Interracial couples face internal, external relationship challenges

FARGO -- Not long ago, Twila Singh and her husband, Jagnoor, walked into a local restaurant holding hands and everyone stopped and turned around in their seats to look at them, they said.

Twila and Jagnoor Singh of Fargo
Twila and Jagnoor Singh of Fargo, N.D., married Jan. 3, 2013, inside the Grand Canyon. Submitted photo

FARGO -- Not long ago, Twila Singh and her husband, Jagnoor, walked into a local restaurant holding hands and everyone stopped and turned around in their seats to look at them, they said.

"It was open-mouthed staring," Twila said. "And unfortunately there was quite a bit of hostility radiating off of some people. We were uncomfortable the whole time we were eating."

Twila, who is originally from Oregon, is a fair-skinned strawberry blonde, and Jagnoor is from India.

As an interracial couple, they face a unique set of challenges, both within their relationship and from those around them.

About 15 percent of all new marriages in the United States in 2010 were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity, more than double the percentage of interracial marriages in 1980, according to the Pew Research Center.


Attitudes toward interracial marriages are also changing.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans, 63 percent, say it "would be fine" with them if a member of their own family were to marry someone outside their own racial or ethnic group. But in 1986 only one-third of the public, 33 percent, viewed interracial marriage as acceptable for everyone, according to Pew Research.

For the most part, Jagnoor said he doesn't experience racism when he's on his own.

"We've had a lot of positive experiences from the business point of view," said Jagnoor, who works for a technology company in Fargo. "Doing business here has been so easy."

The issues arise when he and his wife go out together.

"As a couple is when we stand out," Jagnoor said.

When Heather and Quron White of Fargo are out together, people will sometimes make racist jokes toward Quron, they said.

Quron, an African-American from Gary, Ind., tries not to let the racist comments bother him, he said.


"I laugh at them," he said. "I don't let them affect me because they're not in my relationship. They don't know how we met and what we've been through and how happy we are."

The couple, who married last year, said in general they don't see as much hostility toward their relationship in the Fargo-Moorhead area as they do in other places, like Indiana.

"People here are more genuine and more loving and accepting," Heather said.

"That's one of the reasons I fell in love with being up here was because of the environment," Quron said.

The Singhs say when people stare at them it's likely out of curiosity more than racism.

"This is a very homogenous population. They don't see outsiders very often, and they don't see outsiders together very often," Twila said.

But they do notice sometimes that a cashier won't even look at Jagnoor, Twila said. Or in a restaurant the wait staff will only address Twila because they can't understand Jagnoor's accent, she said.

Twila said it's exhausting to remain angry over the racism they do encounter, so they try not to let it bother them.


"We will never blend in," she said. "The more you fight it, the worse it gets."

"We will always be outsiders wherever we go," Jagnoor added. "There's nothing wrong with that."

Twila said she felt tension and judgment when she was with Jagnoor in India, too, but his family accepted her openly.

Had his mother not approved of Twila, they wouldn't be together, Jagnoor said.

"In India, marriage isn't about two people. It's about two families," he said.

One of his sisters had an arranged marriage, and Jagnoor said he had asked his mother to find a match for him before he met Twila.

The Singhs met in August 2011 in Africa, where he was working for a technology company and she was working for the Peace Corps.

"It was love at first sight," Jagnoor said.


They dated for almost a year before becoming engaged last June. They married Jan. 3 inside the Grand Canyon and are planning a three-day wedding ceremony later in India.

"Love doesn't have any political or distance boundaries," Twila said. "We just knew that no matter how turbulent or how hard it was, the reason we are where we are today is we just can't stay away from each other."

When the Whites started their relationship, they expected race would create some outside issues, they said.

"I have had interracial relationships before, and they've been not so good," Heather said. "So my family was reluctant for me to go down the same path, but he's a whole different man."

Quron connects with people more outside his race, he said.

"I want a relationship that's mature, where there's understanding, communication and trust," Quron said. "That's what I look for and that's what I found in my wife."

Growing up in Casselton, N.D., Heather comes from a large, close-knit family. When Quron first met Heather's parents, he wasn't sure they would accept him, but in the end he said they love him like their own son and have accepted him for who he is.

"They made me feel comfortable," he said. "I'm not an outsider."


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