A s a South Asian American person, I am probably one of, if not the least desirable prospects for dating in 2019. Before you say anything—I know, I know. You’ve heard this woe is me routine before. Aziz Ansari wrote a book about it, and there’s a bazillion other think pieces, analytical deep dives, etc, etc. But just because a truth is well worn, doesn’t mean it’s not worth retreading. Especially if it keeps rearing its ugly head in weird and regressive ways.
Before we go any further—to any Desi women or LGBTQ persons reading this; I get it. You have it way worse than us hetero guys. And I’m genuinely sorry about that. But that’s a particular can of worms I’m not qualified to write about. Whoever tackles those pieces—please send me the link.
Okay—getting back to it.
At a time in American history when identity, representation and race relations are getting re-calibrated, one universal truth remains in place. South Asians are still unf***able.
If dating is like a grab bag of candy—brown dudes are the candy corn. And nobody likes candy corn. The fact of the matter is, that when it comes to dating and cultural capital, brown guys are left holding the short end of the stick.
If you are a person of South Asian descent living in America with a pulse and some activity in your skull, this is nothing new. From middle school dances to dating-app assisted escapades, the romantic prospects for a generation of brown guys (this term loosely encompassing men of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent) has been a bleak one.
And that desirability extends beyond romantic pursuits—it impacts professional endeavors too. It’s especially pronounced in industries where mass market appeal (sexual or otherwise) is a necessary commodity to advance. Looking at you Hollywood. For every Hasan, there’s at least four Chrises. And I’ll leave it to you to parse out which one of the five would likely rank at the bottom of a desirability matrix.
But you already knew that. So why bother bringing it up again? Well for a couple of reasons.
At a time period where nativism and jingoism are all the rage for some reason; it makes being an ‘other’ all the more pronounced. Bad enough to be kept out of the political, cultural, and social discourse- but left out of the dating market too? That’s a bad beat by an measure. Brown people have quietly been making their way in America these last couple decades (yes, you’ve read that correctly DECADES); gaining ground in almost every professional aspect of American life. But being brutally candid—we’re not the first round draft picks when it comes to the dating app scene. Some of that is good old fashion racism, which is somehow still condoned on these applications despite a mountain of evidence of just how terrible the stats are.
User profiles laced with phrases like, “No Indians, no Asians” or “Only here to talk to white boys,” have given rise to critical research on and popular discourse about what many consider to be sexual racism.
As an aside—it’s generally not a good look when a subset of academia is dedicated to analyzing just how racist your technology is (but that’s a topic for another day). I’m not saying I want to date a racist, quite the opposite actually, but identity is a fraught thing in America right now. Feeling that you are marginalized or discriminated against is bad enough. But empirically knowing that to be true can be pretty damn demoralizing.
I believe that the stock of brown men in America is on an upward trajectory. Objectively, that’s true when you look at our stats. South Asians are the highest earners in America on average.
We are killing it in education, wealth generation, and family stability. We’re even breaking the glass ceiling into that C-suite, with some of the largest companies in America being captained by Desi men (and women too). But life is more than the accumulation of accolades and resources. It’s about, well, living. And central to living good is being able to be your true self.
It’s less about getting dates, and just being recognized as a person. Too much of the South Asian experience is just proving our worth. Working twice as hard to be perceived as half as good (or in the case of dating—not good at all).
As a general rule, nobody should have to feel that they’re not welcome in participating in all aspects of American society solely based on race.
In popular culture, brown people are having a moment. There’s a mess of shows aimed at the diaspora and motherland. Some of them, like Aziz Ansari’s Master of None winning critical acclaim for showing a South Asian man as fleshed out character with agency instead of an ambling, nerdy sidekick to a white guy named Wade or Leonard.
The move away from being typecast as goofy foreigners to real human beings is a huge win for the community. While that all sounds rosy—a recent post on Instagram by actor/comedian Kumail Nanjiani received some pretty vocal hate on social media. Kumail, in a thoughtful moment, gave props to all the people who helped him on his fitness journey while acknowledging how privileged he was to have the resources to attain his aesthetics.
Predictably, social media oscillated between raving at how amazing his transformation was, to decrying a perpetuation of unrealistic body standards. I think what most people missed was the undertone of amazement that a brown dude could a.) get jacked and b.) be desirable. There really doesn’t seem to be this kind of heated debate whenever its a schlubby Caucasian actor getting fit for an action movie.
But when a brown guy sheds a few body fat percentages, it’s suddenly cause for alarm. It goes back to that regressive view of brown dudes. We’re so ingrained in the American psyche of being the dopey, lilting nerd. It doesn’t compute when one of us starts sharing thirst-inducing selfies on the gram.
Four and final //
So much of this topic, when it comes to dating in America is wrapped around the idea of race relations instead of just dating people. Many of the actors/comedians I’ve listed above have all had very public discourses about their forays and follies in romance. Most of these involve the pursuit of white women, as if that’s the ultimate validation of your status as a man in America.
That’s an offensive framework for a number of reasons, not the least of which because racial fetishism is just as discriminatory as sexual racism. But if we’re being honest, whiteness has been either explicitly or implicitly sought after in Brown culture since colonialism. Then there are the second and third order affects on young Desis who are trying to figure out their path in life.
If you feel like the only way to really take part in the dominant culture is to disavow your parent’s or grandparent’s culture— is that really worth it?
Romance is complicated enough without having to deconstruct cognitive biases. In a perfect world, we should just be able to judge our prospective partners as people, and not checklists. I’m confident that second and third generation Desis won’t have to deal with such a fraught dating landscape. They might even be thought of as Americans (we should be so lucky). Some of them might even go on some dates.
Author’s note— Desi is a term for a person whose ethnicity is derived from Pakistan, India or Bangladesh.