Thursday, January 21, 2010

Racism within races

This New York Times article is a rare look at what the author calls colourism. Colourism isn't quite racism, but it's a preference among blacks, Latinos, East and South Asians for lighter skin. The article starts with a mention of US Senator Harry Reid, who felt that Barack Obama is popular because he is light-skinned. To be light-skinned, it shows, doesn't just mean you look better to some people. Rather, it can make you more money, save your life and have a host of positive effects.

When my older brother was young, he once spent an entire summer playing tennis by himself. He became very good at tennis, to this day, but he also became darker, or at least so I theorize. This lack of foresight on his part may well cost him money down the road, unfortunately, unless he makes it as a professional tennis player.

Sometimes I receive compliments from other Pakistanis for having lighter skin, and a light-skinned cousin receives a lot of compliments. "He's totally white," is what they say, which is somehow a compliment. Left unsaid is that he's apparently uglier than the 80% of whites who are lighter and, therefore, better-looking than he is.

It might be comical to anybody who's white, but I've seen a few websites and one religious matchmaking service that broke down the complexion of their largely South Asian membership into about a half-dozen shades. It's hard to imagine that this question, like the job interview here where an employer hamhandedly asked "where are your parents from?" and then not-so-discreetly made a note of the answer on my resume, is not simply because the questioner really wants to know.

In Korea at least, and perhaps also South Asia, lighter skin is considered more attractive because people with dark skin worked in the fields. Both of these are something to look down in Korea, which is peculiar since two generations ago, virtually everybody here was a dirt-poor farmer. Memories are short, though, so in the summer women and children wear Darth Vader-like visors and carry umbrellas to protect themselves from the evils of the sun.

It's ironic, of course. It's one thing if whites prefer lighter-skinned blacks or Indians, but it's another for minorities, who already know what it's like to be stereotyped and face discrimination, to practice this themselves. The racism against blacks among both South Asian and East Asian communities is simply astonishing. I've heard friends and relatives say things like "he's black, but he was nice" and "even though she's black, she's good-looking". Neither would tolerate "oh, that Chinese guy..." or "that weird terrorist-looking guy", but then, neither seems to think very hard.


Alex said...

Did you find love at the religious matchmaking service?

Adeel said...

No, the complexion of my head wasn't black enough.

Jennifer said...

Interesting article for sure.

Your last point about racism against blacks by South Asians and East Asians is quite a different thing than colourism, though, either within a community or from outside. It nevertheless always suprises me how people in groups with a strong history of discrimination can discriminate against other races or religions.

Shan said...

I think this is why my brother is the favourite child. He has on occasion been mistaken for Greek!

Goraness is always a plus.

Shan said...

And then white people want to be all tan. Amazing.

I guess that's why they say the grass is always greener on the other side. But Martians would probably say the dirt is always redder.

andré said...

I don't want to be tan. I just love oranges.