Sunday, January 21, 2007

Blackface Because?

I just got an email day before yesterday from a fellow black American who enjoys Bollywood films:

I find the subject of racist attitudes in my beloved Bollywood a fascinating one. It saddened me to hear of the mistreatment of Shilpa Shetty on Celebrity Big Brother in the UK and when I tried to learn about her, I stumbled upon this image:It comes from a 2004 article: http://www.indiantelevision.com/tube/y2k4/aug/augtube33.htm

After seeing this, I realized how long it's been since I've seen a person in blackface. Then I remembered that I was born in the eighties and the only blackface that I'm familiar with comes from documentary footage. So now, I'm having a bit of a crisis. I love Bollywood films but I feel conflicted with supporting an industry that constantly portrays Blacks in a negative light. I've ignored movies where we are seen as token criminals, glossed over stereotypical expressions in film dialogues and viewed the Rimi Sen comment as an isolated incident. However, blackface is pretty darn hard to excuse. How do I express my love for Hindi cinema, while acknowledging my disdain for the cultural ignorance and racism within its community? I'm at a loss.

-M.
My response:
You're right. That behavior is ignorant as hell. It's also interesting to note that the guy in the picture is wearing a curly wig as if to say, "Don't worry, I'm not making fun of dark skinned Indians, I'm clearly portraying someone of more closely African descent."

Unlike the US, India doesn't have very many black skinned people of prominence and influence. It wasn't until the civil rights movement brought international attention to black Americans (and Dr. King won the Nobel Peace Prize) that the US was embarrassed into decrying blackface. It's also important to note that there was no federal imperative to do so. People in the entertainment industry simply found it in poor taste as they began--not only to rub shoulders with--but to admire various black Americans for their achievements. India has no such influence to offer a catalyst for change (other than increasing globalization).

It will probably never disappear completely (it hasn't in the US) but I think the offensive portrayals will continue to decrease as India continues to embrace globalization and more of its foreign-educated children take control.

As for me personally, I continue to enjoy the good and use my blog to address the things that need to change.

-t.
All right friends, correct me if I'm wrong. I have faith in you!

49 comments:

indianoguy said...

"Unlike the US, India doesn't have very many black skinned people of prominence and influence"

I beg to differ, Rajnikanth and Abdul Kalam are black skinned. But I would say Indians are racist towards not just Blacks, but towards every other race. BTW that applies to Whites, Blacks, Chinese....

An average Indian in India or for that matter an African in Africa is far more racist than most white people in Western countries. Me and my Nigerian friends used to tell our white friends in UK that we (Not personally but as a race) are more racist than they ever could be.

I agree with you regarding embracing globalization, I am a typical example. Once I made friends with Black, Chinese and white people, my prejudice against them disappeared, oh except for the French. I still don't like them :)

Anonymous said...

First and foremost i'd like to apologise for commenting uninvited, I stumbeld on your blog(God knows how!!) and then read this piece about Shilpa Shetty. I'd like to ask whether portraying somebody with BLACKFACE is considered an offence in US(Pardon me for any distress caused)? I am asking this coz in India its regularly done(People do don WHITEFACE as well). As far as this partiuclar show is considered, then, if i can recall, this certain makeup was to depict a West-Indian Fast bowler(Cricket player). I have no knowledge whatsoever of the race issues in US and hence, i'd like to say sorry on behalf of the Indian people, if this picture has hurt your sensibilities!!!!
An Indian
PS: Your blog is amazing

Daddy's Girl said...

As an 'African in Africa', I have to totally disagree with indianoguy about being 'far more racist' than white people in the West.

To fully explain why I disagree would take up too much space - but I will say that I am yet to meet a non-African living in my country who will say they were disrespected, discriminated against or mistreated for the simple reason of their skin colour. I, on the contrary, had a number of such experiences during trips to the west.

Sure there are stereotypes and prejudices about non-blacks, and sure you will get stared at in the streets if you have a different skin colour (the vaaaast majority of us are black), but in my experience non-blacks are actually treated much better than the indigenes.

But maybe that's not what indianoguy means by being racist...

Daddy's Girl said...

Forgot to say (just in case it seems like I'm fine with it) I have a problem with non-blacks being treated better in Africa than indigenes. Everyone should be accorded the same level of respect (utopian, I know).

indianoguy said...

