Small Minds Judge Kiwis by Their Color

Desi roots in New Zealand go back to the late 18th century when some lascars and sepoys on British East India ships stopping in New Zealand jumped ship to settle there and marry Māori women. In the first part of this century, the community grew to over 100,000 with a 68 percent growth rate. When Kiwis got their first desi Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand in 2006, Sepia Mutiny blogged about it and the presumably inclusive nature of the symbolic appointment.

Thumbnail image for jackson.anand.jpg walsh.patel.lal.jpg

But recently that gesture has been overshadowed by a TV host who insisted that Satyanand doesn’t look much like a New Zealander. Add to the mix this week’s media focus on the story of a blue-eyed, blonde Miss IndiaNZ pageant entrant being booed for not “looking Indian” enough, and we have a very Kiwi-flavored reminder about the harms of judging people by their color. I know, I know, it’s 2010 and you thought this was covered on a Wednesday in 1963, but all kinds of people around the world seem to forget. The first time I heard of Paul Henry was in relation to his immature schtik about the last name of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit. He comes across as an intentionally outrageous morning show host, somewhat in the vein of Howard Stern, except I’m pretty sure Stern won’t be interviewing Obama on a state-owned TV network. Henry crossed the line and made racist remarks while asking prime minister John Key about Satyanand’s potential successor (video below), insisting that the Auckland-born Governor-General didn’t look or sound like a New Zealander, even after Key emphasized that Satyanand is one.

Many New Zealanders objected to these remarks and lodged hundreds of complaints with the station, even if NZTV’s initial official statement defended Henry by offensively suggesting that the audience secretly agreed with his views:

The audience tell us over and over again that one of the things they love about Paul Henry is that he’s prepared to say the things we quietly think but are scared to say out loud. (NZ Herald News)

I’m guessing that Satyanand, busy with his officially awesome duties like knighting Peter Jackson, isn’t dwelling on Henry’s comments, (or the ones from a radio host about his physique being “incongruous” for an Indian). But for other Kiwi desis, words like that would hurt and exclude.

“What he was saying was that if you were an Indian New Zealander and you were born here, you went to school here, you went to university here, you practised law here, you became a judge, you became an ombudsman and you became a Governor-General, that a key presenter on national television still thinks you don’t look like or sound like a New Zealander.” -Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres (NZ Herald)

Henry has apologized in his own style and resigned from the network after receiving a suspension. But this story’s not over yet thanks to an upset Henry fan. Serena Fiso tried to defend him by bringing attention to an example from last April of Indian New Zealanders behaving badly and booing her son’s girlfriend Jacinta Lal for not being “Indian enough.”

Lal, the blue-eyed, blonde daughter of a Fiji Indian father, says she entered the Miss IndiaNZ event to learn more about her heritage. Fortunately her comments suggest that she didn’t let the unnamed boors booing her, or the news that a few small-minded people made complaints to the event’s organizer get to her.

My overall experience of the Miss India New Zealand competition was a positive one. I was fully supported by the organisers of the pageant and indeed encouraged to enter, and also had the full support of the Indian community as winner of Miss India New Zealand Central.

I was not aware of any booing.

I believe the media are “mischief making” and have made a “mountain out of a molehill” thereby taking the focus off the inappropriate and offensive comments Paul Henry made on national television. (Facebook)

I think Lal puts the Miss IndiaNZ incident in perspective in relation to Henry’s remarks, and now that her story is in the spotlight it’s another example of the diversity and multiracial nature of the desi diaspora. Her fellow pageant participants included desis with Māori and European ancestry.

If some day my brown-haired, blue-eyed niece enters a desi pageant, I’ll be sure to attend and bring my noisemaker to cheer her on–I carry it in a big purse that might come in handy when small minds make rude remarks. Even better, though, would be for people to let go of exclusionary ideas about “looking Indian enough.”

I haven’t attended any pageants yet. But based on what I see in this video of the event (Lal, by the way, introduces herself at about 4 minutes in), it looks like a chance for young people to learn about handling themselves gracefully in front of a live audience, a skill Paul Henry could certainly work on.

105 thoughts on “Small Minds Judge Kiwis by Their Color

  1. the weird thing is that henry claims his grandmother was a gypsy:

    http://www.listener.co.nz/issue/3476/features/7751/close_up_personal,1.html;jsessionid=5DC171AD8D81D9118B86F4EDBE5D323F

    Henry ended up with a job with the BBC. At age 25, he discovered that he is a Gypsy. “The British hate the Gypsies,” says Henry. “I think that hatred is enduring. So I always hated Gypsies. We used to sometimes go at lunchtime and throw stones at the Gypsies over the allotment fence. And I was clearly on the wrong side of the allotment fence.”

    When he got the news, he took it well. “I just thought it was great, having been brought up in New Zealand. It was exciting to be something a bit different. My daughters feel that way as well.” Things suddenly made sense. “My grandmother always wore bright shiny plastic beads … She had black, black hair and was very dark. When you think about it,” he muses, “it shouted out ‘Gypsy’.”

    so he has to know he has significant indian ancestry himself.

