Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ask Blue: Andre's Question

How come whenever I try to go out with an white person, they always say something to me about how much they love yoga or bollywood or some other aspect of Indian culture? When I dated a French girl I didn't go on and on about how much I like Proust. It makes me feel like a token instead of a real human being. Which is why I mostly date Indian girls now.

Andre


Dear Andre,

Of course you wouldn't mention to a French girl that you liked Proust. You would mention that you liked fine wines and the film Amelie and possibly that trip you took to the Centre Pompidou in college. Playing the Proust card would be like white girls playing the Tagore card.

But they don't play the Tagore card. They play the yoga and Bollywood cards -- which, first of all, should be looked at as two separate cards.

Yoga, as we know, has been completely co-opted by white culture. I've taken years of yoga classes where everyone in the room was white, including the instructor. The young woman who mentions she does yoga is either A. stating something important to her without being aware of its Indian background (as in "Hi, my name's Mandy and I like candlelight dinners, walks on the beach, and yoga") or B. is aware of yoga's cultural heritage and is trying to open a dialogue with you about culture.

Which is probably what the young woman who mentions Bollywood is doing: poking around the outer edges of a more serious cultural dialogue. She's saying, in a somewhat awkward way, that she's aware that you're brown and she's a little bit aware of what being brown means, though she's not at all sure what it means to you. She wants you to know that she knows a little bit about Indian culture, and if she's like 99% of women on this planet who start making long-term projections on the first date, she's probably wondering how culture will play into this relationship. Will you be the kind of guy who wants to take her to tabla concerts and who cooks his own naan, or are you more Panjabi MC, or Goldspot, or Rihanna, or Hannah Montana? In short: She's trying to tip you off to the fact that she'll be down with the brown, if you're that kind of brown boy.

White people generally aren't good at opening cultural dialogues, and sometimes it sounds like we're "othering" the people we're trying to understand. (I wrote more about that here, about a year ago.) On the plus side, we adapt really quickly, and after a date or two should start to figure things out.

If, however, a girl bursts out with a giggly "You're Indian? I love yoga and Bollywood!" then feel free to DTMFA.

Advicefully yours,

Blue

2 comments:

Sirensongs said...

Everyone of the current gen. needs to see the old Dick Van Dyke shows, when the son brought home a black date. The (white) mom nervously tries to make polite conversation - "Oh, we love Aretha Franklin!" ;-)

andre3000 said...

Blue-

Thanks for answering my question. But I would respond that no, a white girl liking Tagore would not impress me. I'm an American. I'm also of Indian heritage. Just because my Indian heritage is more visible than your Anglo-Saxon/Irish/Slavic/whatever culture doesn't mean it has to automatically be invoked. I repeat, I don't bring up Joyce just because my date's last name happens to be Kennedy.

And furthermore, what exactly does it mean to be "down with brown"? If I wanted someone to share my culture with, I'd just date/marry an Indian (which is probably what will happen). No white person is every going to actually get and appreciate our heritage on the same level, just as I can't claim the same kinship with country music or the Bible as a native son here. I think what most Indian-Americans want is to just be treated as individuals, without a lot of assumptions about what we must be into.