DARE TO ASK: South Asians and matters of skin color
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
South Asia is very poor. Many South Asians are as dark as black people. So
why are most Indians and other South Asians outside of Asia so arrogant,
especially toward blacks?
Alison, 23, Afro-Caribbean, New York
My South Asian friends aren't arrogant. Your problem might be your attitude,
because you make a lot of generalizations about South Asians.
Michelle, 23, black, Fort Worth, Texas
This sort of racism exists in India, too, where men prefer lighter-skinned
brides. Also, the media doesn't portray a very positive picture of black people
Amita, Asian, Mumbai, India
Alison: I have noticed the same thing. I think they act this way because
white people tell foreigners when they come to the United States that it is OK
to treat black people like trash.
Chris, black, Waldorf, Md.
White people do not tell South Asians to denigrate black people when they
come to this country. What do you think, there are secret info sessions for
Indians and Pakistanis when they immigrate where white people tell them what's
Todd, Washington, D.C.
I'm from the sub-continent. In South Asia you would get discriminated
against, most importantly on skin color. It goes back a few thousand years, when
the Aryans entered India. They invented the caste system, which put them at the
top and [darker-skinned] locals at the bottom. Almost everyone there has the
same view: black should be kept away from white. Not all South Asians think like
this, but generally they do.
Asian male, 21, Australia
After weeks of interview requests were greeted with silence from Asian-Indian
societies, professors and Indian political groups, we got the message: People
aren't dying to talk about this one.
Undeterred, we called New York attorney Nandini N. Ramnath, who's done work
for Human Rights Watch and last year took heat for a Beliefnet.com essay in
which she rapped Indians and Hindus for prejudiced attitudes about skin color.
While most Indians born in America don't harbor condescending "wink-wink,
hush-hush" attitudes about darker skin, it's not always the case for older
Indians, many of whom arrived here with little and worked hard to succeed, said
Ramnath, who is second-generation.
"There's a real lack of understanding. ... As much as it was difficult to
find a job and get settled, they still didn't have a legacy of racial
discrimination here that hindered their performance in the way it can hinder
One need only look to popular skin-lightening creams in South Asia such as
Unilever's "Fair & Lovely" to see how entrenched views in the homeland are about
the allure of paler skin, Ramnath added.
"Even my mother told me 'Don't go in the sun, you'll get dark and won't be
attractive.' I said 'Mom, I'm going to the beach and there's nothing you can say
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information.