  2. the weird thing is that henry claims his grandmother was a gypsy

    Ah, but his apologies weren’t really apologies. First he refused to apologise, then when it was obvious that shit was about to hit the fan (complaints coming in at 600+ the following morning and a staff revolt from within TVNZ) his first apology started with the great non apology statement of “if I caused offense” and then went on to denigrate his gypsy heritage with “I am British but the truth is much, much worse than that, like the Governor-General I was born in New Zealand but, however, I am at least half what they colloquially call in Europe a gippo … he is a very distinguished man I am a gippo television presenter.”. What kind of apology is that? He is someone who misses the entire point of why people were upset.

    I have to admit that I did a little dance when I heard he had resigned (read: pushed). Though I am still disappointed with the inability of our Prime Minister to call him out on it.

    Sir Anand has been, typically, awesome in his response: “I’m reliably informed that I was born at Bethany Hospital, 37 Dryden St, Grey Lynn and I don’t need to add much to that”

  3. These Anglo and European countries have a history of racism and arrogance toward Indians and other people of colour, So Indians are right to raise the issue of scummy talk show hosts making fun of their names. The stupid mother of the mixed race Kiwi was so ignorant to draw an equivalence between a few ethnic Indians questioning her daughter’s “Indianness”, and the crude, vulgar, racist comments of the quasi-illiterate Paul Henry.

    • Well said Varun, I agree. These people need and deserve to be called on this type of thing. You are absolutely correct on your assessment of the Anglo/ Europeans as well as that of the mother. Although, she was actually her boyfriend’s mother, but the point still stands.

      • Right, apologies for that error, Agreement. I think sometimes, we get too tied into semantics, in order to draw equivalences. Indians making fun of New Zealanders or Aussies doesn’t have the same historical background, as the racism against Indians, by those people. Paul Henry not only made fun of the Delhi CM’s name, he linked her name with the general living conditions of India. And he also questioned the credentials of New Zealand’s governor general, a person of Indian origin.

        Both the Aussie and New Zealand media( and to an extent the Canadian and British) have been absolute jackasses and sleazeballs throughout the commonwealth games.

  4. Regarding the New Zealand beauty contest: What if Jacinda Lal had black skin and kinky hair, and she revealed that she’s an Trini-Indian and half Nigerian. Because she is interested in learning more about her heritage, she has entered the beauty pageant. I’m sure the Indians would be hysterical!

    Indians are so color conscious and racist. MSNBC/HuffPost did an article on Freida Pinto, and some Indians from Toronto said that “She’s ugly. Girls from my part of India are much better looking.”

  5. so he has to know he has significant indian ancestry himself.

    Are we certain he was talking about Roma? Or Irish Travellers (also called gypsies by ignorant firangis)? Irish people can have a “dark” look, too…black Irish or summat.

    As for Ms. Lal, she is not a natural blonde. Check her pics- she obviously bleaches her hair. Not that it matters too much.

  6. “Indians are so color conscious and racist. MSNBC/HuffPost did an article on Freida Pinto, and some Indians from Toronto said that “She’s ugly. Girls from my part of India are much better looking.”

    I think your circulation among Indians/ethnic Indians is very limited, probably to a few Punjabis in North America. Because my experience with Indians and ethnic Indians alike, is that features, slimness, character and education are what they are impressed by. “Features” meaning generally sharper over blunter facial features. So a dark complexioned slim girl with sharp looks would generally be seen as better looking that a very blunt faced and heavier, though fair complexioned one, with other traits like education and character weighing in too of course.

  7. Author Profile Page Paul | October 14, 2010 9:53 AM | Reply so he has to know he has significant indian ancestry himself. Are we certain he was talking about Roma? Or Irish Travellers (also called gypsies by ignorant firangis)? Irish people can have a “dark” look, too…black Irish or summat. As for Ms. Lal, she is not a natural blonde. Check her pics- she obviously bleaches her hair. Not that it matters too much.

    Actually, the Irish Travelers are NOT dark people like the Gypsies are. They are culturally similar, but the two are not genetically or linguistically alike.

  8. Because my experience with Indians and ethnic Indians alike, is that features, slimness, character and education are what they are impressed by. “Features” meaning generally sharper over blunter facial features. So a dark complexioned slim girl with sharp looks would generally be seen as better looking that a very blunt faced and heavier, though fair complexioned one, with other traits like education and character weighing in too of course.

    My experience with desi’s has been the opposite in regards to skin color. My plump, light-skinned, green-eyed Aunt was always regarded as the pretty one in my dad’s family, while my darker-skinned, slimmer brown-eyed aunt was never openly called ugly, but received back-handed compliments like “pretty for a darker girl”. I should mention my dad’s family is 3/4 Pakistani and 1/4 Afghan so maybe you’re right and Indians are the more open-minded ones and those to the West of your border and more prejudice about skin color. Being American I couldn’t tell you either way, honestly.

    In regards to education and features – education in most of the world is a result of one’s economic status. The millions born into poverty don’t have access to education while the well-off ones do. It also seems that lighter skin/sharper features and darker skin/blunter features seem to be more common combinations than the reverse – again, based entirely off of my limited observations. So I don’t think judging by education/features is much better than judging by skin color.

  9. Regarding the New Zealand beauty contest: What if Jacinda Lal had black skin and kinky hair, and she revealed that she’s an Trini-Indian and half Nigerian. Because she is interested in learning more about her heritage, she has entered the beauty pageant. I’m sure the Indians would be hysterical!

