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1 Obdicut  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 7:36:59am

Indians definitely do not believe they are all the same 'race'.

2 Lobengula  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 8:25:29am

In South Africa, we have a skin lightening product called AMBI cream, very popular with the blacks. It stands for "Africans may be improved," or so the "joke" goes.
As for the indians, they have a fascination with women with light skin and light hair, as evidenced by the use of such girls in their music videos and cheerleading their cricket teams. This particular ad demonstrates that it's not simply lighter skin that is sought, but a more Caucasian appearance; not only does the girl's skin become milky white, her hair becomes blonde and her eyes blue - which is why the tanning bed analogy is contemptible.

3 Sionainn  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 8:45:34am

re: #2 Lobengula

In South Africa, we have a skin lightening product called AMBI cream, very popular with the blacks. It stands for "Africans may be improved," or so the "joke" goes.
As for the indians, they have a fascination with women with light skin and light hair, as evidenced by the use of such girls in their music videos and cheerleading their cricket teams. This particular ad demonstrates that it's not simply lighter skin that is sought, but a more Caucasian appearance; not only does the girl's skin become milky white, her hair becomes blonde and her eyes blue - which is why the tanning bed analogy is contemptible.

The woman in the commercial looks like a freak. It's really too bad when people are so unhappy with their skin color and try to make themselves look Caucasian. They look much more beautiful with their own coloring (skin, hair, and eyes).

4 Interesting Times  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 10:05:55am

re: #1 Obdicut

Indians definitely do not believe they are all the same 'race'.

To say nothing of the vile and horrid caste system. And I think this may be where the skin-lightening thing originates from - dark complexions (note how the beautician quoted refers to it as a "deep tan") are associated with lowly outdoor work, the kind poor people or members of the "untouchable" caste do. Conversely, a light complexion is associated with wealth, power, superiority, etc.

Pakistan doesn't have India's caste system, but the automatic association between dark skin and a lower, less worthy class still exists. I suspect this kind of prejudice occurs in East Asia as well (China, Japan, etc - remember the dead-white rice makeup for high-class Geisha girls? Also, cosmetic manufacturers have noticed that paler shades are more popular in China)

So, it may be class prejudice as opposed to racial. Dark skin = poor unworthy peon, pale skin = delicate, precious, wealthy aristocracy 9_9

5 CuriousLurker  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 11:48:31am

re: #1 Obdicut

That doesn't surprise me I guess. As soon as I typed that I started thinking about the Indo-Aryan & Iranian language groups and the migration of Indo-Aryan peoples from Central Asia into the Indian sub-continent.I know that Iranians (most vehemently) consider themselves to be a different race from the Arabs.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, it was during that migration that the caste system first appeared. Then again, the entry on the caste system that pS linked to says there is "no universally accepted theory about the origins of the Indian caste system".

6 CuriousLurker  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 11:54:21am

re: #2 Lobengula

Thanks for the insight. It's good to know we have someone from South Africa who can give us a different perspective. What an awful "joke" and what an awful commercial.

7 CuriousLurker  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 11:59:51am

re: #3 Sionainn

The woman in the commercial looks like a freak. It's really too bad when people are so unhappy with their skin color and try to make themselves look Caucasian. They look much more beautiful with their own coloring (skin, hair, and eyes).

QFT. There is beauty in every group, and IMO it's brought out even more when traditional clothing is worn as in tends to complement the natural beauty and really make it shine.

8 CuriousLurker  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 12:10:53pm

re: #4 publicityStunted

I had the same thought about it being from the caste system and being more about class, but I wasn't sure. I figured seeing the same in Pakistani society was related even though, as you said, they don't have a caste system. I wonder if the days of British colonialism reinforced that?

I hadn't thought about the geisha's & such in East Asian. Good observation.

9 The Ghost of a Flea  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 2:17:45pm

There's a bunch of different things that contribute to skin tone politics in India, many of which recapitulate the politics/aesthetics of skin tones in other parts of the world. They all suck, but they create a gestalt setup in India where it's hard to tease out all the discrete sucky elements (in a suck chromotagraph, of course).

1. Skin color as indicator of laboring class. Sun exposure means manual laborer. Pares with similar discrimination in East Asia...China, Japan, and Korea I know of personally.

