Brown Girl Problems

I have, and likely will always have, an inferiority complex against white women. On more than one occasion, I have been taken aback by the cute guy asking for my number — MINE? — instead of the equally attractive white girl standing within his line of sight.

When dissecting the issue, more than one of my ethnic friends has confessed to feeling the same guilt-ridden sort of shock that I do in similar situations. On the other hand, more than one has disagreed with me, attributing such twisted and self-deprecating feelings to my neuroses, or perhaps to the fact that I grew up in a predominantly Caucasian Midwestern town, and therefore might simply have a skewed perspective of beauty and what is or is not considered attractive.

While social conditioning could very well be the root cause, my feelings are neither unjustified nor, unfortunately for me, lacking in contextual support. For example, a boy once ended things with me via email, no less, by stating he was no longer physically attracted to me. I believe his exact phrasing was something like, “You’re one of the only Indian girls I’ve ever found attractive (interesting!),” as though it was a fun fact, and an exclamation mark would somehow soften the message’s blow.

Three years later, I am over what he said, but I cannot forget those harsh words that cut down an entire race, over 1 billion people scattered across the world, with one fell swoop.

I wish I could say his opinions were his and his alone; that no one type of outer beauty reigns supreme, and that inner beauty picks up the slack. But that’s simply not true.

Daily pop culture references, both from the western world and from the eastern, reinforce this notion that light, clear, luminescent skin is ideal. Turn on your television at any given time of day to illustrate this point: modern shows with rave reviews and wide viewership often fail to feature people of color in leading roles.

Take HBO’s newest hit Girls, for example; shouldn’t a show called girls be about, well, girls? Big girls, little girls, tall girls, small girls, and, you know, African American/Asian American/Latin American/something-other-than-Caucasian girls? Wouldn’t White Girls be a more appropriate title?

Fox’s New Girl, another show aimed at ladies, features an Indian female in its cast. However, the show assigns her no real personality or story line, paired with few emotions and facial expressions. And while I love Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin more than is appropriate, when their 30 Rock characters joke that NBC lacks diversity among its actresses, the acknowledgement does not somehow excuse the network’s omission.

In my opinion, Community best embraces surface-level ethnic diversity, but even then, two of its three female leads are gorgeous white girls, one blonde and one brunette.

I commend actors like Aziz Ansari, who are so good at what they do that skin color matters less when auditioning for a role. But while it may matter less, it is still a factor. I read that, after casting him in 30 Minutes or Less, the role of his twin sister, a part previously assumed would be played by a white female, needed to be revised.

Worse than the omission of various ethnicities from major roles is the blatant reinforcement of stereotypes and prejudices when they (we) are included. Take Gloria on Modern Family, Fez from That 70’s Show, or Raj on The Big Bang Theory. Their foreignness is made a mockery of through exaggerated accents and exclamations of “in my country…” providing both cheap laughs for the audience and a reinforcement of their status as the “Other.”

Even the books we can’t get enough of, such as the Harry Potter series or Hunger Games trilogy, feature maybe one or two developed characters of color.

In such beloved stories, race is not necessarily addressed explicitly, resulting in misguided interpretations and unfortunate consequences. When the first of the Hunger Games movies came out last month and fans saw their beloved Rue played by an African American girl, some tweeted hateful things including: “Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blonde innocent girl you picture.” Uh. What? Such opinions not only reinforce unhealthy images of beauty, but also upset any progress we trick ourselves into thinking we as a society have made regarding race.

You might think that my family’s native India would embrace its peoples’ beauty and spectrum of skin tones. Alas, you would be sadly mistaken. Skin bleaching is not an uncommon occurrence in many parts of Asia, nor is importing light-skinned actresses from Europe to play parts written for Indian women in Bollywood movies! Such knowledge is alarming; when a population fails to see the radiance of its own skin tones, that population makes it impossible to expect others to respect it, much less to find it beautiful.