I was just watching "Have your say" on BBC. Its quite interesting, Couple of Africans living in US and UK complained about Black on Black racism. It also has couple of Indians from India complaining about the treatment of their fellow Indians. BTW racism in Western countries is different from racism in the developing world. I believe there is a problem of Christian Africans discriminating against Musilim Africans in Nigeria. My Christian Nigerian friends told me about that.

MoJo said...

"I'd like to ask whether portraying somebody with BLACKFACE is considered an offence in US?"

Hello.I'm providing a link to the article on blackface in Wikipedia. The article provides a thorough history of the practice.

One thing that the article might not share completely is how hurtful this practice is to many African-Americans. It represents a time when we were considered so beneath the dominant culture that our features, our music, and way of life, were shown to be beneath contempt, but worthy of mockery.

Blackface is a reminder of American beliefs that were considered acceptable before the Civil Rights Movement. Considering the fact that this is fairly recent history, and many around the world have yet to learn about how negative a practice it is, blackface still has the power to hurt.

Peace and respect.

Indian Parrot said...

I agree with indianoguy. I am from the south. And I can tell you there are black people. And most of the major south indian fil stars are black, Rajnikanth, vijaykanth, vijay. All the major politicians in the south are black. Black except with straight hair. Now it would be very hard to interpret what the picture means. There was a controversial picture taken on the day of sep 11, with a few americans looking like they were lazily relaxing(getting a tan) in front of the brooklyn river seeing the towers go down. But one of the guys who was in the picture wrote a wonderful reply about how 2 dimensional pictures might be very misleading(i will try to find the link). Without seeing the show, it would be very hard interpret the picture. This might mean something else in US, but in India it might be a harmless portrayal of a West Indies cricketer. I am not saying racism does not exist in India. But pictures can lie.

Shalini said...

Great post, T-hype. As an Indian who was born and brought up in India and who now lives in the US, I have to say that I am ashamed with the unabashed racist portrayal of black people in India.

I don't really want to get into whether Indians are more racist than other people. I will say this, though: yes, many Indians are racist, but so are many Americans. I'm not trying to be provacative with this statement. What I mean is, although you won't see much blackface in America, you will still find many Americans who hold deeply-rooted racist beliefs about blacks and other minorites. Just because they are not open about it doesn't mean it is not there. I can't tell you the number of times white colleagues or fellow students have felt comfortable (for some reason) describing their disdain for black Americans. When I called them on it, they were almost surprised that I didn't share their views. It's this whole, "You're the the problem, they are" attitude.

So I would agree with T-Hype and say, let's consider the good coming out of Bollywood and call the bad stuff out when it occurs. I think many educated Indians are cognizant of the civil rights movement and regularly decry the treatment of blacks in America (especially after events like Hurricane Katrina).

With all that being said, I want to make one more point. And this is NOT meant to excuse any sort of racist behavior on the part of Indians. But from my experience living in India, many Indians do not see the harm in blackface. That is because the racist connotations connected with blackface must be seen within the context of a certain time in America. When it was performed in America, it was a way to demean, degrade and belittle black Americans. But if you were to call an Indian out on it (for example, see Kareena Kapoor and Fardeen Khan in the film Khushi), they would sincerely say something to the effect of, "We just wanted to portray black people" or "We didn't know it was offensive, we were just portraying a caricature." I really don't think that excuses it, but my point is that we have to put racist practices in context. India never had a blackface period, nor was the issue of racism really in the forefront of the public's mind.

Let me give an example: when non-Indians in America started applying bindis, saris and henna and started carrying bags with Hindu deities on them, they didn't think it was racist. They probably thought, "Oh, look at me, I'm being worldly and global and exotic." But I found it very offensive. Most white people who did all that stuff really just saw it as ornamentation, whereas it meant a lot more to me because of my Indian context.

You also have to note that India is not like America - we don't have race wars like you guys do. We have religious tensions, and that's something parallel that we can discuss. For example, educated Hindus very often feel for the plight of Muslims, who are often discriminated against in India. But in America, they are the 'enemy,' and routinely discriminated against of national TV. Of course there is a very strong anti-Muslim sentiment in India, but there is also a very strong pro-tolerance movement (which you don't really see in America).

