Disclaimers first: For want of a better term I’ve used the phrase “interracial marriage” to mean marriage between people from different Indian states. Whether they can be technically called different “races” is, of course, debatable.
Young people today are much more mobile than they were a generation ago. Interracial marriages are hence becoming increasingly common in India.
An interracial marriage is a marriage across cultural barriers. If you are in an interracial relationship, you know that it has its own set of challenges. Here are some tips to help you deal with them.
Interracial marriage – Rule #1. Know your differences
India is NOT a homogenous country. Each state has its distinct and novel culture (which gives our country its uniquely rich heritage). If you come from different states, recognize that there are cultural differences between the two of you. Don’t go down the blissfully ignorant “people are people” path – pretending you’re just two individuals with no cultural baggage. That approach is likely to lead to nasty surprises as you discover predictable differences which you assumed didn’t exist.
Ask questions. Make it a point to have fun chats about each other’s food, festivals, social norms etc. from time to time. This will help you appreciate your differences in a relaxed non-threatening environment (instead of having them thrust down your throat by an in-law post-marriage, for example). Being open and inclusive is about respecting differences among people, not about wishing them away.
Interracial marriage – Rule #2. Know their family
Attend family holidays/functions with your significant other’s family and encourage them to do the same with you. A holiday is a great occasion to get to know a culture, a family, their values, habits, beliefs etc. It’s also a great opportunity to help them look past the cultural barrier and start seeing you as part of the family already. Getting to know each other’s families sufficiently well before marriage is key to familial harmony, especially in case of an interracial marriage.
Interracial marriage – Rule #3. Boundaries
What is your strategy of handling cultural conflicts as and when they arise?
If one of you is a vegetarian and the other is not, how are you going to plan your meals?
What would each of you do when you want to watch movies in your language?
How are you going to celebrate major religious festivals – your way or their?
Most couples in interracial marriages struggle with such situations because either of them tries to “adjust” to the other’s culture, suppressing their own beliefs and preferences. That approach is likely to create dissatisfaction, leading to communication gap and loss of intimacy in the long run.
Instead anticipate the predictable conflicts before marriage and define clear rules & boundaries for handling them. For example:
I’ll cook my non-veg food separately and share the rest of the food items with you.
Each of us will have half-a-day per weekend to ourselves when we can engage in activities and people specifically related to our culture, without having to include the other person.
In alternate years we’ll celebrate Diwali with my folks and your folks.
You get the idea.
Interracial marriage – Rule #4. Children
Which values and beliefs are you going to hand down to your children? Will they learn both your languages? How will you make sure they absorb the best of both the cultures of their parents? If your cultures are widely divergent it’s essential you agree on at least some broad principles regarding children. For example:
“They’ll spend one vacation per year with each set of grandparents.”
“We’ll raise them vegetarians/non-vegetarians.”
Interracial marriage – Rule #5. Independence
Not all of us have the same level of involvement with our respective cultures. Some of us have a more global/more pan-Indian outlook, whereas others are more of a product of their home culture. Needless to say, interracial marriages work only for people who’re individualistic and highly independent of their families. If part of your core identity is made up of your home culture, your inter-cultural relationship is unlikely to work in the long run.
Interracial marriage – Rule #6. Culture vulture?
Each culture is extraordinary in its own ways. No culture can be “superior” or “inferior” to any other. However all over the world the cultures of the majority, the powerful and the rich usually become the “dominant cultures” – cultures everyone else wants to emulate. If one partner in your relationship is from a dominant culture, you need to make sure none of you are in this relationship because you want to “become part of” the dominant culture (while it sounds bizarre, such unions are very common all over the world).
This tendency may not always be deliberate. But watch out for obvious signs such as the partner from the “dominant culture” being treated as a trophy, the other partner making all attempts to “blend in” with the “dominant culture” instead of showing equal respect to both cultures etc.
Interracial marriage – Rule #7. Strength of your relationship
You’re not prey to the “Love conquers all” myth, are you? As I’ve harped many times, a successful marriage is NOT about love and luck but about sharing and compatibility. If you choose to get married your cultural differences will affect your relationship in ways you cannot anticipate today.
Do you have enough common grounds to stand on?
Have you spent enough time (I mean years, not months :D) together and are completely sure he/she is The One for you?
Take time to decide whether your worldviews, basic values and beliefs are sufficiently aligned, and whether your relationship is strong enough to beat the odds.
Are you in an interracial marriage or relationship? Is it more or less challenging than you’d expected? Let us know by leaving a comment.