2. Skin color as measure of North-South. It's not prolific, but in the north of India you will find individuals and groups that have prejudicial attitudes towards those from South India. This contains a racial element, as Southerns have more Dravidian features (wide face, flatter nose, dark brown skin), and you'll hear people referred to as "darkies"--it doesn't have quite the same vehemence as that term in the US South, but is loaded with contempt and condescension. Some folks incorporate into this a component of "they took arw jobz!" as particularly in urban areas like Delhi there's an influx of South Indians seeking employment. Southerns also get crap for not talking right...SI languages are Dravidian, and it marks their Hindi, and those from SI rural areas may have pretty limited Hindi...and for holding jobs on the service/cheap labor end of the spectrum--though this last bit becomes a sort of Moebius-loop phenomena with all the other issues.

There's a similar interest in skin-whitening in South America...though with a very different set of racial schematics...where women don't want to look too black or too indigenous.

I should add that South Indians are not passively accepting about these judgements. There's the equivalent of "black is beautiful" and a tremendous pride in Dravidian culture that are free-standing, not reactionary, as well as a conscious push-back against stereotypes laid on them by Northerners.

10 The Ghost of a Flea  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 2:21:04pm

Regarding caste:

Skin color is sometimes seen as an indicator of varna/jati/regionality--shorthanded as "caste" but way more complicated than the typical "four social classes" most people hear about...which are really, really ancient constructs that we're not sure how they played out in actual history. As stated above, the general theory is that varnas entered the subcontinent with the Indo-Europeans, but the spatter-pattern of the concept suggests that it collides with a separate social classification system and the two synthesized.

The fast-and-dirty is that there's the four varna (and two outlier categories, but that a tale for another day)--the "castes" everyone knows from Brahmanic texts and their World Civ class--but inside the varna are differentiated groups that are basically inherited statuses associated with one's trade and societal niche...these are jatis, and they too are arranged into rough hierarchical structures. So there's both a bloodline component and a status component related to ritual purity/pollution built into one's daily tasks. However, jatis aren't uniform across geography or time. Change your profession or location...or just get really good at local intrigue...and a jati can rise or fall.

The joke told by the gypsies my dad roamed with was:
Q: "How does a chandala (untouchable) become a Brahmin?"
A: "Walk two villages over."

[One of the great shake-ups in Indian anthropology was fellows like McKim Marriot recording in real-time the re-categorization of a jati by cunning exploitation of the ritual and social criterion that set their relative status in a specific community, and big names like Srinivas and Ambedkar aggregating and theorizing--leading to the "sanskritization." This has led to a re-evaluation of older monographs (mostly by Britons) that present caste as perfectly static.]

Regionality makes things even more complicated. Every region has their own pickling recipe and their own born-status hierarchy that makes a ladder out of the four varna. When two regional standards intermingle, there's a lot of jockeying and rhetoric on who takes what position...but as more people move more distance those formal hierarchical distinctions are being flattened into something closer to regional stereotyping as an aspect of class. There are a couple of weird regional pissing contests that can be observed, like NI Brahmins poo-pooing SI Brahmins and SI Brahmins viewing NI ones as BrINOs.

Modern factors, like population dispersion, caste-based affirmative action (BC/OBC status is a good thing for a bunch of practical reasons), capitalist economics and consumption-driven identity have made this whole dynamic way, way more complicated, to the point that I can't explain the picture meaningfully...more Boston Brahmins than Vedic ones.

11 prairiefire  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 2:33:50pm

My Japanese mother in law prides herself on her light complexion. "When I was younger, the older ladies told my mom I could be Geisha because I am so fair."
In Hawaii there are lots of ads on TV and in the shops for blemish removers, skin and teeth whiteners and brighteners.
It seems to be a worldwide cultural phenomena, I don't know why.

12 The Ghost of a Flea  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 2:34:03pm

Last chunk, I swear:

Skin color as aesthetic feature reflecting the preferences of hegemons: theoretically, first the Arya...but 100% confirmably the tastes of the Mughals and British, and much moreso the latter.

I not sure I can put a finger on the "where/wherefore" of Mughal tastes in skin color, but it likely traces to the various cultural sources that blended to make Babur's people: Turks, steppe people, Afghans, Persians. There's a lot of North Indian regions where "white is right" meshes with centuries of people of Central Asian background lording over serfs, intermarrying, and establishing a social distinction in which color is indexical of class...for example, the Kashmiri Pandits, who are descended from Turkic peoples but now style themselves Brahmins, and can be really insufferable about how great they are. These are the people who got kicked out of Kashmir because their tenant farmers decided to take that "no class distinction" part of Islam very seriously.

