Saturday, July 04, 2009

White Woman's Burden?

There are a small number of blogs now, by women from the West in the process of getting married to, or already with, an Indian husband. Interestingly many of these blogs call out to themselves in "skin color" terms: "WHITE Indian housewife" or "GORI girl". Perhaps I am overly sensitive, but there seems to be a mild air of prejudiced condecension in the subtext of these blog titles.
'Look at me, I am white but I am trying to make it with a "colored" man in very difficult circumstances. I am liberated and don't care about race (what about those color references as the defining characteristic of the blog titles?) but look at my husband's family and country -- caste system, higher fees at parks for foreigners, they shit and spit in the street, mom-in-law looks at my "blonde" hair and "fair" skin in envy -- so much of a white woman's burden (sigh!).'
Methinks there is an externalization of collective prejudice perhaps? When 9/11 happened, Sikhs got murdered in Phoenix, AZ, coz some European-Americans couldn't be bothered with the difference between them and Al-Qaeda! Sikhs and Muslims thrown into the same category because they have turbans and beards is the ultimate irony! And speakin' of Australia --- well, lets examine the immigration policies from a few years ago or how "aborigines" have been treated.....the less said the better! Australia, South Africa, and the US are examples of institutionalized prejudice in European-dominant societies, in the same way as one might think of the caste system in India. There is unfortunately no racial monopoly when it comes to prejudice, although the evidence points to greater violence related to institutional prejudice in "white" societies.
Another important point about these (mis)conceptions is the equating of race with skin or eye color. Any decent anthropologist or evolutionary biologist will tell you that human beings are essentially all racial hybrids and are genetically indistinguishable from each other racially compared to other species, say, apes or mice. Indians and Europeans are actually all caucasians who even share a common original language called proto-Indo-European -- read Max Mueller. This is what really gets me: that these women/men think they actually have married into a different race because of differences in skin color. It never occurs to them in their ignorance that they should question the prejudices they grew up with in their own societies/families. The externalization of ignorance is the very essence of prejudice. So skin color is just a political manifestation of "racial" self-identity in institutionally prejuduced societies: us vs. the aborigines, us vs. the "blacks", us vs. the injuns, us vs. the japs we put in the internment camps, us vs. the wetbacks, us vs. the curry-smelling brown guys, us vs. the shudras, etc., etc. I have never actually seen a WHITE-skinned person, they are mottled pink or cream, or yellow, or brown, or whatever. White is the color of the printer paper next to your PC;its an invention of convenience to define separateness in very superficial terms.
So, I might ask, are Westerners like that only, but I may be accused of generalizing to an entire group or race or set of countries, and that wouldn't be right, now, would it?


Gori Girl said...

Interesting, Svaha, that you chose to both write about this on your blog and comment on my blog here. I think you're off the mark in this post, at least in regards to my beliefs & reasoning for my blog's name - and I don't particularly like how you assumed before asking questions, but I do appreciate that you were at least reasonable in your tone.

I've addressed why I named my blog what I did in this post here, which is linked to in my about page. I recommend reading the about page when you come across a new blog, particularly one that you dislike for whatever reason.

Now, to address your points:

1) I would love to see you point out where I discuss in any detail at all on my blog: (a)Indian caste systems, (b)higher fees at a national park, (c) bodily fluids on Indian streets, (d) my MIL looking at my non-existent blond hair, or (e) how my fair skin is a burden. Because I don't, anywhere. Try again to find something objectionable at my blog, or go bitch at another blog that does that.

2) I have no idea what prejudice against Sikhs or Muslims or what happens in Australia has to do with me, as I have no prejudice against Sikhs or Muslims, nor am I Australian. And for the record, if I desired to murder Muslims (and currently I believe I only have it in for my Bangladeshi co-worker who failed to get me the modeling results I needed last week, the bum), I wouldn't do something so silly as kill a Sikh. This sort of silliness is why Californians (like me) like to say "I'd rather be dead in California than alive in Arizona" (Actually, we don't say that, but it's from Arrested Development, and needed repeating.).

3) Race is a social construct, not a genetic one. So when I write that I am in an interracial relationship, I am writing about the social aspects of being married to someone who is perceived as a different race than I am - whether that is an accurate perception or not, it's one that my husband and I do run into fairly often. When I am not discussing this sort of social context of race, I prefer to use the term intercultural, since it's a better descriptor of the issues that arise in such a coupling. Oh, and I think your phrase "The externalization of ignorance is the the very essence of prejudice" sounds nice, but means very little when you think about it. Try again, maybe after reading my post on prejudice to better educate yourself.