So I don't know. But I do want to ask your fellow blogger this: when Hollywood films come out with their various stereotype/racist portrayal of the month (currently focusing on Middle Eastern people, but of course this list has included every minority in American imaginable), did you stop watching Hollywood? Or did you stop watching films by certain directors, with certain actors, with certain themes? I don't think you can write off all of Bollywood because of these incidents.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Actually, I've seen blackface in a few other Bollywood films as well. Blackface is alive and well in Korea http://wk.koreaherald.co.kr/SITE/data/html_dir/2003/02/27/200302270007.asp Japan http://www.mixedmediawatch.com/2006/06/05/is-blackface-in-japan-racist/
and Europe http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1264/is_n8_v28/ai_20039487 It is also alive and well in South and Central America. However, its use can never be justified. We must remember that the images (of Africans and their descendants in the New World) that are shown overseas are usually negative; I doubt The Cosby Show was a hit in any of these countries.
Regarding India, skin color is a controversial subject; ever see a dark (I mean really dark) skinned star? So, I believe blackface in India (as well as other countries) is just an extension of the status quo regarding skin color; anything lighter is better. I doubt many people outside of the US (and quite a few inside) are aware of the history of blackface. Actually what I find more offensive are all the performers who mimic "urban style" all over the world, just to be "cool", while expressing little respect for Africam American art forms (and people). Tell me, how many dance sequences in recent Bollywood films have been lifted directly from BET?
Blackface is extremely offensive in any form, from its traditional context to its new forms (as explained above).
I guess Shilpa Shetty is a hypocrite.

Daddy's Girl said...

Ummm... indianoguy, I now see that, just as I suspected, my definition of racism is different from yours. I'm not sure what you mean when you say 'black on black racism', unless you're referring to, for example, lighter skinned black people discriminating against darker skinned ones (which doesn't exist in my country, although I certainly cannot speak for the rest of Africa - it's a huge continent - it may exist elsewhere).
Seems to me like what you're describing, when you talk about Christian/Muslim discrimination, is ethnic and religious discrimination, not racism.
Religious clashes ARE a big problem in Nigeria - while I'm not sure what your friends mean about there being 'a problem of Christian Africans discriminating against Muslim Africans in Nigeria'; it's no news that, from time to time, Christians have been attacked and churches burned in the predominantly muslim north; which has led to highly condemnable retaliatory attacks against northerners living in other parts of the country. It's a more complex issue than just religious discrimination, by the way - it's a mix of ethnic, cultural and religious factors - and it's exacerbated by complex political issues.
But I personally would not qualify that as racism - because all the protagonists belong to the same race - and do not have a problem with each other one the basis of their race. Of course, religious and ethnic discrimination are just as bad as racial discrimination, but they just aren't the same thing.
I guess that, apart from the fact that our definitions of racism clearly differ, I also had a problem with your comment because it seems to make such a sweeping generalization of a massive continent, purely on the strength of the opinions of some of your friends. Not trying to be facetious - but would really be interested to know if you've actually been to Nigeria, and if so, what your impressions were with regard to 'racism' or other forms of discrimination.
Sorry for the long comment.

Monica said...

"But I do want to ask your fellow blogger this: when Hollywood films come out with their various stereotype/racist portrayal of the month (currently focusing on Middle Eastern people, but of course this list has included every minority in American imaginable), did you stop watching Hollywood?"

When Shalini asked this question I was finally able to put things in perspective. Yes, blackface is hurtful to African-Americans, but it is also a part of American culture that has been exported all over the world, often without any explanation of its historical and cultural background. This leads to blackface being seen as an acceptable practice to many outside the United States.

Therefore, we should not ignore the responsibility of Americans in the global spread of our racist stereotypes. From the blackface performances of Eddie Cantor, to film roles with Latinos as domestic servants, South Asians as cab drivers and convenience store clerks, all the way to Arab terrorists, Hollywood has been and is the leading exporter of negative images of people of color. So I cannot judge Bollywood films for their insensitivity in the portrayal of blacks without looking closer to home.

Blackface and its many manifestations were born out of U.S. popular culture. In fact, I truly believe that contemporary films like The Wash and Soul Plane are modern day minstrel shows. However, I continue to watch Hollywood movies.

Why should I judge Hindi cinema more harshly than movies that are released in the U.S.? I believe that I shouldn't, but in regards to either film industry, I also believe that racism, especially in it so-called "harmless" forms should not be tolerated.

t-hype said...

Man you guys got some good discussion going on!

As for "who's the more rascist" I think it's fair enough to say that certain groups are simply more outspoken, about such beliefs than others. Human nature is the same regardless of ethnicity so no doubt there's die-hard racists everywhere.