The British...well, there's a ton of paperwork demonstrating that with regarding to India, the Brits thought the tall, fair-skinned people were better people...morally, mentally, aesthetically...than the shorter brown ones, and justified this thinking with the cutting edge in anthropometrics, race science, and lineage from Noah's sons. Pathan resistance fighters were glorious adversaries, Bengali protestors were horrible amoral brown monkeys. Even as Indians of all ethnic varieties got British educations and took administrative positions, the British heaped scorn on the Western-suit wearing "babus"--who very invariably depicted as short, brown, and engaged in mimicry of their betters--set in contrast to the dignity of the unreconstructed "warrior classes" of Indian, who were described as taller, paler, and self-possessed. And they had zero problem laying out this distinction for their Indian subjects: a lot of the "darkies" stuff you hear nowadays from North Indians echoes British categories and descriptors, though I can't prove that's a causation rather than a correlation.

Look no farther than British impressions of Mohandas Gandhi to see the trend I'm talking about...and to see the impact, look at the sad, sad arguments Gandhi made in South Africa trying to set apart Indians from the local (black) Africans at the beginning of his activist career. British racial categories--degrees of blackness--had a very powerful effect on Indians attempted to define themselves within the Raj, and a lot of energy is expelled by scholars and thinkers trying to "demonstrate" that India was a worthy civilization. Retrospectively, it's a messed up-read: you got the colonized petitioning the colonizers to accord them agency. I truly wonder if some of those writers/thinkers weren't intensely aware of the British treatment of blacks in Africa, and were frightened to be ascribed the same qualities...and thus acceptable targets for the same treatment.

PS chromatograph.

13 Lord Baron Viscount Duke Earl Count Planckton  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 2:38:22pm

re: #10 The Ghost of a Flea

The joke told by the gypsies my dad roamed with was:
Q: "How does a chandala (untouchable) become a Brahmin?"
A: "Walk two villages over."

That's fascinating for me. How many Gypsy groups saved this folkloric knowledge back from their Indian roots?

14 CuriousLurker  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 3:03:16pm

re: #9 The Ghost of a Flea

re: #10 The Ghost of a Flea

re: #12 The Ghost of a Flea

Wow, that's some fascinating stuff, thank you! Have I told you how much I enjoy your posts? You're very eloquent and even when you go a little bit over my head, I still enjoy your words immensely. It helps that you also have a sense of humor. The terms "suck chromatograph" and "BrINOs" are keepers. LOL

I wish you would comment more often. If you ever decide to write a book, let me know and I'll pre-order it. I'm not joking.

15 CuriousLurker  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 3:11:00pm

re: #11 prairiefire

My Japanese mother in law prides herself on her light complexion. "When I was younger, the older ladies told my mom I could be Geisha because I am so fair."
In Hawaii there are lots of ads on TV and in the shops for blemish removers, skin and teeth whiteners and brighteners.
It seems to be a worldwide cultural phenomena, I don't know why.

Sheesh, me neither, but I sure I wish I knew why. I wonder if in places where no one has ever seen a fair skinned person the same holds true. That is, if there are even places like that left anymore...

16 CuriousLurker  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 3:25:58pm

re: #12 The Ghost of a Flea

I have a question; well, actually it more like wondering out loud as I chew on all this:

1.) Does/did the same prejudice exist in societies where there is/was no contact with fair skinned people?

2.) If darker skin tones are related to outdoor manual labor, does the prejudice still exist in nomadic societies where everyone is outdoors all the time?

3.) If it reflects the preferences of hegemons, what happened in societies where the hegemons had the same general physical appearance as the common man? Was some other trait then deemed inferior? For example language/accent, dress, religion, etc...? I ask because it seems that every "tribe" of humans seems to feel the need to show that they're superior to others in some way.

17 The Ghost of a Flea  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 6:24:25pm

re: #13 Sergey Romanov

That's fascinating for me. How many Gypsy groups saved this folkloric knowledge back from their Indian roots?