I wish there was more diversity on mainstream shows, in blockbuster movies, and in captivating novels. I understand that the population of the United States of America is majority Caucasian, but when we watch a romantic comedy in the theater, we all want to see ourselves falling in love! When we see telephone company commercials marketed to minorities, we want to see a tagline other than “Free long-distance calling to [insert foreign country here]!”

We as a society talk a big game about getting over our insane standards of beauty, as well as shedding ourselves of our racist notions. Many of us aim to transition into a more loving and gentle population. We stand next to Ashley Judd and Tyra Banks and any other woman who has ever been a victim of media bullying based on appearance. But how will we ever truly accept one another if we continue to isolate ourselves from each other, reinforcing our prejudices with the inane social cues we get from pop culture?

I’m not saying introducing more racial diversity into entertainment is the end all, be all. Maybe such an opinion is too idealistic, and maybe I just watch too much TV. But hey, we’ve got to start somewhere. TC mark

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  • poo

    shut up

    • poo

      shhut up

    • Jee

      yeah, shhhut up

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1490310128 Victoria Bachan

    Brilliant! Absolutely freaking brilliant. Thank YOU!!

  • Sabrina

    This is amazing. Finally, someone who addresses this issue!

  • Anonymous

    In the novel of The Hunger Games, Rue is described as dark-skinned. People who were shocked that she was black didn’t read closely enough.

    • Guest

      Thank you! It pissed me off so much when people were “shocked.”

  • Lian

    THANK YOU.  I’ve been waiting so long for an article like this, especially in addressing the issue regarding various TV shows about “girls.”  

  • Bre

    As a brown girl myself I can greatly relate to this post. It is definitely a problem. Thanks for this post!

  • Awfulpost

    Awful.

  • SayWha

    2% of the total UK population is non-white. Harry Potter is set in the UK. That example was stupid.

    • Guest

      It’s actually 10%

      Still small, but I mean, definitely not 10% of the main characters were not white!

  • Sophia

    I am a Pakistani girl and I completely agree with what you are saying. My skin color is kind of dark (I get it from my dad) and my mom has very fair skin and her relatives are always complaining that I need to do herbal remedies and stuff to make my skin “lighter”. It’s ridiculous and pisses me off. I am perfectly content with my skin color and nor do I think I have to be lighter to be considered prettier. Views like that really need to change. Good article.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001079660479 Bilqis Ibrahim

      Wow, I can relate. My mother is greek, and my dad african, so I have brown skin. My grandma on my mum’s side, as a kid used to tell me I need to scrub my skin really good to try and take some of the darkness off. Ridiculous. 

    • Shazzazzna

      But those views are coming from people of your own race.

      • GotUGood

        I’m pretty sure those people are not “mixed race”.

      • Shazzazzna

        What? She said she’s Pakistani and that her dad is darker skinned than her mom, not that her mom is white. Therefore, she isn’t mixed race. Also, mixed race doesn’t need to go into quotation marks, like it’s some kind of joke. Moron.

  • sarah

    this is so perfect. as a non-caucasian girl, i completely sympathize. you’re right – increasing the diversity on television and in movies isn’t the cure, but it would be nice to see, every once in a while, a smart hispanic girl without a heavy accent.

  • Anonymous

    Wow.  That’s all I can say.  Well put and complete! A truth that blatantly exists, that many still choose to ignore and that others still fight tooth and nail to keep as is.  Great commentary.

  • http://www.twitter.com/clowve Joyce

    Don’t get me started on Yellow Girl Problems.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, Joyce, just completely blow off everything that this author wrote and let’s just focus on YOU.  

      That’s one of the main problems in the world.  No one wants to acknowledge or sit still long enough to listen, understand or empathise with whatever doesn’t pertain to them specifically. Selfish!

      • http://www.twitter.com/clowve Joyce

        Lol, people get so angry on the internet.

      • ekay

        It was empathy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=13003781 Jacqueline Rae Shuman

     This was really interesting to read, thank you for writing it.  If it’s any consolation, I’m completely intimidated by the beauty of Indian celebrities like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Freida Pinto and and Padma Lakshmi because I know I will NEVER be able to look that incredibly unique and exotic no matter what I do!