"Oh, look at me, I'm being worldly and global and exotic."
lol Shalini! Around Halloween I read a couple of great posts about the "dressing up as a different race" gaining popularity...

"the performers who mimic "urban style" all over the world, just to be "cool", while expressing little respect for Africam American art forms (and people). Anon, that's a dissertation waiting to happen...

For me, my primary beef with the phenomenon--is that it's an isolated image of black people in an unfortunately unchallenged vacuum of knowlege about black people. That's all. In places like East Asia, or Northern Europe, as one of the commenters pointed out, there isn't enough positive interaction on a regular basis to counteract the negative images.

Just as someone brought up the "Muslim terrorist" caricature--at this point in American history, there aren't enough positive images in media to counterbalance the effects of predominately negative portrayals. Likewise, blackface in majority non-black areas.

t-hype said...

Oh. I forgot. Another thing to take notice of is that I have never--so please tell me if you have--seen someone don blackface to do a positive portrayal of a black person. (As in, this particular character is an articulate, person of influence, etc.)

Just food for thought.

Daddy's Girl said...

o"I think the offensive portrayals will continue to decrease as India continues to embrace globalization and more of its foreign-educated children take control."

That statement kinda scares me, cos I'm kinda ambivalent about the whole globalization thing, but anyway, T-Hype, is the above statement a criticism of the Indian education system, an endorsement of foreign education (as a 'mind opener'), neither, or both?

Just curious...

t-HYPE said...

Good question, DG.

Globalization is not exactly the savior of the world but it's an inevitable force.

No knocks on the educational system. It's just that the elite in any country typically send their children abroad at some point and their perspective is widened by that experience. What is acceptable "at home" is not necessarily an "absolute" so far as behavior is concerned. And as we all know, the elite typically rule.

So yeah, I guess it's an endorsement of foreign education, an opportunity I desperately wish I had been able to take advantage of.

nic said...

I agree with most of what has been said here and it has been a very good discusion but there is another dimension that I would like to add. A lot of humor is based on the making fun of some person or some community/race etc. My personal opinion is that people need to learn to relax and laugh at themselves and others.

In India a particular community called the sikhs are the butt of most of the jokes but it generally doesn't cause any problem. This is so because the sikhs as a community are probably the most prosperous and are said to have a big heart. In fact most of my sikh friends not only enjoy such jokes but even tell them, themselves to have a good laugh.

So I would say fight discrimination, hatred,bullying but don't be excessively touchy as in the present globalized world
such issues will keep cropping up till cross-cultural sensitivity becomes a mandatory subject to be taught in all schools in the world.

Regarding globalization its said that India and China have probably benefited the most from it and in the time to come it would lift large numbers of people from both countries from poverty. Thats not bad considering that both the countries combined represent at least 2/5 th of all humanity.

Daddy's Girl said...

@t-hype: 'Globalization is an inevitable force' and 'the elite typically rule'.

I am afraid (very very afraid) that you are right on both points. Which makes me sad. So I am off to eat something very very fattening, after which I shall go to sleep hugging my pillow tight for comfort...

@nic: As with most things, it's where to draw the proverbial line that's problematic... it's tricky.

Anonymous said...

Nic,
I disagree with your statement "A lot of humor is based on the making fun of some person or some community/race etc. My personal opinion is that people need to learn to relax and laugh at themselves and others." There is no way that you can compare the Sikh community in India to the African community in India. How many Africans in India have prosperous businesses? Lots of close Indian friends? Lots of chances to date Indians? Having a sense of humor would not eradicate the problem. It is alot deeper than you think.

Shalini said...

Thanks for opening up this forum, T-hype :)

And Monica, you make a great point about Hollywood as a major exporter of negative portrayals.

In regards to that, my last point would be this: if you are a minority in America, you are around both open-minded and close-minded people (to put it broadly). Therefore, when Hollywood comes out with a negative portrayal of your minority group, you can differentiate between those movies and the interesting, nuanced portrayals which are both entertaining, informative and truer-to-life.

