Mixed Marriages

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18e5e863d6a00fccbacf9bc09b6d3db0-1Q: I recently read and enjoyed an article you wrote in India Currents about interracial families. I am a Westerner—white and female. My husband is India-born but moved to the U.S. when he was 3. We have two boys. Lately our 8-year-old has been asking if we can make him white. He asked if I could shave off his brown skin so he is the same color as I am. He also doesn’t get to spend much time with his father. The youngest boy is 5 and lighter skinned. So far, he doesn’t seem to be having the same issue.

A: It is painful when children don’t accept their natural traits. There are familial, personal, peer-related and cultural reasons for your son’s feelings. From a larger perspective, we live in a country that privileges being white. These messages are given early in school, advertising, and television. Some children are naturally more sensitive to such discrimination. Ask his teacher if other kids are making fun of him. Given that Dad is less available, your son might be angry with him for not seeing him as much as he wants to. Disliking a trait they share may be a way of expressing it. If he is closer to you, then he may want to be more like you. If the younger son is getting more attention, given his age or any other reason, the older may feel he needs to look more like the younger. You may also want to simply consider that he is struggling with something else that is lowering his self-esteem.

Moving to an area where people look more like him is always a benefit. He won’t feel as alone and will have more reflection and role models who look like him. Seek out other people of color to socialize with. Have Dad spend more quality time with him—making him feel desired and loved. Appreciate the differences between the two kids, so they like their uniqueness.

Q: I am a Hindu woman seeing a Muslim guy who I want to marry. My parents are firm believers, especially my mother, and are against my relationship. Discussions become argumentative and even hostile. I feel confused at times when my parents keep questioning my faith and responsibilities. Nothing can change what I believe in. Sometimes I really feel that I need a mediator to solve this, but my parents will feel embarrassed.

A: This is a difficult dilemma, yet not surpris-ing. Your parents are responding from a traditional model where different religions, tribes, races, castes, and classes do not intermarry. Introducing a Muslim into their family means an “other” is entering and tainting their family. This is the worldview of sameness as safer and superior that they grew up with and are afraid of expanding out of.

Although communicative, you seem equally strong with your position. If you have decided to marry your boyfriend, then there really isn’t a choice, except to face the consequences. A mediator may be a good idea, so all sides can be fully heard. Is there someone in your family you all trust to help facilitate a dialogue? You can make a request to your parents for their acceptance. Ultimately, it is their choice if they wish to offer it. In most cases parents soften about these issues when they know children are not yielding and after you are married.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D. is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto and San Francisco. He can be reached at (650) 325-8393 or www.wholenesstherapy.com.

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