    • Lian

      Jacqueline, the problem is that you use words like “unique” and “exotic” to which in turn ends up “Othering” Indian celebrities.  I understand it isn’t what you meant, but our society conditions us to think of minorities as exotic, which dehumanizes them and fetishizes them rather than acknowledging them as normal and human.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001079660479 Bilqis Ibrahim

      Me too

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carlos-Ortiz/1279921705 Carlos Ortiz

      you could move to a foreign land where you would be perceived as ‘exotic’ and unique.

  • G U E S T

    “I have, and likely will always have, an inferiority complex against white women”

    Great article but this sentence makes no sense. You can’t have an inferiority complex AGAINST someoe. It’s BECAUSE of someone.

  • guest

    I am surprised TC allowed a post by a non complaining white woman that refers to herself as a “girl” who is most likely int her 20s in the first place, so kuddos for that. This article is interesting and well put. I think its sad that you find yourself inferior to white women, and I agree there needs to be a greater cultural representation in the media of difference across the board. 

  • Anon

    Beautifully written. Another one of my favorites lines I get a lot: “You’re pretty. For a black girl.” Oh so ignorant. Yet oh so prevalent.

  • Guest

    bitter opinion much?

  • Sam

    This was great. And while we’re at it, can we also focus on eliminating the word “exotic” as a beauty remark for non-white women? I can’t stand it when that’s used as a compliment. There’s a ton of people who DO look like me  (just, you know, not on primetime).

    • SayWha

      OR we can all stop being so damn sensitive. I live in a country where everyone is white. The first non-white person I ever saw in person was when I was 16 and visiting London. So yes, I thought she was exactly that – exotic. Just like kids on the streets saw me when I visited Morocco 2 years after that, pointing at my blond hair and pulling on my clothes out of curiosity. I’m still waiting for someone on here to write an article about not ~othering~, but completely excluding non-American TC readers. 

      • Anon

        What I think this person is saying is that people who use the term “exotic” as a way to pay some sort of compliment to non-white women should realize that this is in fact not a compliment and is simply a gateway to fetishizing this person for their perceived otherness.

    • Anonymous

      No, why? What’s wrong with exotic? I genuinely want to know :). I’ve never thought about it that way before. It’s a very different angle

      • Anonymous

        Because it’s what rich white British people in the 1914’s called people “in the East Indies”. It’s kind of outdated.

        It’s kind of how I feel about the using the word “colored people”. It’s not BAD, but it’s definitely not … best choice of words. Brings a lot of negative historical context with it I guess?

      • Guest

        I personally prefer ‘exotic’ to ‘foreign’ (which sounds closer to ‘alien’ to me). I’m from one of those ‘exotic’ countries, and I myself use it quite often. I don’t think it’s derogatory at all.

    • Iea

      I’m scrolling down to read all of the comments but didn’t feel I HAD to say something until now. 

      I don’t have a problem with “exotic”; “ETHNIC” is another story.
      EVERYONE HAS AN ETHNICITY. 

      If you want to say non-white people, I’d prefer you acknowledge your exclusion of others rather than try to hide behind the pretense that white people are not “ethnic”.
      (Not meant as a personal attack! Sam, I think we’re on the same wavelength, it was just “ethnic” that always gets me to react.

      • Karin

        Hahaha, this is one of my pet peeves as well! I think I am going to start describing my white friends as ‘ethnic’.

        My other pet peeve, slightly related to the topic, is the term ‘world music’. Seriously?  What is world music? Ohh, right, you mean music from non-white countries. So thousands of music genres lumped into one term. Great.

      • Guest

        ugh the “world music” label is just the worst.

  • Anonymous

    My favorite: “Oh I just LOVE Latin guys/girls! They’re just so… spicy. So full of fire! and passion!!!!1111”

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carlos-Ortiz/1279921705 Carlos Ortiz

      lmao

    • Micaela Giordano

      I’m latin! I’m from Argentina but I look italian, like many of my fellows do (WWII immigration). A lot of north americans couldn’t tell the difference between a mexican, a colombian, an argentinian, an uruguayan, or a salvadoran because they keep thinking we are all one big country that speaks spanish, dances to “latin” music, eat spicy and exotic food, and all women are curvy with shiny black hair! The thing is we only know that.