For example, Hollywood both produced "Something New" and "Sex in the City." (To give you some background, I am an Indian woman born in India but now living in America. I am currently dating a Mexican-American guy.) I found "Something New" to be a more honest, interesting and downright entertaining exploration of interracial relationships than many other films. On the other hand, as much as I like watching "Sex in the City," I often rolled my eyes and shut off my DVD player whenever one of these ladies dated a man of color. It was often just a foray into the exotic for them, and only once did I see a somewhat decent portrayal of a man of color on that show (when Blair Underwood dated Miranda, treated her wonderfully, and she dropped him like a white potato when her white ex came calling. But anyway.). Yes, Sex in the City isn't a show about interracial dating, but it is a show about dating in New York City!

Anyway, my point is this: even though I was turned off by SATC, it was refreshing to see "Something New." And because I am now somewhat of an American, because I am around a whole bunch of people who have varying degrees of interest in my background, because I imbibe various sorts of news about cultural politics in America, I was able to make a more balanced decision about Hollywood. Why? Because I know Americans, and I live in America.

My long post is basically to make this point: for those of you who are non-Indians living in all over the world, it's yucky, I'm sure, to see racist portrayals in Bollywood. It's a natural instinct to then wonder, "Is this the crap that they enjoy in India? I don't know if I want to be a part of this." And I undertand that sentiment.

But like I responded earlier, just keep in mind that India is not monolithic, that many people in India do NOT enjoy this sort of stuff, that MANY Indians in the middle-class are aware of racial politics in other countries, and that you will find a MULTITUDE of opinions about this sort of stuff in India. I can say that confidently because I was born, raised and educated there.

I have a hard time keeping things brief, so I'll try to put it like this: don't discount Indian people! Because if you are non-Indian and have never interacted with Indians in India, you may be tempted to make a blanket statement. Just like when I was growing up in India and had never been to America and heard about various injustices committed in America, I thought, "Is this what Americans are all about?" But being here, you know there are a multitude of opinions. You can say the same thing about anywhere where you haven't been or lived: I can see a racist portrayal of Indians on Australian TV and wonder, "Is this what goes on there?"

This doesn't excuse any sort of ignorance in India. But I can confidently say that in regards to this issue, where this is ignorance you will also find a whole lot of anti-ignorance.

My final point is this: let's give other countries the privilege of being diverse, too :)

Anonymous said...

I have to speak on this. First, I love this blog. I have to get one myself. Second, I too like Bollywood films, some films I should say. Because I remember watching a Bollywood film trailer where an Indian kid goes to America to find his American "desi" relatives, and these black kids, who I'm sure they hired, tried to help this Indian child blend in the ghetto buy giving him a cornrow wig and put him in blackface. Now I'm sorry, the wig would've sufficed, since the Indian child is brown, they could've said he was mixed or say he is Alicia Keys' cousin in the film. But no, they had to put on shoe polish on his face to make him darker looking to "pass".

I could only excuse Bollywood to an extent, but blackface is a definite no-no. Anyone who's studied film, especially American film, knows that this practice is extremely offensive to Blacks.

And the sad part is, that many (not all, thank goodness) non-blacks who already know that blackface is offensive, either don't think that "bad news (or stereotypes) travel very fast" or they just don't care at all. For example, when indian parrot said that "pictures can lie," I must reply with, "that picture didn't lie." If that guy was portraying a West Indies cricketer, then where's his cricket bat? Why isn't he wearing a cricket uniform? And didn't the Afro went out of style in the mid-80s anyway? That's a weak excuse. It was a racist depiction and you know it. I'm quite sure there are many dark-skinned Indians who would be offended by that picture, if the man didn't an Afro wig on. And if he didn't have that wig on, would it be any less offensive? I hope not. What would be the purpose of it? Simple, to make fun of someone. And if someone said that "she/he/I/they didn't know", isn't going to cut it in this globalized society, because anyone can Google blackface and realize that anyone wears blackface, isn't doing it for a "positive" reaction--Thanks t-hype.

I've read too many articles about drunken frat boys either getting suspended or kicked out of school for wearing afro wigs, blackface and carrying a bucket of chicken and/or watermelon at a homecoming parade, and then act like "they didn't know it was 'offensive'".

The bottom line is that blackness (more specifically black people) is considered negative in various parts of India and particularly in Bollywood, and other parts of the world where anyone that's darker is considered less than.

Globalization can be a good thing, but global pigmentocracy isn't. I hope I will able to see that this international hatred of blackness becomes just another part of the past, not just in word, but also in thought and in deeds.

Anonymous said...

