Jul 4, 2007
The Toronto Star published a strange, strange article a few days ago on inter-racial marriage. It’s not the topic or the paper’s interest in it that I find strange, but the shallowness of the writers’ analyses and the conspicuous lack of certain critical statistics that I find so troubling.
Obligatory disclaimer: I consider myself a “fan” of intermarriages 0, but I have two qualifications on the subject.
It used to be that I would have said that I was unequivocally in favour of inter-cultural relationships – to the exclusion of any other kind of relationship. I used to believe, whole-heartedly and simplistically, that these mixed-up unions were the cure for world hurt. I was convinced they would usher in a new era of harmony.
And the earth would be full of beautiful people, honey-skined and doe-eyed.
Ok, maybe not that. I knew enough about the physical differences between people to know that it would take, even if we all made a concerted effort, at least a few generations to reach that level of deracialised homogeneity.
But yes, at some level, I believed vehemently that there was something intrinsically better about marrying outside your culture than remaining within it. I believed this with all the ardour of an angsty brown kid, wanting revolutions in everything, from the clothes I wore to the people with whom I found happiness.
A worldwide united colours, no less, this was the goal.
Since then, I’ve grown a little and the brightness of my primary colours has blurred a little, just enough for me to know that ultimately the only reason people should be together is because they are better people together than they are on their own.
My concerns now lie not in specific pairings of colours or cultures, but in the general concept of interpersonal happiness that people draw on in choosing their partners.
What I believe now is that this vision of happiness should be broad enough that it isn’t (obviously) limited to any one culture 1. The point to note here is that I am no longer any more for intercultural relationships than I am for uni-cultural ones 2. Nor do I think that kids with doubly brown parents are less interesting than kids with more motley heritages. In the hype that surrounds this supposedly modern culture of hybridism, where we reserve special praise for South Asians with green eyes and babies with golden afros, there is a very familiar sort of exoticism at work. But I’m not going to talk about that here, mostly because I need to think a bit more about this before I can explain why I have a problem with the rhetoric of progressiveness that surrounds and distorts the age-old custom of intermarriage.
So anyway, that’s my qualification number one. Horrible relationships are horrible relationships, regardless of whether the resultant offspring check off one box or two in intrusive questionnaires.
Qualification number two has to do with this whole concept of “race.” There’s a reason that while the Star takes of inter-racial marriages, I talk of inter-cultural ones. Ultimately, “race” as a catchall grouping is best applied only from the outside of any such given group. Seen from within, the presupposed homegeneity breaks down into an infinite array of very specific groups.
I mean, we can talk about white people as getting along with all other white people, but some of my Greek friends want to pass their Greek heritage onto their future kids and, to that end, are only going to marry other Greek people. Likewise, it’s easy to think that all brown people are cool with other brown people, but it continues to boggle my mind how many of my Indian friends are convinced they would be miserable if they were to spend the rest of their lives with someone Pakistani, and vice-versa 3.
And again, I am homogenising: I’m not talking about Gujaratis or Punjabis, Pathans or Memons.
Even Sri Lanka, this tiny tear-drop of a country, has its pathetic little partitions. Forget someone Tamil falling in love with some Sinhalese, I have known Sri Lankan Muslims, who in totality comprise 8% of the country’s population, restrict themselves to specific regions of the country: city versus village, north versus south.
So the more we zoom in, the clearer it becomes that it’s overly simplistic to talk of inter-racial relationships in the context of race, because it implies that a “race” is a largely homogenised group made of people who identify with each on the basis of said race. Yet when it comes to long-term relationships, people don’t object to other races much more than they object to other cultures – cultures that may fall within the umbrella of their own “race.”
The fact of it is that the “other,” a term that the Toronto Star throws about so easily in this series on multiculturalism in Canada, comes in a multitude of faces, and some of them look remarkably like our own. It’s not physical foreignness that people are afraid of, it’s the smaller strangenesses: differences in palate blow up into issue of who cooks what for whose extended relatives; holidays become a question of history; location becomes a source of alienation.
At least, this is what some people are afraid of. These markers of culture that serve to unite a specific group of people, when taken too seriously, can be used to exclude others.
It is culture, then, that defines who most people are comfortable making promises to, not necessarily skin colour or eye shape.
But anyway, back to the Star’s article. It references the following two real-life examples in its story on intermarriages in Canada. The cultural make-ups of the people involved in each relationship are specified as follows:
- A Muslim-Iraqi woman and her current Indian-Hindu boyfriend
- A Filipino teenager and her Jamaican-Chinese ex-boyfriend
The graph, which in the printed paper was embedded within the article, has numbers on the “total couples with at least one person from visible minorities” for the following groups:
- Southeast Asian
- Arab-West Asian
- South Asian
So at this point, hopefully you’re a tad smarter than the writers of this article and the editor who approved it. Hopefully you’ll be making a face at the graph, wondering, well, how do kids of mixed unions fill these things in? What if a kid with a Japanese dad and a Brazilian mom decided to marry another kid with Jamaican parents? Which group counts do these two mixed-up lovebirds contribute to?