  • Blackgirl

    I know exactly how this feels.

  • Denise

    I’m a white girl who goes to a high school with no Black people nor Indians from India and almost every one here goes tanning because they want darker skin, so maybe every one feels inferior? But  good characters of all colors and sizes on tv would be awesome. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carlos-Ortiz/1279921705 Carlos Ortiz

      While a lot of light-skinned people find tans desirable and attractive,  having dark skin is not like having a tan. 

      I think a tan is more about avoiding paleness than embracing darkness [or something].I don’t think that a white female that feels  unattractive compared to a tan blonde experiences feelings of inferiority in the same way a brown girl does.

      • Guest

        A tanned blond is still a white female.

      • Denise

        I wasn’t saying it was the same feeling of inferiority, obviously I haven’t ever felt inferior as a brown girl so I don’t know what that feels like. But I’ve felt inferior for being too white and for being fat and for not being intelligent enough. So, doesn’t everyone feel inferior, everyone is insecure and everyone should just be accepting of everyone else.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carlos-Ortiz/1279921705 Carlos Ortiz

        feeling inferior because you are perceived as ‘too dark’ is not the same as feeling inferior for being perceived as ‘too white’ in this context.

        my guess is that far more ‘dark skin’ women hear “you’re too dark” from men than ‘pasty’ women hear “you’re too pale”, or get rejected on that basis.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carlos-Ortiz/1279921705 Carlos Ortiz

        feeling inferior because you are perceived as ‘too dark’ is not the same as feeling inferior for being perceived as ‘too white’ in this context.
        my guess is that far more ‘dark skin’ women hear “you’re too dark” from men than ‘pasty’ women hear “you’re too pale”, or get rejected on that basis.

  • Lindsay Cay8

    I’m sorry but I’m going to post my honest opinion. I am not racist whatsoever. But you live in America, where the dominant populations are either white or black. The shows and movies you’re talking about are about America, true there are other ethnicites here in the states. But do you see white people on televisions in India? I highly doubt it. And yes, obviously more.often white men will be with white women because that’s just culture, no one means to offend you when they say that you’re the only Indiab woman they’ve been attracted to, it’s just a fact. Just like men in your country are more with Indian women. Just because you live here… Doesn’t mean you’re a part of our culture. I’m not saying this rudely at all, my fiance is another ethnic group. But you feel less included because you are less included. Just like if roles were reversed.

    • Anon

      I love how when someone says that they are not going to be racist, they proceed to say something ridiculously racist.

      • Guest

        read it again, it’s not racist, it’s the truth. No one has the balls to say it.

      • An

        Unfortunately saying someone doesn’t belong to a culture because of their ethnicity and color is a form of racism/prejudice. What’s worse is that it’s sort of apart of human nature.

      • guest

        But see I was not saying they do not belong. I believe everyone that lives in America “belongs.” All I am saying that what she wrote is just how it is because of where she lives and because of the dominant ethnicities.

      • aVeryBlackGirl

        It’s not a form or racism, it’s common sense. A brown girl will be “othered” in a predominantly white environment just like a white girl will be “othered” in a predominantly black environment, or a black girl in a predominantly Asian environment and so on. Screaming OMG RACISM or IS IT CUZ I’M BLACK all the time is really getting old. I’ve been turned down by guys in the past because my “skin is too dark” or my “hair is too curly”. Shallow? Maybe, but racist – no. Just like I refuse to date blond guys because of the simple fact that I don’t like blond hair on guys. Shallow? Yes. Racist? Ffs no.

