Why Don’t Brown Women Deserve Love Onscreen?

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Why are brown men so infatuated with white women onscreen, BuzzFeed writer Imran Siddiquee asks in his essay of the same name. Why do they overlook and underrepresent women of color in order to date white women, is the question I ask.

While Sidiquee eviscerated the genre of “Diaspora South Asian Dude Does Rom-Com” in his essay by delving into the specifics of how men like Aziz Ansari, Hasan Minhaj, and Kumail Nanjiani (with slight mention to Ravi Patel from Meet the Patels) can rise high enough to be the leading men of their own romantic stories (Master of None, Homecoming King, and The Big Sick, respectably) by dating white women, he doesn’t focus enough on the politics of these relationships.

Interracial dating has been a facet of living in the diaspora for ages. I myself have a mixed family and mixed-race cousins. Many of my South Asian friends date non-South Asian people. It’s common. It happens. But there’s a huge difference between brown men dating white women and brown women dating white men. To hear many of my brown girlfriends tell it, dating a South Asian man comes with cultural baggage—like being tied to a patriarchal set of rules that keep you firmly mired in specific, oppressive gender roles. When South Asian men date white women, some cite “genuine attraction,” yes, but many say they’re “just not attracted to brown women.”

“Brown men aren’t scared of brown women, they are scared of being boring and predictable if they end up with one,” Shriya Samarth, a media junkie and friend, told me over the phone. “Whereas brown women can genuinely fear the expectations of being a daughter-in-law, brown wife, etc.”

Samarth, like me, has a mixed history with dating South Asian and white men. She chose to stop dating South Asian men after she realized how toxic and abusive they had been in her dating life. I chose to stop dating white men for the same reason. Where I personally felt more protected in a relationship with a partner of the same ethnicity, she felt trapped. Self-preservation was key to both decisions.

When looking at all three, Master of None, Homecoming King, and The Big Sick, Samarth rightly pointed out that many of the men were using white women to escape the expectations their parents had for them. These women provided an avenue to achieving an “American life” or simply breaking free from stereotypes. There’s a difference in pursuing a partner because they offer you privilege than pursuing a partner because they won’t abuse you.

That being said, these are ostensibly fictionalized relationships (or at least dramatized). Portraying a relationship onscreen is different from living one out in real life. To some extent you can’t help who you’re attracted to (though I would argue politics play out in our dating lives both consciously and subconsciously), but you can decide the kinds of relationships you write. Why, then, do all four of these South Asian men stick to only writing about white women? Why do they, also, seem to sacrifice women of color and South Asian woman to the storyline in a way they don’t for white women?

What I mean by sacrificing is women of color are often introduced just to disappear. They are ground up into the burger that is the storyline, while the pursuit of the white woman bookends the whole project. We see this in Master of None, The Big Sick, and Meet the Patels. In Master of None, the very charming Sara (played by Clare-Hope Ashitey), a black British woman, makes an appearance in the first episode of the second season. She provides the perfect meet-cute Ansari’s character Dev has been waiting for. But she doesn’t appear again after that episode. Later we see Dev dating a revolving door of women yielded from a dating app. Here are three South Asian women and one black woman. They are charming, funny, ridiculous, and charismatic, but they too do not appear again. Instead Ansari dedicates five episodes to a visiting white woman whose main feature is her Italianness. She is the one, the rest of the women were barely present.

In The Big Sick and Meet the Patels, both Nanjiani and Patel are being set up for an arranged marriage. They make their way through countless South Asian women only to land back on the white women they were in love with the whole time. Every single brown woman who was paraded across the screen as part of an endless lineup of suitable girls ended up an anonymous, unnamed and crumpled footnote in the story. These men had to go through them to reach their white women at the end. This is what it means to be a South Asian woman onscreen, you remain the punchline, the afterthought, the add-on, or the barely-explored B story. You will never be romanced seriously.

When I forward this argument online or in conversation, there are inevitably two responses: well, this is the only way to sell a script in white Hollywood, some say. Or, others respond, what about Mindy?

Regarding the first one, I’d say that’s a ridiculous reason to not explore relationships between people of color. Master of None finished its second season and we’re still seeing white women front and center. If all it took was one white woman to sell the script, we’re well past that now. I asked writer and performer Neil Sharma, co-director of the comedy group Deadass, what he thought about this response.

