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January 30, 2008 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2008-01-30

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LSA senior Jarrett Smith has not yet found the
woman of his dreams. But he knows she will be
beautiful, intelligent and confident. And she will
be black.
For Smith and other students who identify with minority
groups, Sir Mix-A-Lot's summation of love and attraction
was right on. When it comes to matters of the heart, Cosmo
Magazine - and the romantic ideals it sells - "ain't got
nothin' to do" with dating and marriage preferences.
Listen to University students sound off about dating in
or outside of their faith, race or ethnicity, and one thing
becomes clear: For people with deeply rooted religious or
ethnic heritage, the rules of attraction - boy meets girl and
falls in love - are not always so simple.
Students who are Jewish, Muslim and Christian, who are
black, white and Indian suddenly bear a remarkable resem-
blance to one another when they speak about the pressure
to date and marry within their ethnic or religious group.
Often, students who admit to having set expectations for
a spouse are sheepish about talking about their beliefs. A
moment pregnant with hesitation punctuates their uncer-
tainty about divulging their most intimate hopes for the
future, as well as their fear of seeming closed-minded or
racist for profiling romantic prospects.
Once students start talking about dating and marriage,
though, there is no stopping them. From those in interra-
cial relationships to otters who would never consider dat-
ing someone outside their identity group, young people of
every walk seem to be well aware of expectations that exist
for dating and marriage.
Time and time again, students who only date within
their religion or ethnicity said they do so because they are
looking for someone with similar values and beliefs. Sev-
eral students said it was difficult or even impossible to truly
connect with someone outside their identity group.
To LSA senior Aaron Potek, Judaism is uniquely beau-
tiful. Potek's decision to date exclusively within his faith
stems from a deep love and appreciation for Judaism and
its culture.
"Jews have been such a huge part of my life that I just
couldn't imagine being with someone not Jewish," he said.
For Potek, being able to connect spiritually is so impor-
tant that physical attraction is as much about values and
beliefs as it is about looks.
"I never had an experience where (a non-Jewish girl
and I) really clicked and religion was the only obstacle in
the way," he said. "I think that's because I click with people
not just based on looks but on spirituality as well. I'm a Hil-
lel guy."
LSA sophomore Lizzie Fuhr, the only Jewish person liv-
ing in a house of eight women, has dated non-Jewish men
before. Fuhr said religion has never been a-deciding fac-
tor in the friendships she makes. But when it came to her
romantic relationships with non-Jewish men, something
was missing.
"I dated a Christian guy, I dated a Deist, but the connec-
tion wasn't really there because Judaism is a way of life,
and culture, and seeing," Fuhr said.
Now Fuhr is in a relationship with a Jewish man whose
family moved from Russia to the United States in 1992
to escape the anti-Semitism of the Russian government.
Though he was raised a continent away, Fuhr said their
shared faith helps bring them together.
"I can get close to him because there are so many things
he understands about me just because we are both Jewish,"
she said.
Jewish students are not the only ones who search for
that spiritual connection in their mate. Being cute will help
your case with LSA sophomore Zoha Mohammed, but it's
faith that really gets him going.
"If you just have a strong faith about you =- it's hot," he
Mohammed, who is Muslim, said he would have no prob-
lem dating a non-Muslim woman as long as she was in some
way religious and shared similar values.
For many black students, the desire to seek companion-
ship with someone who shares experience is crucial. Some
said that the marginalization they face daily at the Univer-

sity makes the thought of datingsomeone outside their race
"Any classroom, any office you walk into, they expect
you to be an athlete," Smith said. "I think that's something
a black woman can relate to. She can support a black man
better than anyone else."
As a child, Fuhr asked her mother if she could bring
home a black man when she was old enough to date. The
response, Fuhr said, came quickly and clear: "You can bring
home a purple, polka-dot guy as long as he's Jewish."
For many Jewish students, the fear that their faith and
their people could be wiped off the face of the planet is very
"We are .02 percent of the population of the world, so as
a Jew, intermarriage is a very scary thing," LSA freshman
Yael Mendelson said.
According to the United Jewish Association, the rate of
Jews marrying non-Jews is currently between 40 and 50
Mendelson said she thinks it can be easy for Jewish stu-
dents at the University to forget that they are still part of a
minority group because there is such a strong Jewish com-
munity on campus.
"Since we've done so well in America, I think Jews
think we're OK," she said. "But we're still a minority in the
It may only be natural, then, that many students say rais-
ing a Jewish family is an important life goal.
"The fact is that Judaism, like most religions, has family
as a cultural tenet to it," Potek said. "In terms of promoting
the continuity of your faith, you're encouraged by almost
everyone you meet to marry another Jew."
Fuhr said the pressure to marry other Jews comes from
every corner of her social life - parents, religious leaders
and even friends.
"Growing up, my mom and dad tried to tell me to date
Jewish guys," she said. "It was dogmatic, like, 'you're
Jewish, you have to marry a Jewish guy and have Jewish
Michael Brooks, the executive director of University of
Michigan Hillel, said that it is not simply Jewish marriage
that should be emphasized, but the strengthening of the
culture, as well.
"If we truly care about the future of the Jewish com-
munity we won't be satisfied if most Jews find life partners
who simply happen to be Jewish," Brooks said. "We will
represent a culture of such a richly value-added Jewish
community that our life partners will have compelling rea-
sons to feel that it would be a privilege to be, or become, an
active participant in it."
I For many black students on campus, a long history of
racial oppression often makes dating people who aren't
black seem paramount to a betrayal of racial heritage.
LSA senior Serita Williams would be willing to date a
white man, but she knows it could cause tension between
her and some of her friends.
"My girlfriends would be OK," she said. "But my male
friends would be like, 'What can he do for you?' I think
they're threatened by it."
Some students said that black women get upset if they
see a black man with a white woman.
"A lot of times, people will make comments like, 'Well,
if a black guy is with a white woman it's because they're
easy,"' LSA senior Chanel Harris said. "There are a lot of
stereotypes perpetuated about it."
Williams said seeing white women with black men on
campus doesn't bother her, as long as the guys haven't
decided to exclusively date white women.
"If they only date white women, I have a huge problem,"
she said. "But if they're in a free-for-all then I don't have a
Many students deal with distinctions within their reli-
gion or ethnicity.
Part of the tension surrounding interracial dating stems
from frustration with the American standard of beauty
being light skin, smooth hair and racially ambiguous but-
ton features. When words.like "nappy" continue to appear
in conversation about attraction, it becomes clear that the
subversively racist image continues to have a huge impact