      • Agreed

        I agree with you, Guest — Although I think ”
        Just because you live here… Doesn’t mean you’re a part of our culture.” is going too far, I definitely agree that context is incredible important to keep in mind. As a racial minority myself, I had to grow up with no role models who looked like me — beauty role models or other wise. But I never took it personally. I recognized that we’re not in the country of my ethnic origins and that I was the minority, and that the famous faces out there would proportionally represent the masses — most of them are white, there is the occasional person that looks like me. But I don’t take issue with that.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carlos-Ortiz/1279921705 Carlos Ortiz

      I’m inclined to believe there are a lot of ‘white people’ in Indian TV, just like there are a lot of ‘white people’ in Mexican TV and billboards. 
      ‘Whiteness’ is perceived as ideal in the US, India, Mexico, and I’m guessing most of the world. 

      • guest

        I don’t know what TV you’re watching in Mexico, but if you go to the middle of Mexico, I’m sorry but you don’t see American’s on the TV. Sorry.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carlos-Ortiz/1279921705 Carlos Ortiz

        I’m not talking about Americans, the US does not have a monopoly on ‘whiteness’.

        Light-skinned Mexicans exist and are favored in terms of marketing image.

      • Micaela

        Exactly! In Argentina we watch a LOT of Mexican “telenovelas” (soap-operas) and always the main characters are white, beautiful and, of course, rich. Say “María la del barrio” (a white poor girl who marries a white rich!), then “Marimar” (something similar with the same actress, Thalia) and I could go on an on (Rebelde)…

      • Rani

        No, there are a bunch of Indian people in Indian television and movies. Top actresses like Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone, Vidya Balan, Rani Mukherjee are all 100% Indian and look it, too. 

    • Anonymous

      I agree with you about the media. Even in Indian films, the white girl is just a distant stranger who dresses a certain way, has certain ideals etc.

      But can you see someone in South America, India or Africa saying you’re pretty, for a white girl?

      • Lee

        I want to point out that South America has a large variety of skin tones… there are actually a lot of predominantly white areas due to Spanish Colonization. People from the US seem to have this notion that all people from South America are dark skinned, but that’s just not the case. 
        Some places have shows with mostly white casts, heck they are even fair-skinned-blonde-and-blue-eyed.
        I don’t mean to be rude, just to point out a common stereotype. 

      • Dani

        Yes, actually. Plenty of cultures don’t find white people typically attractive and as in all societies there are people who are happy to openly voice their opinions. Just because some douche white person said “oh you’re pretty…for a black/Asian/Oriental person”, doesn’t mean all white people would think, let alone SAY, that. My father’s friend is Indian and when my nephew was born he and his wife both commented how beautiful he was, “for a white baby”. Every culture has their own ideas of beauty and none should have to apologise for it.

    • ska8612

       It’s called assimilation you moron. Tons of non white American’s have done it.

    • guest

      lol, the “I’m not racist but…” argument never fails to emerge. 

    • Guest

      I disagree, alot of Bollywood actresses these days are of Caucasian descent. 

    • An American

      Are you serious? First of all, any statement headed with “I am not racist, but…” is racist.
      Also, “American” does not mean “white.” The shows and movies in America mostly portray only one race: Caucasian. This is a blatant overlooking of the HUGE amount of other racial and ethnic groups that live in the US and rightly call themselves Americans.
      And please: do not ever dismiss something simply “because that’s just culture.” It is not just culture –  it is racism. Do something about it.
      “No one means to offend you…” Well, of course not. They’re just too ignorant to realize that it is offensive. Like your comment here, for example.
      And what the hell: “Men in your country are more with Indian women.” Grammatical mistakes aside, Erika Vijh (the author) is from Iowa. Her country is, in fact, your country.
      And then, “Just because you live here… Doesn’t mean you’re a part of our culture.” Are you fucking kidding me? Like, really. Fuck off. “Your” culture is the result of invading and uprooting the Native American Indians who lived on this continent before your prissy white ass was even a figment of someone’s imagination. “Your” culture stems from ignorance and oppression.
      True American culture is found in the houses of black, Korean, Mexican, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Bengali, Pakistani, Malaysian, and Indian families who have lived here for more than one generation. And that’s just a handful. “Your” culture is, in fact, “my” culture. We live in the same goddamn country, we have the same goddamn rights. You are no better, no purer, obviously no smarter, and no more entitled than any one of us in the States.