“I think that excuse is kinda dumb,” Sharma said. “Yes, I think it’s probably easier to sell a story with one white lead, but I don’t think that means that these are always how those stories need to go. As a brown person, I would freakin’ love to see a rom-com starring two POCs. I would be hyped if Aziz ended up with [a]Priya or [a]Mindy [or]even briefly dated a Kartika. They aren’t even selling a movie—that’s just TV and they already have an existing platform.”

“I will say that this doesn’t particularly irk me in the case of The Big Sick. That’s based on Kumail’s real life and is a personal story about him and his wife…And I’m hoping if he makes more movies, maybe [next]it can be a brown love story,” Sharma added.

As someone told me over Twitter, there is one show that depicts romance between two South Asian leads, Brown Nation, but it never took off. Like Homecoming King and Master of None, Brown Nation is a Netflix Original, meaning it has the backing of the network. Unlike those other two, Brown Nation doesn’t have a leading man with a considerable following of his own. It’s indie. That’s why it hasn’t had the breakout success of the other shows, not because it’s only about South Asian people. ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat depicts an all-Taiwanese family as it engages with a mostly-white community. It’s distributed on a major network and has been renewed for a fourth season. Packaging, story, marketing, funding, casting—all of these are vital to the success of a show, not just whether it has a white romantic lead.

When it comes to the second response, I say try again. Mindy Kaling is one of only two South Asian women in a leading role on television (the other being Priyanka Chopra in Quantico). Mindy’s mission to date every white dad-looking dude in New York City is a boring storyline, yes, but it is nowhere near as frustrating as the white girl thirst of the men discussed above. It’s true that she utilizes these white men as an abstraction of what she wants—to be the romantic lead in her own rom-com. But they aren’t the end goal, they merely provide the means to potentially reach that goal. She is similar to Ansari and Nanjiani in that way, but we don’t see her in the show running away from her brownness by dating white men nor does she use them as a prize (there are in fact too many love interests in The Mindy Project to keep track of to believe that any of them are end game for the show). In the end she is at her most powerful and confident when she is single. Romance is simply the plot, it is not the goal.

South Asian men in Hollywood are falling into a holding pattern—while they may be offering up these scripts just to have brown “leading men” by any means possible, they’re all doing it in the same way. We now have four pieces of media, three of which are easily accessible on Netflix, which present incredibly similar plots: brown man meets white woman. Brown man pines after white woman and eventually marries her (or doesn’t, which becomes a rom-com in itself of foiled circumstance/woe-is-me soft boyness). They’ve demonstrated that there is no room in this model for South Asian women or women of color except as the sirens that try to lure them back into boredom.

If this is the masculinity they so desperately want to show off to beat back tired and frustrating stereotypes, I have to say they’re not exactly breaking the mold here. They are, in fact, reaffirming a new one—that all brown men hate brown women and aspire to whiteness. How’s that for a stereotype?

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24 Comments

  1. Kiran Rajagopalan on

    I recently got into an argument with an acquaintance after she stated that “black women are the only ones to have their man go after white women…” I agree with everything that has been stated in your article…it’s also important to note that it has been more than 25 years when we’ve looked at a non-white/south asian mixed race couple on screen (Mira Nair’s “Mississippi Masala”). Then there’s the total absence of non-heterosexual south Asian or mixed race qpoc couple on screen. But that will take some more time…

  2. ima authority on

    Why does race even matter? Who cares who dates who? Haven’t we gotten past the point where the color of one’s skin doesn’t matter but rather people are chosen by the quality of one’s character? In some cases yes, and in others no. I’ve found that most of the different color skin I’ve dated called it off not too long after discovering my Republican political affiliation. So basically racism.

  3. Black men is in my opinion and experience they just a race of men that find themselves ti be ugly. So how can you expect them to show pride in who he is . YES they are going to want to date and marry out their race. Its so easy to get a black man even if he is married to a black woman he would trade up no matter how good his wife is. Its sad but black men really do want to be white.not all of them but alot yes especially the ones from Africa. They also think biracial babys all will be beautiful but im seeing really just ugly ones that look ok. Personally that truned me off about black men.The true proud to be black man will never date out his race that I have seen that for myself.