on the black community's dating scene and ideals of beau-
"I have one brother who is light-skinned and one who is
dark-skinned," Williams said.
"Dark-skinned guys call themselves 'sexual chocolate,'
but my other brother keeps saying, 'light-skinned back
Among black students, the preference to date a black per-
son of a certain skin color is often spoken about openly.
Who is the "ideal" black woman?
"Light skin, long hair, or maybe mixed - so if their hair
gets wet it doesn't get nappy. And skinny," Williams said of
the stereotype she believes persists in society.
Of course, instant attraction doesn't necessarily fol-
low the ideals of the mainstream beauty ideal. LSA senior
Mikey Davis Jr. said he would find "any beautiful, confident
woman" attractive. And Davis tends to like women with
hair he describes as "bushy."
Zoha Mohammed said many of his Muslim friends would
marry a non-Muslim woman but not someone from a differ-
ent sect of Islam.
"My Shia friend said he could never marry a Sunni girl,"
Mohammed said. "That Sunni, Shia, Ismaili divide is still
But while a more stringent divide exists between the
Islamic sects, Mohammed said dating across ethnic and
religious borders could be discouraged by unrelated inci-
dents of prejudice.
Mohammed said the "Michigan Community" should
include anyone who screams "Go Blue!" but that he's found
it hasn't been the case.
When a conservative campus group sponsored an event
called "Three Ex-Terrorists" event last year, in which many

students felt Islam was equated with terrorism, something
changed for Mohammed when it came to socializing out-
side his religious group.
"That was kind of a turning point for me," he said. "It
was really threatening. It was a direct insult to you. You
didn't feel part of the Michigan community."
After the event, Mohammed said that he began to spend
more time with his Muslim friends and less with his non-
Muslim friends.
Mohammed's experience of marginalization is-not nec-
essarily unique. Students of minority groups often say that
the desire to marry within their group is encouraged by
moments of-epiphany when realizingcthey are the "other."
It is startling how quickly a conversation about dating
is transformed into a reflection of racism and division on
this campus.
When LSA junior Sarah Jukaku said students have scru-
tinized her love life based on their own biases.
After Jukaku married LSA senior Abdul El-Sayed
two years ago, she says some students assumed she was
oppressed or asked if she was forced into marriage.
Smith said he was told by a white friend that the women
in her sorority would ostracize her if she dated a black
Sitting next to Smith during an interview, Davis nod-
ded knowingly in response to Smith's anecdote.
"Quite honestly, I think that black men are perceived as
the scariest thing on the planet," Davis said. "People buy
into the media stereotypes, people see a black man and
they think, 'Oh, he's a thug that's going to rob me and, like,
clobber my sorority sister.'"
Earlier this month, in South Quad's Ambanatana
Lounge, a room covered in boldly colored murals depict-
ing multiculturalism in the United States, The Mixed
Initiative, a student group celebrating mixed-race back-
grounds, along with Zeta Sigma Chi, a multicultural
sorority, hosted a forum to discuss interracial dating.
For the students in the room that night - the vast
majority of whom were either multiracial themselves or
are in interracial relationships already - dating across
cultural boundaries is almost a given.
Harris, a member of The Mixed Initiative, spoke of
the stigma of interracial dating from her seat in front of a
giant portrait of a black soldier going off to war.
"The easy way is not always the right way," Harris said
at the forum. "If someone is into marrying someone of
their own race, that's OK. But if they're just not willing to
go through the hard times - I wouldn't be here. A lot of us
wouldn't be here."
LSA junior Dillon Hendrick, who is white, said her
decision to date her boyfriend Sam Sabharwal, a medical
school student from India, was difficult for her parents at
first. But Hendrick said she was surprised at how quickly
they came around. Now Hendrick's mother defends her
relationship when friends say disparaging things about it.
"I think it's fantastic that I could look at this whole side
of my family and say that I changed their opinion about
the world because I loved somebody," Hendrick said.
Hendrick's story ended with parental acceptance of
her cross-cultural relationship. But it also has another
message, one Zoha Mohammed, Jarrett Smith and Lizzie
Fuhr can all relate to: Even for students who flout them,
cultural boundaries matter. And when it comes to their
love lives, it's up to them to decide whether that's a bad

mara gay j daily staff writer

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