Mm. My bad: I use the word "gypsy" to refer to a niche of good-and-services nomads that are found around the world...it's niche that doesn't have and clearly-accepted name like "pastoralists" or "foragers," so the fallback label tends to be miniscule-g gypsies. My dad tried to promote "peripatetic" as the niche term. I'm not sure it ever stuck--I think it's a good word, but it can makes things confusing when people know the term strictly from the Classical philosophers.

The groups my dad were around were not Rom, but rather multiple tribes circulating the same clientele routes through India and Pakistan. This included street entertainers (the Qalandar), snake charmers (Nath Kabilya or Jogi), bangle sellers/makers (Churigur), and many others. They're very much imbedded in South Asia, and while liminal to the caste system (depending on the day of the week, they're untouchable or they're "outsiders" (mleccha), they're very astute at observing and adapting to the local politics. More than a few were adept at presenting themselves as observant Muslims and/or Hindus, depending on what the next village was....

18 The Ghost of a Flea  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 6:31:33pm

re: #16 CuriousLurker

I have a question; well, actually it more like wondering out loud as I chew on all this:

Cultural phenomena can look universal, but if you deconstruct their contextual factors you realize the same result has come from a bunch of different pathways. Heck, even in India I couldn't give you a Why? on skin color prejudice because there's a bunch of different ways it could come about, and it's really hard to divvy up the individual act/statement of prejudice in the current day to an origin in the cultural mindset.

19 The Ghost of a Flea  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 6:46:15pm
1.) Does/did the same prejudice exist in societies where there is/was no contact with fair skinned people?

The big "yes" example would be East Asia...Japan, Korea, China...where pale=pretty stands independent of European influences.

But there's a general equation. Pale is pretty because dark skin means sun exposure, sun exposure means outdoor labor--usually agricultural--and outdoor labor means being poor, being uneducated (as an individual or a social class), and having no leisure time.

Presumably there are societies where that set of assumptions aren't continuous, and thus pale=pretty isn't an aesthetic theme. The obvious modern example being "having a tan is sexy, but especially an even, unbroken tan."

2.) If darker skin tones are related to outdoor manual labor, does the prejudice still exist in nomadic societies where everyone is outdoors all the time?

I really only know of the skin tone aesthetic in sedentary cultures that have developed stable social niches for governance, rituals, and scholarship...ie where non-physical labor means you're doing intellectual labor that is more highly rewarded and likely higher assigned status.

20 The Ghost of a Flea  Sat, Sep 24, 2011 7:10:48pm
3.) If it reflects the preferences of hegemons, what happened in societies where the hegemons had the same general physical appearance as the common man? Was some other trait then deemed inferior? For example language/accent, dress, religion, etc...? I ask because it seems that every "tribe" of humans seems to feel the need to show that they're superior to others in some way.

People map identity onto bodies in a lot of different ways. An important subset of this are social identifiers...the "where do I fit in social scheme" indicators. These serve a very simple function: you know who you're approaching, and thus how you're going to interact with them. Sort of like how military insignias structure an interaction between servicemen. Basically, you can have social interactions without knowing the person: you know their position, relative to your position [NB: This is not necessarily hierarchical.]--that's pretty much the key to having a society that encompasses a lot of space and a lot of people.

The how and why of "pretty is as the powerful do"--I can't give an authoritative answer. Humans make unwarranted associations between intangible qualities and physical objects, wash rinse repeat. I'm tempted to go to a Foucalt place with it all--Power=Sex, Power Symbol=Sex Symbol, but really can't back that up.

Everywhere there's hierarchy, there's display rules: who can wear what, do what, consume what, speak how to whom. We live in a comparative madhouse where almost everything can be had for a price: for most of history, goods and services...even intangibles such as etiquette...could be and were marked--if you are of X status, you can have Y. Purchasing power had an imposed ceiling...though this barrier was routinely cracked and patched, to continue a metaphor.

The examples are myriad and sometimes effin' crazy.

21 CuriousLurker  Sun, Sep 25, 2011 1:57:40am

re: #18 The Ghost of a Flea

re: #19 The Ghost of a Flea

re: #20 The Ghost of a Flea

You've given me lots to think about. Thanks for taking the time to respond.

The examples are myriad and sometimes effin' crazy.

Humanity is effin' crazy...it's crazy, and horrible yet wonderful, and cruel yet compassionate, and fascinating yet utterly exasperating... *throws hands in air*


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