    A documentary called Miss India Georgia followed a few pageant participants, including one whose family was from Trinidad, and she ended up feeling rejected. Desi communities are not free of colorism or racism, so I would think a contestant like the one you describe would get a mixed reaction. But as more desis have children of mixed ethnic and racial backgrounds and people change over time, I think the pageants and the audiences who attend would become more inclusive, more tolerant.

  10. In my time in rural India I noticed that darker skin = ugly and lighter skin= beautiful, regardless of features or weight. All my students were from extremely poor families and darker skinned. One of my students was absolutely stunning– beautiful features and a shinning light in her eyes… she was from a local tribal group but the only comments she got were “oh you are so dark” with gestures of “too bad”. One student who was the darkest in the class (and one of the smartest and most energetic students) didn’t want her picture taken because she was embarrassed she was so dark.

    I also noticed a lot of dark= labor type comments.. for example, one teacher remarked to the students as a joke “by the time you leave her you will be as pale as Lindsey!” (since they would be studying for 6 months instead of working outside). pictures of my beautiful students: http://www.flickr.com/photos/reluktantwarrior/sets/300825/

    Aside from rural areas, I also found a similar sentiment in Delhi, though not as upfront– lighter girls seemed more admired and darker girls more often were looked at with comments like “Ew! She is sooo unattractive!” Looking at Bollywood– the few actresses who are darker are made to look much lighter on screen (take a look at Kajol’s face and then her hands and compare skin tone in any movie she is in!).

    In regards to slim/pump… I still find a lot of men (that I know or observed) in India view “healthy” girls (read: curvy/pump) as more attractive– in fact the kind of slim girls who might receive more attention in the U.S. get a “ewww she’s all bones” and a shudder.

    I think that S. India reflects a lot of this plump preference– i.e. “Mallu Masala” actresses. :P Bollywood seems to be moving into skinner = better though… wonder what that will do over time for the everyday idea of beauty?

    • Aside from rural areas, I also found a similar sentiment in Delhi, though not as upfront– lighter girls seemed more admired and darker girls more often were looked at with comments like “Ew! She is sooo unattractive!” Looking at Bollywood– the few actresses who are darker are made to look much lighter on screen (take a look at Kajol’s face and then her hands and compare skin tone in any movie she is in!).

      Darker=uglier; Lighter=prettier is a well known belief among many South Asians I’ve encountered. The question for me is how that idea was created/reshaped. Is it colonially derived, is it a product of exposure/integration into a then-explicitly racist global economy, is it a more recent phenomenon, what are the roots in South Asian contemporary or precolonial realities, etc.

      Interesting subject. Timeline and a good solid explanation would be useful.

  11. Desi communities are not free of colorism or racism

    huh, of course brown people are obsessed with color, look at this thread. what group isn’t racist anyhow? even those of us who live in the west and were viewed as an amorphous mass despite how “fair” or “kala” received this “wisdom” from our parents. the emphasis on “sharp” features is new to me, but i wasn’t raised around brown people and my heritage has a lot of east asiatic so perhaps we wouldn’t emphasize this cuz we’re lacking (confirmed by genetics, but you can tell looking at relatives who look more burmese than south asian), but some punjabis seem to talk about this a lot from what i have seen now that i live in an area with more brown people. i assume that they perceive bengalis and south indians to ugly flat faced darkies (my parents socialized with pakistanis, and it was pretty obvious that’s how they viewed bangladeshis though they were never rude enough to express that openly). it’s their prerogative, after all persians think punjabis are ugly blacks in their turn, except for those who are light and “sharp” enough to pass as iranian. and russians would beat persians for being blacks in their turn. i guess there’s always africans at the bottom of the status-heap!

    of course there are limits to valorization of trait values in a particular direction. the lighter women in bollywood films look southern european, nor northern.

    on an unrelated note, i’ve been reading translations of the vedas and puranas, and some of the content seems really racist to me in the exact way that lindsey is talking about. when i was younger i’d read stuff on indian history on how snub-noses and dark skin were metaphors for the battle between good and evil. perhaps. but i can see how people wouldn’t interpret it that way reading some translations. when someone says a man in the marketplace as a black-skinned as a pile of beans is obviously not a brahmin by virtue of his physique it seems pretty concrete and non-metaphorical.

    btw, paul henry is much more dickish IMO in the videos than he is in the description. his manner and expression do bleed with contempt and distaste rather transparently.

    Are we certain he was talking about Roma? Or Irish Travellers (also called gypsies by ignorant firangis)? Irish people can have a “dark” look, too…black Irish or summat.

    the description made it sound like it was a gypsy. note that the term “roma” does not apply to all gypsie, more to the groups of eastern europe. the group in england are the romanichal, and the correct group label is romani (i.e., it includes all the groups, like roma, sinti, manush, kale, etc.). the travelers are no different genetically from other irish, there have been studies on this.