I suggest that desis take a few lessons from their long lost cousins in Trinidad.
http://www.trinisoca.com/gallery2/main.php?g2_itemId=51446
http://www.trinisoca.com/gallery2/main.php?g2_itemId=51308
http://www.trinisoca.com/gallery2/main.php?g2_itemId=51224
http://www.trinisoca.com/gallery2/main.php?g2_itemId=51522

nic said...

It may seem difficult to believe but the fact of the matter is that no one in India has any idea that something called blackface
exists and that it is considered offensive by a section of people.

If you guys are still sceptical, have a look at a song called "Gore Nahin hum kale sahin" from the movie "Desh Premee".
This song has Amitabh Bachhan(the biggest star of Bollywood ever) himself donning the proverbial Blackface. Its purpose was
not to insult anyone but to have a typically fantastic bollywood sequence where the hero is singing and dancing right in front of
the villain and the villan is not able to recognize him.

If you listen to the lyrics of the song it actually praises Black people and this song was a big hit in India. I don't remember the
complete lyrics since I was in kindergarten at that time :)

Anonymous said...

"Gore Nahin hum kale sahin"
Half translation: I am not white but black.

Anonymous said...

I have a question for those who are familiar with Bollywood and Tamil movies; is blackface more prevalent in the North in comparison to the South? I've seen Indians wearing Afros in older Tamil movies or impersonating Black celebrities ( ie. Michael Jackson), but it wasn't blackface.

Pardesi Gori said...

Shalini, I'd like to know what you mean by .....

Let me give an example: when non-Indians in America started applying BINDIS, SARIS and HENNA and started carrying bags with Hindu deities on them, they didn't think it was racist. They probably thought, "Oh, look at me, I'm being worldly and global and exotic." But I found it very offensive. Most white people who did all that stuff really just saw it as ornamentation, whereas it meant a lot more to me because of my Indian context.


.............

What are the meanings behind bindis, saris and henna?

Bindis are more or less just decorations in India, unless one is wearing a red one to indicate their marital status. Saris? What's the meaning behind a sari? And henna, though worn by brides and others during a wedding, it's also worn by single and married woman just for decoration as well.

kage said...

hey T,

you knew i was going to respond to this :)

firstly i don't know what context that picture was taken in, so i don't know what exactly is going on there. but i will agree that it definitely is playing on stereotypes.

i will also agree with you and with a lot of participants here that the use of the blackface is more due to ignorance than purposeful, directed racism as engendered by the Nazis, the KKK, folks from SA believing in apartheid, or Rudyard Kipling's (the dude who wrote "Jungle book") "White man's burden".

But i am going to ask my fellow Indians how they got the impression that a great majority of Indians are racists or more racist than people in the other parts of the world. Like T points out, there aren't as many "races" in India as there are in the US... we are fortunate to have many and varied ethnic groups in India, but definitely not different races.

And, is there social strife in India? Yes, just as in the rest of the world. Does that justify its existence? No, just as in the rest of the world. Are the communal tensions racial? I don't think so because we are all essentially the same race.

the point i'm trying to make is that ignorance is different from racism. Ignorance, while still unconscionable, can be addressed with debate and education. Irrational beliefs like racism, however, can't be argued with or cured.

good job T for starting a discussion on this touchy topic and spreading the debate.

Anonymous said...

We,Indians are bloody racist...no denying that...just check out the advertisements for matchmaking services (I reckon all the non-Indians in this board/blog are aware about arranged marriages in india) in newspapers....'wheatish' is the adjective invented to describe the prospective Indian bride...

If the american Beauty industry is obsessed with getting women to obsess over their weight, the indian cosmetic industry is obsessed with getting women to obsess over their pigmentation...there is a major skin cream brand titled "Fair and Lovely"...how racist can you get??
indians taunt each other as 'kaala' or 'kaali' meaning dark one...actress kareena kappor has been rumoured to have scorned Bipasha Basu as 'kaali billi'='black cat'..so it's a common way to insult someone on the basis of skin...