4) I have no idea what you mean by your question, "Are Westerns like that only?" Like what only? Try coming up with a decent thesis sentence, rather than some ramblings that don't actually apply to the situation at hand, and we can discuss.

linzi said...

HI Svaha,
Interesting post/comments on these issues in the U.S...

While I would agree with you, that unfortunately in this world there are many people who are racist, and unfortunately this is very much true for America as well as any country(though I can't lump all 'westerners' together, since I don't have much experience with Europeans) that is not the case for ALL Americans. Many Americans (like myself) grow up in a racially un-diverse community (I grew up in Maine... which is something like 98-99% white).. though unlike many other people in my area I had the opportunity to travel and meet many different people and also I had the will and interest in learning about others outside my small area.

When I see ignorant people who don't know that Sikhism is a religion, or ask me silly questions like "Oh, you lived in India, do you speak Hindu?" I cringe. I think the American education system does very little to educate it's students about the world beyond America's (or sometimes Europe's)borders. That means that there are probably a lot of Americans who aren't necessarily racist, but are ignorant of other cultures and countries, and another portion who may have been taught hateful things about people who are different from themselves.

linzi said...

In regards to skin color/race etc and relationships... I don't really define my relationship in terms of white/brown.. gori blah blah etc...

I think of my relationship as two people who met, have tons of things in common, and love each other. It just so happens that we were born and raised in different cultures, which means we need to spend extra time sharing and learning from each other.

I can't speak for all the blogs about intercultural relationships (which mine isn't really focused on that at all) but I think many women-who-are-married-to-South-Asians-blogs that I have looked at are more spaces to discuss cultural differences/misunderstandings/get advice/share experiences etc rather than to talk about "Oh look at me, I am a white chick married to a South Asian. Aren't I fair and lovely?". So, at least for me, discussing my relationship isn't about a 'difficult situation' (I think my relationship is quite wonderful, in fact) but rather about that extra effort and care one needs to put into an intercultural relationship. (This has nothing to do with skin tone or race, I would have to do the same if I was dating someone who grew up in France or Italy or Russia). Intercultural relationships require a bit more awareness because you can't assume. Small things can sometimes cause big miscommunications so both parties need to be aware of that and willing to talk things out and not jump to conclusions.

linzi said...

I actually agree with out on all the topics of social construction of race, and I also know that South Asians are considered Caucasian, Honestly, I really don't really care what race/skin tone my partner is, as long as he and I get along and have common goals dreams, etc. That said, unfortunately, we still have to face race as an issue in our lives, social construct or not.

As someone said.. race is a social construct, but that doesn't make racism any less real.

And as you said, racism exists everywhere in the world. The one post I wrote where I called myself a 'gori' was actually me venting my frustrations at constantly being called a gori on the streets of Jaipur. I personally don't identify or label myself as gori, but as I walk down the streets of Jaipur, people yell things at me, such as (since I was eating a snack) "Hey GORI KHILAO". I suppose that would be the equivalent in the U.S. of someone yelling "Hey darkie/black/brown person" which of course would be highly offensive. Or let's not forget my American friend who was refused housing in a certain neighborhood in Delhi because "All American Women are Prostitutes" (as said by the Realtor) or when visiting my African students with two Indian teachers, and the neighbor called the police because Indians/girls were at an African's house, which is "against our [Indian] culture".

So yes, that kind of stuff does happen in the U.S. as well, one of my close friends remembers a frightening experience on the subway were a woman came up and screamed at him and his mom because they were Indian, something which left a deep impression on him. But it also happens in India. It happens everywhere in the world.

It's sad but true, and the only way to combat that is give people more chances to meet other people, teach children about many different cultures, and parent are own children to be open minded, caring, compassionate in the world around them.

linzi said...

In terms of mother-in-laws envying my blond hair and skin... for starters I have dark brown hair and dark brown eyes and an olive skin tone. (Many people of Punjabi descent living in Jaipur were the same tone or lighter than me, and if I wore a salwar suit and kept my mouth shut I could sometimes 'pass' for an Indian, which is something I would prefer to do, since it means less chance of being bothered on the streets). So contrary to your belief that I would feel special and want to flaunt my whiteness... I would really actually greatly prefer to blend in and look normal in India, if I could.

And I don't really buy into the whole 'fair and lovely' business. I really think the whole mindset in India that fair=beautiful is really absurd... I have seen some extremely beautiful girls in India who say "Oh but I am dark so I am not beautiful" or see a new baby born and say "Too bad, she is SOO dark" etc. I'm sorry but, honestly, you can have fair skin and have the ugliest face ever...
At the same time, many American women are running out trying to get tan or rub on fake-tanning cream because they think they look too pale and want to look more 'beautiful'.