  12. I also noticed a lot of dark= labor type comments.. for example, one teacher remarked to the students as a joke “by the time you leave her you will be as pale as Lindsey!” (since they would be studying for 6 months instead of working outside).

    with the rise of stratified societies with agriculture this is close to a cultural universal. darker means spending more time in the sun, so it’s a class marker. the association exists across asian societies, and was also evident in pre-colombian times in the new world. the incas stole amazonian women for concubines since since the females were naturally lighter than women from the andes (andean groups are the darkest of indigenous populations because of high UV exposures). there is some evidence in japan that hypergamy, low class light-skinned women marrying into the aristocracy, resulted in a genetic difference of color between the masses and the elites.

    one dynamic in militarized cultures which goes against this is that pale males are considered too beautiful and effeminate. consider achilles, who had red hair and fair features. OTOH, herakles was dark-skinned, because of his time spent outdoors and naked.

    in the modern west the association between color and class has inverted because it is the elites who take vacations on tropical locales. to be termed “pasty” has negative class connotations among whites today.

  13. too beautiful and effeminate. consider achilles, who had red hair and fair features.

    i assume most of you will get the reference here, but achilles was dressed up as a woman and hidden away to prevent him from going to war. this was plausible because of his beauty supposedly. just so that that makes sense.

  14. In regards to slim/pump… I still find a lot of men (that I know or observed) in India view “healthy” girls (read: curvy/pump) as more attractive– in fact the kind of slim girls who might receive more attention in the U.S. get a “ewww she’s all bones” and a shudder.

    i was in bangladesh in 2004, and there were public billboards all over the place with fattish* pale brown chicks. i found it kind of ludicrous, but different cultural norms. my very wealthy uncle ended up marrying a young fattish pale brown woman. now his 12 year old son is verging on obesity.

    • not obese, but definitely above 25 BMI
  15. the emphasis on “sharp” features is new to me, but i wasn’t raised around brown people and my heritage has a lot of east asiatic so perhaps we wouldn’t emphasize this cuz we’re lacking

    No offense, but how could you not pick up on this? It’s definitely not just a Desi thing. Look at minority American celebrities and models, it’s fairly obvious that those with “sharp” (read: whiter) features are idolized – Padma Lakshmi, Alicia Keys, Tyra Banks, etc. In East Asian cultures, a “sharper” nose (slimmer with higher nose bridge) is often idolized, look at their celebrities. Even in white cultures, having a “snub nose” is seen an unattractive feature. People who get nose jobs genenerally seem to want straight, thin, nordic-looking noses in Western and Eastern cultures alike. The opposite extreme – having a very sharp pointy nose – also seems to be regarded as unattractive but very few people have those to begin with.

    after all persians think punjabis are ugly blacks in their turn, except for those who are light and “sharp” enough to pass as iranian. and russians would beat persians for being blacks in their turn. i guess there’s always africans at the bottom of the status-heap!

    That’s why I think it’s funny how some desi’s draw so many distinctions over various shades of brown (fair to kala) when to most pardesi’s we’re lumped together – the same way my Paki grandma lumps all Blacks together and doesn’t notice/care about skin distinctions. It’s all so silly, really.

  16. I despair of Indians sometimes. There is a belief that fairer people are more attractive. There is also a belief that there is an Aryan/ Dravidian divide – which we all know is a load of hogwash concocted by imperialistic powers trying to undermine the people and divide and conquer.

    What I can’t understand is why Indian people don’t wake up to these facts. It’s almost like they are sleepwalking. Other things that bother me are the fact that Indians believe that everything that the West does is so great and anything they do is not as good. They put themselves down before anybody else does – no other country in the world does that! I just finished watching the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony and they actually booed Kalmadi, the organiser! As I say, no other country in the world would do that – do they not understand how bad that makes your country look? Have some self respect and solidarity for God’s sake!

  17. Also, thank god this light-skin obsession hasn’t infiltrated most American desi’s. My sister is kinda pasty and she uses bronzer to give her some color in colder months. Now , if we could only get white girls to stop giving themselves cancer from obsessive fake-tanning, I’d feel better about the beauty/color relation crap spewed across various cultures.

  18. No offense, but how could you not pick up on this? It’s definitely not just a Desi thing.

    i didn’t grow up around brown people. we kind of all look the same to me honestly. also, as per your comments on the south asian movie thread you’re obviously a more detailed connoisseur of physiognomic subtly than i. do you own calipers? :-)

    straight, thin, nordic-looking noses in Western and Eastern cultures alike.

    don’t read too much madison grant. that’s not the “nordic” nose :-) noses like bjorn lomborg’s are far more common in scandinavia than italy. btw, the east asian fixation with “european” eyes and noses is pretty recent and a function of the age of white hegemony. when the europeans were bit players in the south china sea in the 16th to 18th century they were perceived to be ugly big nosed witches (more the dutch than the portuguese since the dutch had weird coloring).

  19. Also, thank god this light-skin obsession hasn’t infiltrated most American desi’s.

    my prediction is that this is partly a function of the fact that many of us didn’t grow up around too many south asians. some of the comments from british south asians on these boards indicates they’re more aware of differences because they have huge subcultures where the brownland distinctions matter. i have a cousin in england, and it seems that there there’s a focus on the color issues more than here because there’s less “pan-south asian” socializing than here. as one of the british commenters on this weblog once noted,the typical american south asian looks more like naveen andrews, while the typical british south asian looks more like some lighter skinned punjabi dude who i don’t remember. i never thought of it that way, but he obviously did :-)

  20. I’m in Fiji right now and this is all over the media in Australia and New Zealand. If I could take a minute to get this discussion back on track.