If you're a middle-class girl with dark skin...you'd be treated like the 'ugly duckling' of the family...to be pitied and cursed alternatively...at least today, she(the ugly duckling) can use her brains and education to escape from the marriage mart

Indians are funny..they dont look down or despise blacks..in the sense the stereotypical rednecks do... they just dont want those genes in their family..they have no problem with their boss, or movie star or president being dark-skinned...but they dont want their wives and children that way..a black person can only dream of becoming president of USA ,a hundred and fifty years after Lincoln...but there are no such restrictions for dark skinned people in india...except when it comes to getting married

Rajnikant(from maharashtra, west of india ) had to travel to the southern most state, tamil nadu to be accepted as an actor..because he was as dark as all the other men in tamil nadu...all the successful tamil actors are dark with a few exceptions...but all heroines (female actors :)) in tamil nadu are 'white as milk'... double standards for men and women!! and yet women are each other's worst enemies

obviously i am taking some creative license and using sweeping generalizations here, but not by too much ...everyone cant marry a fair girl in subtropical india,so they compromise,but that doesnt mean they would ever pick a dark girl over a fair one...unless it comes to dowry..oh wait, dont get me started on that one... this is the disgusting truth about hypocritical middle class india...

are we any better or worse than any other country? no ...this is human nature...with education maybe we can make a difference...but this kind of racism occurs everywhere, in Far-East, mid-East, South America...so why am i complaining? cause i live in india, i choose to rail against it..that's all

Anonymous said...

anon, If you dont know much about
rajnikanth dont talk like you do. He grew up in karnataka, and a tamil director saw his style in lighting a cigaratte and gave him a role and he became big. He did not travel from maharastra to get into acting.

kage said...

@anon,

hold your horses, grab a few beers, roll a joint and relax... take a couple of deep breaths and try to understand the difference between racism and personal likes and dislikes.

marriage and love are very personal and subjective issues, intimately tied with personal ideas and notions of beauty. Some men prefer brunettes, some blondes. Some women like tall, dark guys, some short funny ones. Some men prefer "wheatish" complexion, some fair and some adore Bipasha, Beyonce, Tyra, Lucy Liu or Nicole Kidman. Some even like all of them. Some don't like none and instead prefer members of their own gender. it's their personal perception about beauty. How is that racist?

You are free to have and voice a strong opinion, but if it pleases you, please try to base it on logic and facts. Shock value will only get one so far. Ask Rush Limbaugh :)

when someone denies you a job despite your proven merit simply on the basis of skin color, that is discrimination and racism.

when a section of society lynches you in public just because of a difference in skin tone and not because of any wrong-doing, that is a hate-crime and racism.

when someone forces you to sit in the back of the bus for no reason other than the color of your skin, that is ostracism and racism.

are most of the Indians guilty of actions such as these? One would be very hard-pressed to prove that.

if you are going to point to the horrendous caste system that had plagued our nation in the years past, i have an answer to that as well.

i am by no means condoning or justifying it. it was a despicable form of segregation but one based not on races, but social classes. there is a difference. the difference is not something that can, will or should ever justify what happened, but it is distinct from racism all the same.

racism is a very corrosive and divisive allegation. please be careful who you accuse of it.

kage said...

as an addendum, here's a theory to explain the "preference" for "wheatish" or "fair" complexions: if one is pale compared to others it may indicate that he or she has been afforded a shelter from the hot, scorching sun. which probably means that they haven't had the need to toil in the sun because they are wealthy enough.

marrying a wealthy spouse is just a smart financial decision. not racism.

and from what some of my *white* colleagues have told me, "pale and plump" used to be considered signs of affluence (and hence coveted and desirable) in the US as well, till the notion of having a tan (from being in the French Riviera or on the beach or by the pool side) took off as the new sign of uber wealth.

selecting wealthy spouses may be (depending on one's perspective) shrewd, shallow, (hopefully) darwinian, but definitely NOT racist.

Anonymous said...

How can anyone say that issues about skin color do not exist in India? Why is Fair and Lovely sold? If being dark was considered "attractive" there would be more dark-skinned actors in Bollywood. How does half of the population who are darker than your average "Bollywood ideal beauty" view themselves? I would say that the attitudes towards blacks (such as the blackface shown) spring directly from the prevailing attitudes regarding skin color in India. Mira Nair alluded to this in Mississipi Masala.

kage said...

"fair and lovely" sells for pretty much the same reason hair color, pimple cream, lip stick and other beauty products sell the world over: superficial beauty, not race or discrimination based on skin color.

"let me apply 'fair and lovely' so that i get through my job interview" sounds really absurd because it is.

