May 25, 2004

Must you marry only your own kind?

I have been told by several of my friends that the reason they can't marry someone like me is because I belong to a different culture. "It's just culture," they say, with a simple ease. At first I bought it. There isn't any harm in people trying to hold onto their traditions by marrying people of the same culture.

And then, I thought about my cousin who voluntarily converted to Islam in order to marry into another family. The family she married into was pleased. She has learned a lot and she now has become a participant in a religious culture that was once alien to her. My cousin demonstrated that culture is not something that you are born with but something you are brought into through practice and repetition.

OK, so I brought that back to my friends as an example. The response now was, "well, you're just not like us, you know what we mean, don't you?" "Kinda," I said, but I really meant "kinda" confused or offended. "So if I changed all my beliefs, practices, etc., then we still couldn't get married."

"Yes," they replied in unison. That response didn't sound like culture at all. There was something permanent in it. So after all, my "It's just culture" friends were not talking about culture at all. They were talking about race or what they perceived as an unchangeable difference. I told them they were racists and of course the dirty r-word made them defensive and they retreated back into the harmless, "It's just culture," when it was clearly all about race. What made it worse is that I was able to point out examples of other friends of their culture who dated outside the culture but only dated white people, never blacks or Latinos. Something is fishy here. They conceded the point and admitted that some people in their group dated white people, but that it is still looked upon poorly and is actually seen as a step down. Well, that made it clear enough. There are steps up or down, not just equal differences. No matter who is on top of the hierarchy, it is still a hierarchy. And along with racial hierarchies come the reasons, good or bad, implied or stated, to sustain those hierarchies no matter how much we cry, "It's just culture." It seems like the "It's just culture" friends have found a nice way of practicing racial exclusivity without being racists. Actually, I don't know what to call it but I certainly don't think the "It's just culture" has a leg to stand on. I always wondered how people could think that the way they choose their husbands and wives can be completely removed from their social, political, and psychological practices and beliefs. Perhaps that will be our next discussion.