  4. Well that’s a compelling article that’s interesting. I actually haven’t seen any of the shows talked about save Mindy which I was a big fan of even when I didn’t like her relationship with (what appeared to be end game at the time) Danny. I’m still not sure I have an interest in The Big Sick but i’m definitely interested in seeing more variations in interracial relationships.

    I read a blog post about a Black Woman who fell for an Asian guy (Korean I think) and it was interesting to think how rare it is in life and how much more rare it is in media where it’s all made up.

  5. Ramsay Bolton on

    > It’s common. It happens. But there’s a huge difference between brown men dating white women and brown women dating white men.

    lol ok. When brown women date outside of their race its empowering but when brown guys date outside their race it’s wrong. All supported by personal anecdotes.

    part of a more vile and racist strategy. Brown women want the ability to date white men but keep brown men as backup because many brown women/white men relationships don’t work out. So they have a nice brown boy waiting for them after but this doesn’t work if the nice brown boy is out dating and marrying other women.

    Did you notice that the author mentions that brown women dating out are trying to escape “a oppressive culture”?. They essentially see men as status symbols or ways to escape their “culture”, there is no mention of love. Its like desi women who date white men don’t have the ability to love.

    For all the South Asian gents here, know your enemy especially when they blatantly show you who they really are.

    I actively avoid desi women who have dated white men. Desi women that have relationships with desi men and minorities, in my experience are more genuine. Like I said they have seem to have better ability to empathize and the ability to love. The thing is desi men that have dated white women don’t have the same baggage and their relationships seem to be more genuine.

    Men of color with white women are actually genuinely progressive because of the cultural obstacles faced and the fact that racist whites are opposed to these relationships while they are actually okay with white men with women of color, sad but true.

    The hypocrisies, fallacies, stereotypes and outright racism in this article is straight up laughable. The mental gymnastics done by the author to justify Mindy’s white worship is outstanding. Essentially she’s saying that brown women dating white men is okay but brown men dating out is somehow wrong, lol good one.

    As for racism and stereotypes, this woman actually tries to push the stereotype that South Asian men are abusive and patriarchal and need to be rescued by white men. Its essentially brown men’s fault that brown women don’t want to date them.When looking at politics this has been used to justify the invasion of several middle eastern countries resulting in the death of millions. Good job doing a racist right-wingers job for them.

    On top of that Brown women dating white men actually supports and reinforces the white patriarchy and white male supremacy. Tenants that worked in favor of Donald Trump getting elected. When your rhetoric props up white racist men like Trump, you are part of the problem.

    A disproportionate number of alt right leaders have East and South Asian wives.

    Do you think they would be calling for a Muslim ban if only Muslim women were immigrating to Europe and North America? lol. Do you think they would be calling to “Build the wall” if only Mexican women were crossing the border? lol

    Are we going to sit here are pretend that all interracial relationships are equally resented by white America?

    An Asian man who dates a White women is not assimilating into whiteness. He doesn’t enjoy the privileges of being white just because he married one. In fact it takes a tremendous amount of courage for a White woman to against mainstream culture, media brainwashing, racist families etc to date an Asian Man. She is going to give birth to children who are going to be discriminated against, face challenges that she has no clue how to handle.

    On the contrary, Asian women with White men is the most common interracial pairing. It is often reinforced by media. There is very little to almost no opposition to it. And status seeking and aspiring into whiteness is a very valid reason for why most Asian women choose to do it.

    It’s not a coincidence that Nikki Haley and Elaine Chao are on Trump’s cabinet, they’re both married to White men by the way.

    Minority women who date or are married to white men usually parrot racist agendas and allow themselves to be used to justify white male supremacy, its the sad truth…deal with it.

    Can you imagine women like the author raising a son? Even if they had a half-White son, he would be considered non-White by America. How would they equip him to deal with racism? They would be better off adopting White children instead of giving birth to half-White half-Asian kids like Elliot Rodger or Daniel Holtzclaw.

    • Stephen Howard-Sarin on

      Thank you for the great typing of so many alphabet letters in a sequence. Also: punctuation!