While Mira Nair would be the best person to address this, i believe in "Masala" her focus was on cross-cultural taboos and traditional orthodoxy much like "Bend it like Beckham"

Anonymous said...

kage,
In a country like India with most of the population darker than your average white American, to be an ideal beauty is to be "fair and lovely" is disturbing.
Fair and Lovely is not marketed to white people. And it never will.
In Mississippi Masala Mira Nair (in a cameo as a gossip) stated that you can be light and have no money, or you can be dark and have money, but you can't be dark and have no money and expect to get Hari Patel. Mena also stated that Patel's mom doesn't like darkies (pertaining to herself).Both lines in the film allude to prevailing attitudes in India regarding skin color. This is what I claimed that Nair alluded to.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen this?

"A company that provides translation services and cultural sensitivity training to other organizations is being accused of sex discrimination and racial insensitivity in its own ranks."

"To bolster her discrimination complaint with the state, Kelly included photos allegedly showing the company's top two human resources executives dressed up for the 2005 corporate Halloween party as a black pimp and a white prostitute. The "pimp," a white woman wearing blackface and sporting a fake gold tooth, won the prize for best costume, the complaint said."

http://ads.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D8PMRCTO0.htm

Anonymous said...

Black face is only racist if white people do it, whites doing BF has a racist history they invented it for racist reasons, just like they invented yellow face and red face, for the sole purpose of DEMONIZING those minorities, this we know, however, are East Indians really doing it for the same purposes?

The Japanese, have 'Ganguro' where they use black face, but to pay 'homage' to Hip Hop culture, thus it is NOT racist, it is flattery, so proof is needed first to ascertain if East Indians wear BF for the same reasons as white people.

Donkey Years said...

This does seem like it was unknowingly performed in a racist manner - the makeup does seem quite exaggerated. However, I have seen programmes where there is an Asian person dressed up as a black person, but not in a racist, bias manner - black people who can act and speak an Asian language are very rare not just in Asia, but also in this entire world. Dressing up as another race isn't racist - it all depends on the protrayal of the race (character, costumes, makeup and mannerisms). Many men dress up as women (i.e. in "drag"), but does that mean they're misogynistic?

Just because Shilpa Shetty is pictured laughing at the fake "black" guy doesn't make her a racist - she's a public figure and must act professionally by "going with the flow" whilst in the public view rather than throwing a hissy-fit right on the middle of the stage.

The Japanese Ganguro subculture is, I believe, a "homage" to Pamela Anderson-type women, not the hip-hop subculture.

Anonymous said...

There is definately colorism/prejudice against darker people throughout Asia. This is a product of the Aryan domination/supremacy theory. In order to adapt the darker people begin to adopt the value sysem of the majority and will go to any extent to be viewed favorably by the majority . There is so much pain and suffering because of their color They reason if they look white they will be treated white.
In the USA we had the Black is Beautiful movent after hundreds of years of oppression to change this way of thinking by some Blacks .
Perhaps Asia will become more modern in the future.

Anonymous said...

Please check out the CNN web site for the story of the Indian professor at a Black university who had his African-American daughter -in-law / mother of his grandson killed by a hit man because of the shame he felt. His shame at having a dark skinned relative caused him to hire a hit man to brutally murder her !!!!
CASE CLOSED

Anonymous said...

havent read the whole thread but the west is far far more racist, but it is covert racism. It is very very hard to move up in a xompany that is why 99% of sucessful minorities work for themselve. It seems that bollywood has imbraced black culture with there music and dancing i hope oneday indians will be proud of there great heritage and will stop being influenced by everyoneelse

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Sharmis said...

I apologise that the clip offends you. Blackface is offensive in America and certain countries of Europe. The stereotype associated in America is of certain limited types of people, typically a negative connotation.

BUT. In other non-immigrant countries of Far and middle east, the stereotype is usually two - Jamaican or hip hop. Yes it is a stereotype. But it usually is not very negative (not nearly as negative as it has been in the west), these are for bit parts in skits.

Most of them are 'fantasy' scenes that have no relation with the ethnicity of the character and are rather childish. West Indies and India go way back, also there is cultural interchange in indian expatriate colonies in African countries / Islands like Maldives, mauritius, South Africa. The africans there rather enjoy the skits together as they typically do not caricature the culture (aside from the musical aspect) but are part of absurd story lines in Indian film. The only black people who take offense of blacface in Indian film are those from first world nations who compare it with their history.

The two are not the same. I hope you understand the difference. Seeing a clip like this in West Indies with local black and local indians should give you a better picture.

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