    1) What happened to this girl transpired in April, well before a NZ TV show presenter commented that the next Governor General of the country should look more ‘Kiwi’. He did this while interviewing the Prime Minister of the country. The actions of a few people at some small beauty pageant being equated to comments being made to a state official on national tv–well, I just don’t understand how they can be equated. Ms. Jacinta Lal is being trotted out by the right-wing ‘anti-PC’ faction as an example of ‘how there’s racism everywhere’, because a discussion of the racism that permeates Kiwi society is unwanted. Mind you, NZ has had no real progressive movement (eg. Civil rights in the US) to push for a more inclusive national discourse.

    2) This whole ‘scandal’ is about as real as Ms. Jacinta Lal’s dyed blonde hair. It’s been rolled out on cue by an embarassed Kiwi establishment, shocked because they are perceived as backward for the comments of the talk show host. By her own admission she has no clue about her Indian identity. Like most dumb girls of the facebook generation, she thinks her looks are model-worthy. She discovered her Indianness just in time to enter this pageant to get her shot at bollywood/hollywood fame. As soon as this whole thing dies down, let’s hope her 15 minutes are up.

    3) That she would enter the pageant as a dyed-blonde only indicates her keen understanding of our own racism. She’s well aware that the majority view in our community is very sympathetic to the ‘white girl in sari’ phenomenon. In fact, that she advanced as far as she did speaks volumes about our welcoming nature or belief in the supremacy of all things white (Depending on where you stand, I suppose)

    And since when did the “like, OMG they were totally booing me” comments of a 21-yr old become so f*cking important to merit int’l press coverage? More reasons for me to despise beauty pageants and the dimwits that are drawn to them.

  21. i didn’t grow up around brown people. we kind of all look the same to me honestly.

    Grew up in a WASPy East Coast town myself – the only desi’s I interracted with until college were family and a few family friends. Still, it’s pretty clear just from watching tv or glancing at magazine covers that minorities with “sharper/whiter” features are embraced by Hollywood for whatever reason. Maybe nordic wasn’t the right word to use, but you know what I meant – American minorities who go under the knife aren’t buying noses that make them look more asian/indian/etc…

    She’s well aware that the majority view in our community is very sympathetic to the ‘white girl in sari’ phenomenon. In fact, that she advanced as far as she did speaks volumes about our welcoming nature or belief in the supremacy of all things white

    Since when are most Desi’s so welcoming toward whites? I’m a 3rd gen American and my parents would be very upset if I married a non-paki desi, let alone a gora. Don’t pretend white/desi unions are encouraged in our culture. The fact that people were booing here speaks volumes over the skin color obsession and unwecoming nature of many in our community. I bet if this woman dyed her hair black, tanned a little and stuck a bindi on her head, none of them would’ve cared if she’s only a quarter Indian or not.

    • Still, it’s pretty clear just from watching tv or glancing at magazine covers that minorities with “sharper/whiter” features are embraced by Hollywood for whatever reason.

      BS. It’s pretty clear that you are willfully ignoring the evidence before your eyes. Will Smith and Oprah Winfrey are the biggest minority superstars in the media business and neither is “sharp” featured. None of the desi actors who are successful in American TV or movies fits the bollywood stereotype either.

      You are also wrong in trying to equate sharper features with lighter skin. Anyone can see and compare the billion soft nosed light skinned east Asians with the 100s of millions of sharper nosed black and dark brown skinned desis, ethiopians, somalis, saudis, omanis etc.

      The large hook noses that are stereotypically found among Pashtuns,, persians, Arabs, Jews, armenians etc are not considered attractive by northern europeans or east asians who are the two dominant races in the world today. Most western men seem to find soft noses far more attractive on women. Hence the adulation of the Scandinavian, Slavic and east Asian looks. And the denigration of the jewish look. Why do you think Jewish and other middle eastern women flock to nose cutting operations?

  22. Still, it’s pretty clear just from watching tv or glancing at magazine covers that minorities with “sharper/whiter” features are embraced by Hollywood for whatever reason. Maybe nordic wasn’t the right word to use, but you know what I meant – American minorities who go under the knife aren’t buying noses that make them look more asian/indian/etc…

    point taken and agreed.

  23. Since when are most Desi’s so welcoming toward whites? I’m a 3rd gen American and my parents would be very upset if I married a non-paki desi, let alone a gora. Don’t pretend white/desi unions are encouraged in our culture.

    and what does “our culture” mean? there’s a lot of variation. some people have parents who expect their kids to marry with their caste/jati whatever. some people are religious expectations. some people have racial-cultural ones. also, i think the commenter was pointing to the fact that brown people are more racist against some groups than others. that’s a reality.

  24. Since when are most Desi’s so welcoming toward whites? I’m a 3rd gen American and my parents would be very upset if I married a non-paki desi, let alone a gora. Don’t pretend white/desi unions are encouraged in our culture.

    They would be upset at first. But the gora would be madly in love with you and want to learn about your mystical culture and the healing power of your spice rack and would convert to Islam to win you over.

    At that point, your parents would surely parade him around as a trophy more valuable than the one you won at the Spelling Bee.

    Eventually, the light-skinned grandchildren would pop up and they will tell their friends that they can’t see why they ever opposed the union in the first place.