      Looking forward to your future comments that are not based on circular logic, myopia and hypocritical misreading of the article. Good luck!

      • Ramsay Bolton does have a good point. As an South Asian male I see far more south Asian women desperate to pair with any white guy free rather than the other way round.
        I’m sure one of the dating agencies did a survey where they found south Asian females were the lowest responders to messages from men of their own race as compared with women of any other race with their respective men. According to that south Asian women were the biggest ‘race traitors/ sellouts’ of all groups of women

      • Typical grammar Nazi! Attacking the structure of an argument but not the actual comments.

        The only thing myopic and hypocritical is Nadya’s and your own narrow world-view. Claiming things to hypocritical and myopic doesn’t actually make it so!

        Nadya, nice to see you’re being defended by the very white men whose privilege you are trying so hard to protect and uphold!

    • Some excellent and poignant points made here. I understand you were writing in haste hence some of the punctuation errors.

      I am originally from Libya. Your point about western imperialism was extremely poignant. Using the stereotype of the the “other” male being patriarchal and abusive as justification to invade so the “white man” can rescue those poor women, spoke volumes. Of course those women that are being rescued by this white savior trope always end up dead, impoverished or displaced.

      As a middle eastern feminist, I find it utterly disgusting that Ms.Agrawal would try to push this stereotype on South Asian men as well. If we’re talking about the politics, this type of rhetoric has caused the death of thousand so its quite pathetic the author is pushing this agenda.

      Shame on you Nadya for writing such a disgustingly hypocritical and racist opinion piece.

      • Ramsay Bolton on

        Asima,

        There are two simple questions that people like Nadya and Stephen should answer.

        1) Would there be a “refugee crisis” if only Arab women were immigrating to Europe?

        2) Would there be demands to “built the wall” if only Mexican women were crossing the border?

        We all know the answer to these two questions, even if Nadya doesn’t want to admit it.

        lol

        For all their claims of being “progressive”, I find people like Nadya to be the worst enablers of White supremacism in this day and age.

  6. In terms of media portrayals south Asian Asian women have been paired with white male actors for ages and I don’t see the author complaining about that. Take gurinder chadha movies, they have bar one promoted the pairing of Asian female with white males whilst simultaneously making fun of/ denigrating south Asian males. I guess women like the author will do some more ‘mental gymnastics’ to justify those portrayals. Smh

  7. Gaurav Garg on

    Interesting perspective. I still think it is unfair to say that brown women who exclusively date white guys are “escaping oppression” while brown men who date white women are chasing status. In fact, I have always heard brown men crying about asian women only running after white guys. It is the first time I am hearing that woe with genders reserved. Am guessing it is true for both sides. I think dating a white person has become a part of the American dream for immigrants.

  8. Why does this website exist on

    Brown women deserve love, only that it will then turn into a bollywood movie. These movies have at least one character white because that is the majority ticket buying consumer this movie is shown to. Yes, this type of casting may bring up some insecurities you have seen happen in your friends and family, brown men don’t want brown women type of stuff. But back in India, brown women and brown men do pair up. Maybe come back to India if you want to see that kind of stuff, in bollyw2ood mvies you can watch this stuff day and night.
    Stpen, do judge how my grammar went&

  9. Jordan Wills on

    This article is pure dribble. The Arthur, almost certainly a raging liberal or radical, goes on to spew stereotypes and alalogies purely based on racism, but ordinarily would decry and blast others who would make race based assertions and assumptions. This article and its contents are pure racism and as unacceptable as any article which would attempt to say a certain race is more or less likely to be compatible with another race. I thought we moved on from that but liberals choose to bring it and use it as they wish. Liberals are the kings and queens of hypocrisy.

  10. DukeOfLancasterVI on

    There’s a tremendous lack of good English in the comments here. But anyhoo. I found the article relevant, since I have also noticed this about TV. But I think trying to link it to sociological factors is a bit of an overreach – it’s hard to say what factors drive brown women to date white guys and brown men to date white gals (not even touching the more complex issue of ethnic minority gay relationships). I say date whomever you want – diversify the gene pool. We could all improve our gene pools.

    • “Lack of good English” ?-

      What exactly does that have to do with the content of the commenters arguments? You do realize that English is not everybody’s first language? Not to mention “Lack of good English” doesn’t constitute as good grammar either.

