Inter-ethnic relationships merge worlds of joy and pain

Forbidden love can set the stage for the most tragic and wonderful love story of all time, said Betsey, a GW sophomore.

Betsey, who asked to be called by her first name only, said she and her Muslim boyfriend faced objections from their families when they started dating in high school.

The couple represents a growing number of Americans who are dating people of different races, religions or ethnic groups. The number of interracial marriages in the United States rose from 149,000 in 1960 to 1.35 million in 1998, according to a USA Today article Oct. 8.

Despite advances like the elimination of laws prohibiting interracial marriages, cross-cultural couples said they still encounter difficulties with prejudices and stereotypes.

Betsey’s parents demanded she stop dating the young man. She said her mother kept referring to the movie, Not Without My Daughter, in which a mother is unable to save her daughter from remaining in the Middle East with her Muslim husband.

Betsey’s grandmother stopped speaking to her when she heard about the relationship. Her boyfriend’s parents initially forbade him to associate at all with Betsey. At first, he agreed.

For a few months, Betsey and her boyfriend separated. Then, one night while Betsey was on stage performing in a high school play, she spotted her boyfriend in the audience. He was sitting next to his parents.

His mother invited Betsey to dinner after the show, and the two have dated ever since. She said the boy’s family decided to give her a chance because he became depressed after the break-up. Her family remains opposed to the relationship.

I would never say my parents are racist, but they definitely are afraid of other cultures, Betsey said.

GW Professor Bonnie J. Morris says she knows about relationships like Betsey’s. The product of a mixed marriage, Morris’ mother is Jewish and her father is Christian.

The relatives on both sides of my family were trying to claim me, she said.

In her book, The High School Scene In the ’50s, Morris described her parents’ love story. She called her parents post-World War II teenagers who defied the system.

In the California high school where Morris’ parents met, students lived segregated lives. Different ethnic groups joined different clubs on campus. Morris’ father was the only gentile to hang out with the Jewish club.

Her mother’s family was protective. Immigrants to America, her parents believed a goy (non-Jew) was a drunk who got women pregnant and left them, Morris said. She said her father’s family thought Jews only cared about money.

Morris said people in mixed relationships face tremendous pressure to decide how to raise their children.

A lot of it has to do with keeping grandma happy, she said.

Morris added that Jewish people experienced extra strain in the post-Holocaust world. Jewish women were expected to repopulate the group, and Jewish men were thought of as disloyal if they married outside the faith, she said.

Morris’ parents influenced her relationships today. Morris, who is a lesbian, said she often finds herself attracted to other half-and-half women.

As a professor, Morris noticed that the large international population of GW further complicates college dating.

Embracing your partner’s language is a true test of love, she said.

Morris added that appreciating the other person’s food and music is also a key component to a successful mixed relationship.

A sophomore woman at GW, who asked to remain anonymous, said she easily relates to the challenges of maintaining a mixed relationship. She is Hindu, and her boyfriend is Jewish.

She said they met in a small residence hall during their freshman year. They were friends first and casually started dating.

It’s as serious as it’s going to get at 19 years old, she said.

The sophomore said her parents accepted her desire to date outside her religious and ethnic group a long time ago.

I can’t date Indians, she said. I did momentarily, but it didn’t last. She added that she simply does not have many Indian friends.

But her boyfriend’s family is not as supportive of the relationship and remains unaware of its significance, she said. She gets along well with his mother, but problems still exist.

Her little boy is not marrying a Hindu girl, she said.

Recently, her boyfriend asked if she would ever consider converting to Judaism. The sophomore said she might consider changing her religion for a potential partner, but now she feels too young to think about such long-term choices.

The sophomore said her boyfriend probably is not as flexible as she is.

If it comes down to it and if his mommy says no, he will go along with it, she said.

At GW, the couple encountered a range of reactions. The sophomore said inter-ethnic couples are not common on campus but said her friends are supportive.

Everyone’s gotten used to it, she said. We just come as a package.

But she said some Indian students on campus make fun of her for dating a white man.

I don’t know how they even know, she said. It’s none of their business.

Betsey said she continues to suffer over her relationship with a Muslim man. Currently, their relationship is coming to a crossroads, and she is not sure if her boyfriend is willing to accept the challenges of continuing the relationship.

He’s every part of my life, and I cannot imagine not knowing he’s there, she said.

She later added that parental pressure strained the relationship more than any other factor.

I will hold my parents responsible if we break up, she said. I told them ‘I wouldn’t forgive you for this.’

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