“When We See Ourselves: Black x Brown Love” is the brainchild of Jonah Batambuze, the founder and cultural trailblazer behind #TheBlindianProject, a virtual forum committed to reducing the stigma around Black & South Asian couples worldwide. Part-novel and part-journal, this watershed book is a compilation of 10 intimate, first-hand accounts of Black and brown relationships, celebrating couples who have shattered social boundaries in the name of love. Batambuze’s collection comes 30 years after “Mississippi Masala,” director Mira Nair’s cult classic film about a still taboo union among both the Indian and Black communities.
“When We See Ourselves” is timely. With the backdrop of the 2020 pandemic and the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, racism, classism and anti-blackness have (finally) come to the forefront of our public consciousness. To that end, this book delivers a simple yet important message: These relationships with seemingly impossible odds are indeed possible, as is the joining of these two communities.
There’s no sugarcoating in this book. Love is a war, and Batambuze gives a truthful picture of the uphill battles that many of the featured couples faced and continue to experience. In one case, we meet Farhane, a Pakistani-American man, and Michelene, an African American woman, who have had to weather some incredibly painful moments. For instance, Michelene had to miss Farhane’s medical school graduation as well as his father’s funeral because of the lack of acceptance from Farhane’s family. To this day, she has not met his mother.
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In other cases, we see desi young adults have to cut off contact permanently with their loved ones despite joyful childhoods. To that end, “When We See Ourselves” includes a little bit of everything. You will feel the pain of losing family members. You will hold your breath as folks confront their parents for the first time. Your jaw will clench as you read about the all-too-familiar anecdotes about emotional blackmail in South Asian homes. Nothing — including islamophobia, disability, LGBTQIA+, colorism — is off the table.
Yet this book offers so much hope. Blindian love is hard-earned, and you will inevitably be moved by the courage and inner strength of each couple. There’s one example with Wayne Carroll Jr., an African American man who converted to Islam because he couldn’t imagine a life without anyone except Ruksana, his Muslim-American wife and childhood sweetheart. Love eventually wins and this book reminds us of that. The power of this compilation lies in its namesake — if we can just see one example of ourselves, any reminder that this type of love is possible somewhere in the world, we can believe that it can be possible for us too.
For those in similar “Black x Brown” love circumstances, “When We See Ourselves” delivers much-needed comfort. Kudos to Batambuze for pushing the needle on this necessary conversation. Readers will surely walk away with inspiration on how to stand up for what they believe in and fearlessly chase their happiness.
You can see various purchasing options for “When We See Ourselves” here!