      It’s pretty darn racist that you imply that people ‘s opinions and arguments are invalid because they don’t meet your standards of “English”.

      Nice to see only racists and bigots seem to agree with Nadya…

  11. “If this is the masculinity they so desperately want to show off to beat back tired and frustrating stereotypes, I have to say they’re not exactly breaking the mold here.”

    I think this sentiment captures the paradox in this article. The presumption is that Aziz and Kumail and Ravi Patel have a singular goal, to buck stereotypes. And certainly, especially in the case of Aziz, that motivation exists. But I think it is complicated in two ways: first, I don’t think it’s their only motivation, they also want to be funny and relatable and entertaining; and second, it might have struck them, as it has many people, that the best way to “buck stereotypes” is to be honest. Stereotypes are important to buck, and should be targeted when they’re baseless. But when the stereotypes are rooted in honest experience, perhaps fighting to discredit them will serve only to call attention to them. This is not to say that brown men can’t or never do date brown women; simply that perhaps Aziz and Ravi and Kumail feel that dating white women is an earnest part of their experience.

    I don’t know much about Ravi, and haven’t seen his show, but I think this prioritizing of honesty above all is paramount to the artistic approach of Aziz and Kumail. They don’t view themselves primarily as advocates for a cause, they see themselves as artists whose art can advance a cause. Kumail is obviously the best example of this, as his film is non-fiction. But if you watch his standup and his interviews, this approach comes through in other ways. When asked about Pakistan and Islam at large, he doesn’t shy from discussing it’s failures, but also isn’t shy about calling out inaccurate representations. Ultimately, his affable and approachable character wins the day, and people who previously only had stereotypes now have a real person. Isn’t that more important?

  12. Missak Artinian on

    I want to start off by saying that I do share with the author her desire to see more South East Asian women and women of color being represented in films by playing complex and interesting parts. And I acknowledge that these parts are often rare for women, and that is indeed frustrating. I don’t necessarily share the notion that a woman of color should be a “goal” in a romantic comedy, perse, but being reduced to a punch line is definitely far worse.

    With all that said, I find this article a bit frustrating. I think the author makes some thought provoking points about the politics of relationships. And it sucks that these power dynamics exist in society. And I can also understand why she is disappointed that certain tropes are being reinforced by the films and TV shows she cites in this article. But I just wish that rather than disparage other people’s art (which in itself is merely a representation of a collaborative, creative vision), the author could channel some of that energy in writing her own story that is more representative of South East Asian women.

    That’s not to justify or excuse the reduction of South East Asian women in, say, “The Big Sick,” but the author even cites Sharma defending the film by saying that it’s a story based on Kumail’s own personal experience. And to focus on the parade of South East Asian woman who serve a function in the plot without speaking about all the other good qualities of the film (such as a relatable portrait of a Muslim family or its heartfelt and comedic story, for instance) takes away from Kumail’s huge accomplishment.

    As for Master of None, you cite that a black woman never makes it past the second episode. But I’ll remind you it’s because Aziz loses her number and spends a good portion of the episode trying to trail her down. That doesn’t sound like a punch line to me. That sounds like a romantic tragedy. And yes, would it have been nice to see her show up again? Yes. But life isn’t like that. And is it so hard to conceive that a brown man could lose a connection with a woman of color in one moment. And then feel exactly the same way about a white woman in another?

  13. How are you going to write an article like that and not talk to more brown men?

    This is written by a brown woman and she only talks to brown women! Justifications for her opinions from women!

    I don’t know a SINGLE brown man that has beat a woman…does it happen, OF COURSE it does…and I’m sure it’s a reason…and I’m sure there are brown men out there that are chauvinistic…but I’ll tell you this…I know a TON more brown men that didn’t have a chance with brown women because they didn’t have the right job (doctor, lawyer)…didn’t make enough money or because they weren’t the right religion or from the right part of South Asia.

    Its amazing to me that if a man writing an article about a woman’s experience with only male input would be destroyed and when it happens the other way around no one picks that up.

    These are assumptions from one point of view instead of opening up a debate with exploration about the motivations.

    Very limited thinking.

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