This is the first entry in our new column highlighting the voices and experiences of people of color on Brown’s campus. This post, by Krishnanand Kelkar ’15, focuses on interracial dating.
I wasn’t your typical kid growing up. Let’s just say it’s not very often you find a Catholic-educated, gay, half-Indian, half-Caucasian guy who speaks Japanese. On the other had, my boyfriend grew up with a more typical experience, especially in the context of Brown. He’s from an Italian and Irish family, grew up on Long Island, and went to public school. Our backgrounds are different, and at times it has caused rifts in our relationship.
The most obvious difference is our race. I remember one of the first times I held his hand, I looked down at our laced fingers and told him, “Wow, my hands are so dark in comparison to yours.” The “wow” seems unnecessary, but for me it was a bit shocking. Being half-Indian means I have always been complimented on my light skin—something India is obsessed with. And his hands are starkly lighter than mine; not to mention they are so soft, and mine are so hairy. With each new step we took physically with our relationship, I was thinking about how different my Indian features are from his white ones.
But the differences go beyond skin deep—being in an interracial relationship has had its difficulties. One time in particular, my friends, including my boyfriend, were talking with me and, out of nowhere, they made racist remarks towards me. They meant no harm by it, and they didn’t know what they were doing, but that’s exactly the point. In our society today, the idea that “race doesn’t matter” is so prevalent that, even amongst the educated at Brown, who consciously acknowledge the role race plays in life experience, there are many people who do not recognize that they’ve internalized this “beyond-racism” mentality.
I was wounded. People I have come to love and respect over the past 3 years managed to hurt me in a matter of minutes. And so there I was, hurt but paralyzed, unable to blame them even though it was their fault. For the first time, I felt I couldn’t tell my boyfriend the truth. I harbored my feelings of exclusion and kept them to myself. I hoarded my resentment.
I tend to be the kind of person who deals with things directly, especially when it comes to conflicts between people I trust and myself. I even consulted other friends to make sure I was not being crazy for considering my friends’ behavior racist. And still after their affirmation, I was afraid to discuss this issue with my boyfriend. He has no idea what it’s like being the only Indian person in a classroom, let alone at your high school. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be racially profiled by TSA agents or negatively profiled as a Latino by a cop in Los Angeles because of my racial ambiguity. I wouldn’t expect, nor would I want him, to understand what these experiences are like. But analogously, this logic made me feel disconnected from him.
I started asking myself questions. How could I expect him to understand? Will he feel attacked if I call him out on his racism? Is it worth it? And that last one was a dangerous question, because it got me thinking about at what point I should draw this line. At what point does the pain and betrayal I feel due to my acquiescence towards racism at the hands of loved ones become acceptable if it keeps me from upsetting the status quo? And then I knew I had to speak up.
It was a hard to have this talk with him. We had an hours-long conversation that has yet to finish. From time to time, we pick it back up, because honestly, it’s a topic that permeates the many facets of our lives that are constantly changing. In this sense, it’s a discussion that is never ending. He responded positively to the discussion, and since then, we communicate more openly than I could have imagined. We can talk about our racial differences—and he is eager to learn more about my heritage. I brought him home to meet my extended family; he even came to my sister’s Indian wedding this past summer!
The whole time I shut my boyfriend out, I was worried I was making a mountain out of a molehill. However, regardless of whether or not it merited my concern, I couldn’t be happier we spoke about it. It means we are now equipped to handle touchy topics and differences in our relationship. More importantly, it means I learned to reevaluate the ways in which I expect my boyfriend to relate to my experiences.
It’s rough reconciling two unique world perspectives in a relationship. You want to have your boyfriend of 2 years be the only on this earth who truly understands you, and now I know he does, but not in the ways I anticipated. He knows the me who watches episodes of Sailor Moon as a guilty pleasure, the me who lip-sings while I study at the SciLi mezz, the me who aggressively attacks my nose in my sleep with my left hand, or the me who never makes my bed. He knows my biggest fears and my biggest secrets. He may not know what it is like to have grown up multiracial, but he knows who I am now and is always wanting to know more. In this regard, he loves me for who I am and knows me better than anyone else.