Dating apps and South Asian Men: Thoughts From an Indo-Caribbean Girl
Written by: Manuela Latchoumaya
I’ll never say this enough; online dating is tricky for people of colour. From the white humanitarians of Tinder who post pictures surrounded by black children, to those who ask you "where are you *really* from?” in the first message. Racism is rampant in dating apps. However, as an Indo-Caribbean woman, my relationship with South Asian men and men of South Asian descent has made my online dating experience even trickier.
Last year, I started talking to a man from Luton, England, whose parents were born in Kashmir. When he asked me where in France I was from, I told him that although I was officially born in France, it wasn’t the France people would immediately think about. Despite being in the Caribbean, Guadeloupe is administratively and politically considered as part of France. Before letting me finish, he said: “Oh, I see! Are you from Sini Gal or something?” I was as confused as you might be now. When I finally understood that he meant Senegal, I told him that I was from Guadeloupe, an island in the Caribbean— to which he replied: “Oh, one of those countries by the sea!”
I specified that my family had come from India as indentured workers in the 19th century—as he seemed to be questioning my brownness. When he implied that I was beautiful ‘despite not being white,’ I blocked him.
I didn't realize that this wouldn’t be my last unpleasant interaction with a man of South Asian descent. More recently, an Italian man of Indian parents replied, when I said that my ancestors were Indian: “Actually you look more like someone from the Carrabians” (he knew I was from Guadeloupe). When I asked what people from the “Carrabians” (both he and the Luton man were only making typos when talking about foreign places, which, in my opinion, betrays an incredible level of ignorance), were supposed to look like, he said “It’s difficult to say. It’s the general features. You could also have been Brazilian.” My heart started to beat fast. Whilst it’s not a crime to have perceptions about other people, this man wasn’t even acknowledging what I was telling him.
He was denying my identity and behaving as if my ancestors’ history and my body didn’t belong to me anymore. They were his, and he could make what he pleased of them.
In my interactions with South Asian men or men of South Asian descent, I often feel that I’m accused of lacking authenticity. I feel othered, either because they deny my brownness, or because they accept it but deem me "exotic" for being Caribbean. I wish there was a rulebook to help Indo-Caribbean women navigate their interactions with South Asian men and men of South Asian descent. For example, when a Tinder match tells me he is Indian or his parents are from India, do I mention that I also have Indian roots? How do I react of he lectures me on basic facts about India? Do I keep silent when he explains to me what rotis are? Do I pretend I’m learning something new, or do I talk about my grandmother’s recipe?
I don’t want to play the authenticity game with people I barely know, but I sometimes feel the urge to say something.
I usually say that my ancestors were Indian, so they know I don’t need to be lectured on where Hyderabad is, or on what Malayalam is.
This feeling of discomfort usually goes further and impacts my relationships with South Asian men in general. It’s always weird when Pakistani men (or men of Pakistani descent) explain to me who the Bhuttos are, or when Sri Lankan men (or men of Sri Lankan descent) tell me simple facts about their country’s history. Maybe it’s a question of pride (Do they seriously think I have no general culture?), but I guess this discomfort also has to do with the fact that I wouldn’t have known these things about other South Asian countries if I didn’t have Indian roots.
Questioning my general culture on South Asian countries is a trigger for me, as it reminds me of all the people who have denied my brownness and have thus, in a way, dismissed what my ancestors went through.
The men in the examples I cited are, obviously, not doing anything wrong or offensive. I’m not saying that someone’s brownness depends on whether they’ve heard of the Bhuttos, or whether they know the details of the Sri Lankan civil war. However, the fact that I’m getting triggered by these interactions shows how the self-esteem of Indo-Caribbeans can be negatively impacted by a general lack of recognition from other groups, in particular Indians.
To end on a positive note, I must stress that not all my interactions with South Asian men and men of South Asian descent on dating apps have been unpleasant. The goal of my article is certainly not to make misleading generalizations. My identity is and has been questioned by people from different ethnic backgrounds – mainly white French men. But as Indo-Caribbean women, it is important that we have a conversation on our relationships with South Asian men and men of South Asian descent. They constitute one aspect of our difficult and ambiguous relationship with South Asia, and of our often-questioned belonging to the Indian diaspora.