Either way it's just as silly.

Yayaver said...

To writer, I like this good news about Indian male from the blog.Thanks for that. AsLove is color blind phenomenon, There is no need to worry so much about white woman's burden. And to be proud on your race is false ego needed to be flushed away. One superb point in all this talk is: "The externalization of ignorance is the very essence of prejudice".

The generalization of west as materialisti & corrupt in culture with east as land of slums and poverty is wrong. Be relax and worry free about this issue.

Svaha said...

Looks like I may have touched a nerve. I did not really want to pick a fight, but simply to provide a point of view on something I find offensive. It seems to have been taken personally rather than be debated. Could I have made my comments within the strict confines of internet protocol (not posting my comments on my blog as well as several others)? Perhaps.
However, casting aspersions on my motives hopefully does not detract from an appreciation of my viewpoint. I realize that is hard -- truly to introspect on the issue rather than imagine personal blame.

linzi said...

I don't really see why you think you 'touched a nerve'. You left the comment, and I responded, using my knowledge and understanding as a basis for my opinion. I don't really see how that is anti-discussion.

I would like you to back up your points and generalizations about white women dating South Asians though... as I didn't really see the evidence in your post itself. Where did you see women talk about how great they are because they are troubling themselves by dating South Asians? and so forth. I just have never seen any blogs like that, so I responded with my own experience.

Perhaps you also need to be introspective when dealing with this issue... if you have strong feelings yourself regarding race and racism, you may see a comment or blog post meant in one way (or with a certain tone in mind when written) in a different light/tone than the author intended if you are searching for race issues and racism in a context when none was first intended.

I'm not sure how I can truly be introspective on anything more than my own relationship... that is the only part of it I have any thought over, and I am generally a very thoughtful person on that, so I don't feel I need much else. In regards to others, I don't really think that being an American[white] woman dating a South Asian necessary means that I am part of a 'phenomena' or that I think or act the same as other couples.
Perhaps before seeing a phenomena or getting a feeling of a sarcastic 'white women's burden', you should get to know some of the people you are talking about, maybe you will understand people's motives and ideas better.

Svaha said...

Linzi, my comments were not specifically directed at your situation, nor do I intend to generalize these kinds of relationships which are frankly a personal matter. You have actually made many salient points in your comments that seem to validate or refine what I was saying in terms of context and exposure. My initial commentary was simply to suggest a niche phenomenon I saw across the net with common themes of people struggling with otherness, and the relative lack of nuance in coming to terms with intercultural relationships. I cannot speak for particular experience, but I do feel that we must not accept race as a social construct.

linzi said...

"My initial commentary was simply to suggest a niche phenomenon I saw across the net with common themes of people struggling with otherness, and the relative lack of nuance in coming to terms with intercultural relationships."

While I do certainly agree with you on your ideas on race, I guess where my objection came in was in the categorizing of the niche phenomenon of white women dating South Asian men.

I can understand how with a quick read-through, some of these blogs may seem to lack nuance-- they may generalize, use terms like gori, etc...

At the same time I guess we need to remember that as a white woman dating/married to a South Asian, these women are part of (as one woman put it) the same "tribe" now... i.e. the group of people with South Asian/American intercultural relationships. What does that mean for this woman? I can't speak for all, but I can refer to my own experiences and those who are close to me as a guide... (which of course, there will be exceptions to). To me, being part of this 'tribe' of intercultural relationships is sort of like creating an enmeshed third option (Not South Asian OR American, but South Asian AND American). That means, the white women, when talking to her in-laws or visiting their South Asian country, may not feel as much of an 'other' (though others might not necessarily see her that way) and her husband may not feel like an 'other' in American. In this sense, when they think about in-laws, culture, etc they think of it as MY ( in-laws, my culture, my family...) rather than a separated 'other' group of people.

In that sense, I can see how, for example, it can be easier to generalize about MY people without being overly careful. (as in, I don't have to prove I am not racist, or I don't have to always add "in my experience" or "I know this is a generalization but..").

For example, think about when you talk about your hometown... Though you know not EVERYONE in your hometown is this or that, you may generalize for ease of explanation, without fear, because they are part of "your" hometown, you are a member. Using the general description simply to give an overview of my hometown experience, and I can use that without fear because I am talking about ME too, so I don't feel that same anxiety of "How not to offend this group people".