  25. what’s up with using the word gora out of curiosity? what’s the connotation? sorry, not everyone here is a urdu-hindi speaker. i know what it is literally, but i get the sense that it’s like using the word goy, and has some unflattering implications. am i totally wrong, and is it just a clinical word? the word is thrown around enough that i want to know if i should be offended or not ;-)

  26. good fucking god!!! has the world and its people not moved on enough, for someone to look different be the same nationality? are there places in this world that still think 50 years behind? it is sad beyond sad. someone that looks new zealand? the greatest examples of people that look new zealand are the flight of the concords and Tanga Umanga!

  27. and what does “our culture” mean? there’s a lot of variation

    point taken : )

    They would be upset at first. But the gora would be madly in love with you and want to learn about your mystical culture and the healing power of your spice rack and would convert to Islam to win you over. At that point, your parents would surely parade him around as a trophy more valuable than the one you won at the Spelling Bee.

    You could not be more wrong here; my parents are islamic fundamentalists who firmly believe I should have an arranged marriage to a paki muslim – converts aren’t ok, Arabs,Indians and Bengalis aren’t ok, and Whites/Blacks/Hispanics are collectively lumped into the unacceptable category for them. My Grandma is half-Afghan Muslim and my mom’s side dislikes her for it.

    what’s up with using the word gora out of curiosity? what’s the connotation?

    It literally just means “white”, and isn’t openly offensive, but can be used disparagingly. My sister gets teased for “acting like such a gora” by cousins when she uses bronzer and hears “Oh, don’t be such a gora” in her frequent valley girl moments ;)

  28. my parents are islamic fundamentalists who firmly believe I should have an arranged marriage to a paki muslim – converts aren’t ok, Arabs,Indians and Bengalis aren’t ok, and Whites/Blacks/Hispanics are collectively lumped into the unacceptable category for them

    it is interesting that they are islamic fundamentalists and yet basically racist. my personal exp. with south asian muslims is that the islamic fundamentalists are very non-racist, though extremely bigoted against “dirty” non-muslims. very liberal south asian muslims are also not very racist. rather, it seems that moderately religious muslims who are more “traditional” (e.g., barelvi instead of deobandi) exhibit the most race-tribalism. though i’ve heard from muslims that even among fundies there’s a rank-order of preferred wives, white > south asian > black, though it’s implicit and not explicit.

  29. my parents are islamic fundamentalists who firmly believe I should have an arranged marriage to a paki muslim

    also, i know that some fundamentalist muslims oppose arranged marriage because it is bid’ah.

  30. ood fucking god!!! has the world and its people not moved on enough, for someone to look different be the same nationality? are there places in this world that still think 50 years behind? it is sad beyond sad. someone that looks new zealand? the greatest examples of people that look new zealand are the flight of the concords and Tanga Umanga!

    where u live dawg? the level of racism, or what is viewed as racist, varies a lot even in developed nations.

  31. @Razib: In my experience plenty of south asian muslims are borderline racist – it’s a combination of the South Asian (kala = bad) belief with the Muslim (nonMuslim = dirty heathens) belief. But I feel bad implying my parents are racist – they’re only racist when it comes to marriage. They’re totally fine with diversity amongst friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc. Their tolerance goes out the window when it comes to marriage. One of my cousins is dating a Chinese muslim girl (convert) and his parents hid the relationship for 7 years (they’re not planning to get marriage anytime soon, scandalous!) Even my other cousins (3rd gen) are disgusted by this.

    though i’ve heard from muslims that even among fundies there’s a rank-order of preferred wives, white > south asian > black,
    In my family it’s south asian or nothing, and by south asian I don’t mean a south indian or bengali, I mean a paki or afghan. Some of my family members can pass as white anyway (people always say my sister looks like Danica McKellar from the Wonder Years, haha) so it’s not like my parents would prefer a white guy for skin tone or something.
  32. BS. It’s pretty clear that you are willfully ignoring the evidence before your eyes. Will Smith and Oprah Winfrey are the biggest minority superstars in the media business and neither is “sharp” featured. None of the desi actors who are successful in American TV or movies fits the bollywood stereotype either.

    No, you completely missed my point. Oprah sure as hell didn’t build her fame on her looks, she built her empire through her talk show, books, etc. Oprah is not considered hot by Hollywood standards at all. And I’m really talking about women here – Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, Alicia Keys, etc – these types of women are held up as images of African-American beauty in the US, not Oprah lol. Just like Mindy Kaling is considered talented/funny but you’ll never see her on Vogue. You’ll see women who look like Padma Lakshmi, Lakshmi Menon, etc. You’ll also see a lot of Black models who look more like sharp-featured East Africans rather than West Africans, etc.

    I didn’t say American desi actors are a reflection of Bollywood – kind of the opposite, actually. A white-looking desi guy would not have been ok to play Kumar in Harold & Kumar because he wouldn’t fit the American stereotype of what desi’s look like.

  33. The large hook noses that are stereotypically found among Pashtuns,, persians, Arabs, Jews, armenians etc are not considered attractive by northern europeans or east asians who are the two dominant races in the world today. Most western men seem to find soft noses far more attractive on women. Hence the adulation of the Scandinavian, Slavic and east Asian looks. And the denigration of the jewish look. Why do you think Jewish and other middle eastern women flock to nose cutting operations?

