When I arrived at work the other day, there was an unread message in my inbox from a coworker with the subject line “Would It Be Weird If…”
I clicked on the message, eager to discover the second half of her cliffhanger. The email said:
Would it be weird if I tried to set you up with a friend? His name is Rishi* (he’s Indian) and he’s really nice and attractive and funny.
I hesitated for a minute, trying to think about how I could say no without offending her. But instead, I found myself impulsively replying, “I suppose I could give it a whirl.”
For a moment, it felt good to ignore the fact that my dad is racist. But it only took a few seconds before I began questioning myself for even agreeing to meet Rishi, knowing that my father, who I love and respect, wouldn’t approve if I ever brought him home. I wondered if I would even be able to give Rishi a fair shot.
Despite him being a racist, my dad is a generous and loving man. He never went to college, and instead, opted to attend trade school, where he learned to work with machines. He’s been a blue-collar, working man for all of his life, breaking his back (literally— he’s actually broken his back) for only a small paycheck in return. He showers me with hugs when I’m sad and talks on the phone with me for hours when I need advice. He would do anything to make me happy. Well, almost anything.
I’ve never heard him raise his voice, but I have heard him tell many racist jokes— jokes which I very vocally disapprove of and have asked him numerous times to stop telling. I know that out of respect, my dad would never say anything degrading or offensive directly to someone of another race, but it’s a different story when he’s sitting in his living room.
When I was in college, my sister and I told him he needed a lesson in ignorance, and we sat him down with us to watch “Crash.” (It was the closest thing to an intervention we could think of.) His response: “Great movie, but I would never do such terrible things. I’m not evil like those people. I just have stereotypes. And for good reason.”
He then proceeded to explain that the people he’s come in contact with over the years have only thrown fuel on his racist fire.
“Do you realize you’re saying these things about some of our closest friends?” I asked.
“Nah,” he replied, “your friends are good people. I work with some nice Black and Hispanic guys, too. They’re good people. Just don’t marry any of them and we’re good.”
The irony was, I was dating Don at the time, who is black. I felt deflated, knowing that I’d never be able to tell my dad about our love. Coincidentally, Don’s parents didn’t approve of him dating white girls, so we were forced to hide our romance from them too. While the rest of my family knew that I was seeing Don and accepted him with open arms, I told myself that I would only confide in my dad about Don if we were thinking about marriage. I even told my stepmom about Don and asked if she thought I should tell my father. She agreed that I should hold off unless an engagement was in our future, insisting there was no reason to get my dad upset. A part of me felt like my relationship with Don was doomed from the start, because I knew he would never be fully accepted as a part of my family; there would always be one puzzle piece missing. To this day, I still haven’t told my dad that Don and I were an item for two years.
Here’s the thing: I know that if I told my father I was dating someone African-American, Asian, Indian or anything other than what he considers “white,” he would bite his tongue. He probably wouldn’t say anything at all. He wouldn’t tell me he was mad or uncomfortable— but I would know. And deep down it would eat away at both of us. At the end of the day, I love my dad unconditionally, and that includes having to deal with his skewed, ignorant opinions. I’m incredibly family-oriented, and know that it would be a struggle to date someone who would create tension in my family dynamic. And my dad is a big part of that dynamic.
Some of you may think that I’ve enabled my dad’s behavior by having kept my relationship with Don a secret. But I’ve come to accept that my father is who he is and nothing that I do will change him. If it came down to it, I know that he would accept someone of another race into our family if it meant losing me, but it pains me to think that below the smile, he would be passing judgement.
So, as I gear up to meet Rishi at a “friendly group function” this weekend, I can’t help but worry that our could-be relationship is DOA. I agreed to meet him because I want to see if there’s a spark, and because, to me, love sees no color, regardless of what my dad thinks.
*Name has been changed.
[Photo from Shutterstock]