for my wife’s parents. And with that, I became the elephant in the room.
This brought about much resentment within me. Where to date I had largely reacted to and regretted my wife’s anxieties, I now held my own sentiments. But I didn’t feel guilty. I felt indignant.
In retrospect, I realise that my reaction wasn’t always as supportive as it could have been. It exacerbated the guilt my wife experienced as she felt she couldn’t please anyone. She was being emotionally pulled in opposing directions. On the occasions that I voiced my umbrage, I wish now that I had concealed it. Where I was venting, I was unnecessarily articulating a juxtaposition of betrayal and loyalty for my wife. My utterances were an unhelpful reminder of the predicament she was faced with.
Eventually, my wife's parents asked to meet me. Unbeknownst to me, meeting your partner’s parents within the Indian diaspora is essentially a precursor to engagement and a statement of intent for marriage. Albeit with sensitivity, I mentally separated myself from that.
It was important that I added no further layers to our meeting as this wasn't an Indian relationship where those norms existed. Rather, it was an opportunity to make their acquaintance as the foundation for our future relationship together. That wasn't something I felt should be complicated.
The rest is literally history. My in-laws, who I now have a great relationship with, had to accept my perspective as someone who embraced yet was ignorant of their culture. And I had to adapt to a cultural setting and expectations that were different from what I knew. The disappointment they once felt dissipated as did my indignation and my wife’s guilt.
Mutual acceptance, that once seemed elusive, was eventually found. Nevertheless, the guilt experienced by my wife was a regrettable and painful feature of the journey en route to achieving it. For that, I lament the road taken but not the destination at which we arrived.
The #BlindianProject seeks to redefine Black x South Asian relationships and unite these communities through nuanced storytelling Email us at email@example.com for more information.