    Uh, you do realize you pretty much just paraphrased my earlier post about nose jobs, right? It’s funny how you basically just agreed with me without realizing it. I openly said American minorities pay to get “whiter looking” noses.

  34. alina, probably best not to respond to follow-up comments from that anon. not edifying to talk about “hook noses” and what not :-)

  35. This whole sharp/soft feature business seems a sort of bad terminology to me– seeing as how “sharp/soft” features don’t seem to correlate with race– more like cultural ascetics of beauty– My nose is narrow (sharp?) but I don’t know how many white people in the U.S. would consider it beautiful, it is a bit large, and now generically shaped– I like it, personally, but I don’t think most Americas would show my nose to their plastic surgeon… Also Americans seem to covet big luscious lips these days, hence the hideous collagen lips everywhere… conversely some Indians I know seem to prefer “thin lips”… perhaps it’s more of a “the grass is always greener….” type situation?

    Krish, what a heart warming story of cross-cultural love:

    “They would be upset at first. But the gora would be madly in love with you and want to learn about your mystical culture and the healing power of your spice rack and would convert to Islam to win you over. At that point, your parents would surely parade him around as a trophy more valuable than the one you won at the Spelling Bee. Eventually, the light-skinned grandchildren would pop up and they will tell their friends that they can’t see why they ever opposed the union in the first place.”

    Thanks for letting me know that I was charmed by a “mystical culture” and a “spice rack”… you did miss one thing though— it’s a spice BOX… sheesh.

    In terms of the term “gora” yes yes yes it is used offensively…

  36. Good point, I just hate having my posts misconstrued. And yeah, “hook noses” was not a nice way of putting it! I’m not a big fan of plastic surgery myself, although to each his own. One of my asian-american friends had blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) done for her 19th birthday, no joke. It’s sad what the media will drive perfectly healthy, attractive girls to do.

    Yep, my parents are “race concious”, hah. Problem is I secretly stopped being religious by age 12 (though I was forced to attend islamic sunday school from age 7 – 17). I’ve also had 2 white boyfriends, and a latino boyfriend so far (I’m 20). I have a feeling I’m going to be the first person in my family to not have an arranged marriage, oh boy : /

    My college has plenty of desi’s and I’ve never been asked out by one either. Only get asked out by white/black/hispanic/asian guys generally. The odds of me popping out perfect little paki grandchildren are slim, I’m afraid.

  37. This whole sharp/soft feature business seems a sort of bad terminology to me– seeing as how “sharp/soft” features don’t seem to correlate with race– more like cultural ascetics of beauty– My nose is narrow (sharp?) but I don’t know how many white people in the U.S. would consider it beautiful, it is a bit large, and now generically shaped– I like it, personally, but I don’t think most Americas would show my nose to their plastic surgeon… Also Americans seem to covet big luscious lips these days, hence the hideous collagen lips everywhere… conversely some Indians I know seem to prefer “thin lips”… perhaps it’s more of a “the grass is always greener….” type situation?

    i’d appreciate a clarification of terms myself. lots of brown american colloquialisms just leave me confused. i just take “sharp” features to be a way of saying whiter features, which is why i once inadvisedly said that south asians perceived ourselves to be an ugly race :-)

    Yep, my parents are “race concious”, hah. Problem is I secretly stopped being religious by age 12 (though I was forced to attend islamic sunday school from age 7 – 17). I’ve also had 2 white boyfriends, and a latino boyfriend so far (I’m 20). I have a feeling I’m going to be the first person in my family to not have an arranged marriage, oh boy : /

    good luck. my personal exp. with american muzzie parents, albeit “moderate” (e.g., my mom doesn’t cover her hair) types, is that they get a lot more chilled out as you get older cuz they just want grandkids.

  38. I have often wondered whether preference for lighter or darker skin color can be equated to racism. Often when Indians make claims of racism, their detractors claim that they too are racist and often cite the preference for lighter skin color as being evidence of racism. I’ve always associated the term racism with a situation where one believes he is superior to another because of his racial background. While a culture may prefer fairer skin, I’m not sure there is necessarily an idea of superiority or inferiority based on that particular skin color. In a Brahmin family in India there can be a dark person and a fair skinned person. As an earlier poster pointed out, the preference for fair skin is a facet of many cultures and has more to do with classism rather than racism.

  39. well, I think the history of India sort of provides ample opportunities for the introduction of a fair is better than dark mentality…

    I guess science so far has shown that dark skinned people first came to India and moved South… then the Aryan types came in the north (Harrappan civilization) which was supposed to be from further north– and probably lighter skinned… then later Moghuls came and conquered… also lighter skinned… then the British…

    • Actually Lindsey, that’s a bit inaccurate.

      1. The Aryan Invasion Theory has essentially be shown the door in serious academic circles. Even the major critic of the “Autochthonous” aka out of India theory has essentially downgraded to an Aryan Migration Theory, which nevertheless remains under fire.

      2. 2 classic paragons of male and female beauty from the Epic Age were Krishna and Draupadi. Interestingly, both were dark skinned as highlighted by the meaning of the word Krishna. In fact, Draupadi herself was frequently called by that name as well. Additionally, Satyavati, 2nd wife of Shantanu, stepmother of Bhishma and grand matriarch of the later Kurus was a humble fisherwoman, notably dark-skinned, and nevertheless famed for her beauty.

