There is a movie in theaters now “The Big Sick“. Short summary brown man and white woman fall in love and deal with cultural conflict. I wasn’t interested in seeing it as the previews made it seem awful and racist. However, while driving back from a road trip I got to hear part of an interview with the pseudo-autobiographical co-screenwriter Kumail Nanjiani. I felt connected to his story as he was talking about growing up the child of immigrants. Nanjiani spoke of how he hadn’t given his parents enough credit in their evolving and understanding of his culture, different from theirs.
Then the interviewer Terry Gross, asked pseudo-autobiographical co-screenwriter Emily V. Gordon (spouse of Nanjiani) what her family thought of her being with Nanjiani. Gordon responded that her parents were used to her acts of rebellion they were just happy she found someone who was good to her.
I immediately cringed at Grdon’s gaze of Nanjiani as one of her acts of rebellion and that dreadful phrase “good to her”. Nanjiani then took over the conversation and spoke about how a “rebellious phase” was culturally very American but I was stuck on what Gordon had said.
I don’t ever want to be someone’s tool for rebellion. Which in terms of gender in hetero relationships, as a Latina I am not a tool for rebellion but I have experienced exoticisation, fetishization, for temporary fun, just as a man of color is used as the act of rebellion in temporary fun. I don’t think Gordon thought of this with any maliciousness when she spoke of her family being accustomed to her rebellion. That is part of the privilege for a white woman, that her perspective can be the conflict of dating a brown man as a temporary taboo.
Moving on to the phrase “good to her”– I ignorantly thought this wasn’t something that was regularly used as coded language but something that only I had experienced. I have been told before multiple times that phrase “I just hoped you would be with someone who is good to you”, “I wish you were with someone who could provide for you better”. The racism and sexism were there and what they really wanted to ask was “Why couldn’t I just date someone who was white man who’d take care of a girl?” Recently, a Black man told me that he’d been with non-Black women who had been told “I really was hoping you’d be with someone who was better to you” I was dumbfounded at my naïvety at thinking other people never heard the same things I did. Again, I don’t think this is what Gordon was getting at with saying acts of rebellion and as long as he’s good to me, but her intent and the reality of how many of us experience interracial relationships as an attack on us and those we love–well both perspectives overlapped but not in understanding.
I wonder does Gordon spend her time worrying about Nanjiani when he flies that he will be harmed or arrested? Have people told Gordon that the person she loves isn’t as good as any other white guy? Has she wondered what her presence says when she is next to him? What risks she puts him in by being with her? Hearing Gordon’s perspective only affirmed my desire not to see this movie.