Or, more importantly, maybe you sat back and thought of the Great White North that you know. Maybe you got a specific picture in your head of what your average Canadian looks like. Maybe you thought of the people who are not part of the 13% who consider themselves “visible minorities.”
Maybe you think of the rainbow and of the one colour missing in this graph.
Maybe at this point, you make a face at the entire article and you toss the paper away, wondering where the rest of the 87% of Canada fits in here and why their dating and marriage habits aren’t considered worth studying. Or do German immigrants think it’s fine and dandy when their sons waltz off with Asian girls? Or are people deep in the heartland fine with brown boys stealing their fourth-generation Canadian (read: white) daughters? 4
I mean, here’s the question put bluntly: what percentage of white Canadians are relationships with people who don’t identify as white?
Here’s the other, more interesting question: why did the writers of this article neglect to include this vital statistic and what does their negligence say about how multiculturalism is perceived in Canada?
Is the battle of multiculturalism the domain only of new immigrants of colour? Does it filter down to the “second-generation immigrants”? Are the Canadian kids of Ghanian immigrants expected to uphold the standard of pluralism to an extent that their white counterparts aren’t?
Do white American immigrants feel the burden of marrying outside their heritage to prove their loyalty to our Canadian model of cross-cultural harmony? When Roman Catholics from Italy migrate to Canada, do they say they’re in an inter-marriage in polls like these after they marry Irish Protestants? How many of them actually do marry outside their religion and their culture? How do they fit into this article? And why weren’t they considered?
When the article claims that “[t]he Greeks, Portuguese and Italians who settled in the GTA in the early ’50s and ’60s faced the intermarriage issues now afflicting newer immigrant groups,” do the writers really mean that they no longer face those issues? Or have we just successfully homogenised all of those groups into this one catch-all category of “white,” which means that they are no longer required, in the ways that “newer immigrant groups, such as the South Asians and Chinese” are, to prove their loyalty to a vision of united, politically homogenous Canada?
How can you logically say that “the groups least likely to marry another religion are Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus” when the very poll you cite does not have any data at all on cultures that aren’t considered “visible minorities”?
(I’m not even going to get into Bissoondath and his comment on “mainstream culture.” After all, as already established by this article, mainstream culture doesn’t even promote inter-cultural relationships (even though the general tone of this article suggests that intermarriage is a thorny issue only among new immigrants). I don’t see the connection, which he accepts implicitly, between intermarriages and integration. What about kids from intermarriages who are highly critical of so-called “mainstream culture[s],” if only because popular rhetoric assumes a variety of static definitions with respect to culture and race?)
And of the people counted in the graph above, are none of them are in “unions” with white people? Maybe white people only marry white people, and this is why the writers neglected to account for this overwhelming majority of Canada in their study on inter-racial marriages? Maybe it’s ok when white people stick to “their own,” but it’s worrying when a Muslim woman says she wants to marry a Muslim?
And at this point you wonder what exactly the point of this article was. Older immigrants, the ones who aren’t white, are racist little cowards living in enclaves that smell of curry, sushi, and jerk chicken respectively, while their kids sneak around with partners from other cultures? Canada is on a collision course towards Paris-style riots, because it lets in people who want their kids to speak other languages, in addition to English and French?
At this point you wonder why the Star is so scared of a Canada that is, in its everyday realities, if not its politics, remarkably on track with an increasingly globalised world, culturally, technologically, and linguistically. (I’d say financially, except my knowledge of world business and free trade approaches nil.)
The Toronto Star has become increasingly shoddy over the past few years, relying heavily on lazy generalisations and cheap conservatism. This series was a case in point of that kind of sloppy analysis. Every so often I think of cancelling the family subscription, but the other two city papers are even worse.
0. And yes, what I am saying so obliquely, what with quotation marks and all, is that I can see myself in just such a marriage. In fact, there a number of people who are convinced that this is exactly what is going to happen. So, you know, I can’t disappoint. And now some random aunty/uncle is going to read this and they will have all the proof they need about my gallivanting ways. [↑]
1. I am consciously avoiding the subject of the exotification of certain cultures above others. I am not talking about the ways in which certain, very specific pairings are more acceptable than others. I’m talking here, not about one culture’s collective fetishisation of another specific culture, but the more general phenomenon of people marrying outside the culture with which they most identify. [↑]
2. At the very least, the blatant quantification of the value of each kind of relationship is is ugly. This unabashed over-simplification of issues like love, family, and history makes me cringe. Even when it’s dressed up in the name of (weak-kneed) liberalism. (I am coming to think there is nothing worse in politics than the shallow sort of liberalism that is so popular now. Yes, even worse than O’Reilly fundamentalism.) [↑]
3. This is the multi-generational fallout of a very painful partition. [↑]
4. Because everyone knows that all these “visible minorities” only showed up in the last three decades. There is no such thing as a fourth-generation Canadian who isn’t white. And Native Canadians? They don’t count. [↑]