      3. As for the Classical period, one need only look at the cave paintings of Ajanta. The artwork there–attributed to the Vakatakas during the period of Gupta Empire influence–does not show any particular relationship between class and color / beauty and color. Indeed, if you read Vatsyayana’s own accounts of suitable brides, he himself specified that she should not be “too light” either.

      So while I do agree that the “Fairever” and “Fair and Lovely” plagues must be combated, we need not assume this is necessarily an atavistic trait. I think within a few generations, most people will both externally AND internally begin to appreciate the various forms, shapes, and colors of beauty and not restrict it to merely one ideal type.

  40. Darker=uglier; Lighter=prettier is a well known belief among many South Asians I’ve encountered. The question for me is how that idea was created/reshaped. Is it colonially derived, is it a product of exposure/integration into a then-explicitly racist global economy, is it a more recent phenomenon, what are the roots in South Asian contemporary or precolonial realities, etc.

    I don’t think it’s colonially derived. There is ancient poetry and literature in India that dates back centuries where there is still a standard of beauty revolving around fair skin. I remember reading an ancient Indian poem in my world history textbook back in high school where it praised the young woman for her “skin as fair a milk” or something like that – I remember reading it and thinking, whoa, can’t blame the Brits for that one.

    It may just be the Harrappan civilization thing where aryans came down from the north or whatever. I’m interested in finding out myself.

  41. I have often wondered whether preference for lighter or darker skin color can be equated to racism.

    sure. but south asians are racists against other races too. though racism against blacks on these comment boards are relatively taboo, it is not uncommon to “let it rip” when it comes to whites and east asians, probably because they’re seen as privileged groups. but i know many SM commenters (or at least people i know personally and have met who comment or read here) are rather turned off by that unguarded tendency. but there’s obvious implicit racism against south indians sometimes too. e.g., people from andhara pradesh who assert that they shouldn’t be confused for madrasis and mallus for example are reflecting a particular set of values in terms of the hierarchy of status (though i think many american south asians are kind of confused by this since the “deep north” sucks so much).

    Darker=uglier; Lighter=prettier is a well known belief among many South Asians I’ve encountered. The question for me is how that idea was created/reshaped. Is it colonially derived, is it a product of exposure/integration into a then-explicitly racist global economy, is it a more recent phenomenon, what are the roots in South Asian contemporary or precolonial realities, etc.

    you may find the rise and fall of the caucasian race of interest. the question you’re asking is broad, and i’ve tried to dig into this. here are some facts which seem clear: the muslim conquerors of south asia expressed distinct prejudice against the natives, who they perceived as blacks. there was an obvious distinction between white muslims (from iran and turan) and black muslims, the descendants of converts (that is, my ancestors! :-) . i have read that some of the color terms in parts of the subcontinent go back specifically to this period…though the main issue i would have is that such much textual stuff has no trail beyond the muslim period anyhow. when the british showed up and there was some parity between muslims and british there was an attempt by the british and muslims to view each other as whites as opposed to the blacks of hindustan. this was totally a dead end with the decline and fall of muslim power.

    I guess science so far has shown that dark skinned people first came to India and moved South… then the Aryan types came in the north (Harrappan civilization) which was supposed to be from further north– and probably lighter skinned… then later Moghuls came and conquered… also lighter skinned… then the British…

    the history you’re presenting is really, really, unclear. no one knows what type the harrappan civilization was. though we probably will in the near future since they practiced inhumnation and not cremation (making DNA extraction possible). you are correct that there are two ancestral types which are evident in the subcontinent of course, the genetics seems to strongly point to this now, one being european-like, and one far less so. the ancient hindu texts do seem to evince racial prejudice from what i can tell, but it was more like that in brazil or mexico. plenty of brahmins seem to have been “sons of black women.”

    i’d be curious as to documentation for color-based racism between the rise of the mauryas and the arrival of the muslims, because i don’t see it then (though that depends on how you date some of the puranas).

  42. “the history you’re presenting is really, really, unclear.”

    I wasn’t really trying to be clear… just throwing out some possibilities..

  43. I never said “invasion” sheesh!

    Anyways, I didn’t study Indian history… so I really don’t know that much.. as I said.. I was throwing out possibilities… all your examples seem to be leaving out Mughals?

    But Sanskrit is an Indo-European language… so there has to be a connection somewhere, na?

  44. I stopped commenting on sepia threads many years ago, because they all devolve into the kinda goop about fair vs dark, did we inherit it from whitey?, I grew up in WASPville, my family thinks black people are monkeys, only mexican and black guys ask me out, I married brown so don’t call me gora…

    It seems like people really can’t stay on point and can only build arguments around their own experiences. Not that there is anythinng wrong with that, its just… there must b some other basis for framing arguments.

    In a way, this thread for meis about seeing how much sepia has evolved… :(

    I’m a man with no country, caught between the jacinta lal/paul henry’s and the predictability of sepia posters :(

  45. But Sanskrit is an Indo-European language… so there has to be a connection somewhere, na?

    don’t go there. you won’t be able to reason with them.