Just think about this as a really clear example of the insider/other dichotomy: Imagine if I, a white woman, jokingly use an exaggerated Indian Accent. (Think about your reactions, assumptions) Now, imagine my Indian boyfriend jokingly using the same exaggerated Indian accent.

I think the issue comes in with intercultural relationships that even if, for example, the white women does not feel like an 'other' with the South Asian part of her family.. other people look at her and see OTHER because of the visual difference between the two people.

I think that's why people such as "Gori Girl" or myself may react emotionally when people state that we are others or say we are racist, when we don't create those artificial boundaries within our own lives. Since we don't feel this sense of otherness, we may be less cautious in the language we use, not because we are racist, but because we feel that as an 'insider', some sense of understanding will take place that we are using generalizations (for example) for ease of conversation rather than as a true stereotype.

Svaha said...

Linzi, I hear what you are saying, but fundamentally I reject the self-identification in skin color terms, as a basis for discussing such relationships. I see that you continue to refer to yourself as a white woman; surely you are far more multidimensional as a human being than the color of your skin. Of the many issues surrounding intercultural relationships, why should skin color be the one dimension culled out? Also, why not focus on commonality -- 'when you cut us, do we not bleed?', etc.
The focus on skin color is the basis for much historical oppression and prejudice and to me it provides always an asymmetrical basis to a relationship -- hence my title focusing on "burden" (wasn't meant to be sarcastic). Nobody wants to be rescued from themselves, and by focusing on color as the most superficial aspect of separateness, a relationship cannot be equal, I feel. Note that of the several blogs I have come across on these sorts of relationships, there are few (if any) that take the "brown" point of view, casting a critical eye on the stares of the world around them. Why is that?

linzi said...

Svaha, the only reason I was using race in my discussion is because that is how you presented it to me in your original post and how you choose to delineate the people you were talking about.

Like I said before 'white' is a bogus term. At the same time, taking the approach of "color-blind= not racist" then we are ignoring a lot of issues that are based on (socially constructed) issues of race. Hundreds of years of oppression of certain people in the U.S. based on race can't just now be reversed simply by ignoring that these (socially constructed) racial categories have been the basis for a lot of bad things.

I think what really needs to happen is an openness in conversation, where people feel comfortable discussing (socially constructed) race and its impacts on their own lives.

In terms of multicultural relationships culling out race... I just don't see that happening in the blogs I have read on the subject. I don't recall ever reading a post that was was even focused on skin tone/race.

I think what you are interpreting as racial related terminology (i.e. gori)is not being used in the same way as you are seeing it as.

As a American with light skin in India, I don't get addressed as 'American', I don't even get addressed as 'angrez'... I get addressed as 'gori'. (Which I personally hate, honestly, I hate the term gori). While I have a bad experience with the term, others who have been to India might see it simply as a term to identify them as an American in the Indian context.. rather than racial perhaps they see it as a cultural identifier (of course, we would have to ask them to find out if I am correct.) Or perhaps they are using it in a tongue-in-cheek manner rather than as serious terminology. If you notice most of them use a gori/desi dichotomy (which suggest to me regional/cultural identity markers rather than racial)... not something like gori/kala.

You have to keep in mind, it is rather difficult to discuss an intercultural relationship based specifically and only on cultural reference. I mean... then I would have to say "I come from a Catholic/Protestant American family with strong roots in Croatian, German, English and Polish culture, some of which have more effect on my life than others, who is dating a U.P. raised guy of Hindu cultural background, some of which has more effect on his life than others."

And even with all those descriptive words, it still does poorly to describe either of our cultures accurately. Just as saying American and Indian (both have so many different cultures!) is poor descriptive terms, and just as gori/desi or any other terms would be. It is hard to sum up or capture any person or relationship in a couple of words.
So how can someone describe all those nuances in a blog title or name?

linzi said...

"Note that of the several blogs I have come across on these sorts of relationships, there are few (if any) that take the "brown" point of view, casting a critical eye on the stares of the world around them. Why is that?"

I didn't quite understand... who is casting critical eye on the stares of the world around them?

I think the reason there aren't too many blogs written from the South Asian partner's perspective is more to do with random stuff... people have voiced the same question at the India Ties forum (for South Asian/American couples). The question seems not real to be "Why is everyone here the American side". Rather the question seems more often to be "Where are all the guys,anyways?" The answer? Most of the guys say they don't feel like talking about stuff/talking online/talking to strangers... maybe women just tend to chat/write/discuss about their relationships more than guys?

Then of course there is the question... why do the South Asian/American relationships (that I have come across online) tend to be American Women/South Asian Man... rather than vice versa? That's a whole other topic to think about!