      I’m not saying this rudely at all, but you’re a fucking idiot.

      • Anonymous

        I would’ve agreed with her fuckass about the media if I hadn’t spent time in the UK. As racist and oppressive as the British have historically been, their media still manages to do an INCREDIBLE job showing the audience people of color. I swear if Doctor Who was an American-made series, they would’ve never, ever had a black woman play the Queen of England in whatever century that was. My name’s Liz. The character’s name is Liz 10. It made me feel like I could be the queen of England. I’ve never felt that way about myself before. See where I’m going with this?

      • Karin

        This is so true.  I now live in the Uk, however when I was growing up in Africa I would predominantly watch American movies and TV shows.  I remember seeing the British film ‘Love Actually’ for the first time and being amazed at the fact that keira knightley’s character marries a black man, and the fact that he is black doesn’t even matter to the storyline.  Whenever there is an interracial relationship in an American film it’s always a big deal – the plot is usually about the problematics of dating outside your skin colour. It’s not at all like that in the Uk.

        Reading this article and all these comments, I can identify. I am mixed race and I lived in Sweden for a few years.  I was always very aware of my skin colour, and I did feel that men found me less attractive – I would totally have the “who, me?” moments. Looking back on it now as I’ve gained a bit more confidence, I can see that many white men in Sweden were actually interested in me, but perhaps felt too intimidated to approach me (my friends would always comment on how guys would check me out in an admiring way, I never noticed because I was too wrapped up in my inferiority complex).

        And I did get the “oh, you’re so exotic” comments.  Honestly, I don’t mind it when white guys are more attracted to brown women because of their skin tone. I know a lot of white guys that predominantly date brown or black women, and that’s cool. Everyone has their preference. I prefer white and Middle Eastern guys myself, although when it comes to women I am more attracted to darker women.  

        But it becomes a problem when I’m seeing a white guy who is all “wow, you’re the first brown woman I’ve been with”, especially if it’s mostly a sexual relationship.  I don’t mind broadening someone’s experience of ethnic flavours ;) but if you’re making a huge deal about it, we’ve got a issue.  I have no problem with someone having a general aesthetic preference, but I do have a problem being thought of as someone’s exotic adventure. It all goes back to colonial days when the native women were associated with sexual licentiousness.  Colonial men would marry their socially acceptable, ‘pure’ white women and have a bit of dirty brown fun on the side when they got randy.  And it still goes on today, at least in Africa.

        This is why Postcolonial Literature was one of my favourite subjects at uni – it helped me put into words all of these things that I had been thinking about.  

      • Karin

        Also, I didn’t even realise that Ceecee in New Girl was Indian until the last episode.  I always assumed she was white, or maybe hispanic!

      • GUEST

        THANK YOU.

  • A.

    This highlights exactly why the media etc is disgusting when portraying race/skin tone. I’ve always been referred to as ‘the brown one’
    – as if that’s the only bloody description that you can be identified by.

  • Ipsita

    You know a lot of it may be our own perceptions of ourselves.

    I’ve done that too myself, “You like ME? When my friend standing next to me is genetically skinny, white and so gorgeous.” Hmmm, maybe he thinks I’m Latin American or mixed (I’m on the fair side) ’cause um, let’s face it India with its one billion + people doesn’t really scream exotic. And then there are times when people (usually random people like a guy who’s hitting on my friend or smth) will try to hook me up with a brown person and I’m like “Of course -.-”
    I’m pretty sure a lot of it has to do with my own issues. My white girlfriends never seem to have such an opinion, even as subtext. They’re always telling me “Oh I could totally see you with that guy.” and my mental response is “But um, he’d never look at me.”

    Let me tell you smth, the guys who only date white girls (they’re just not open to girls of colour), they’re probably not the culturally aware, knowledgeable, smart, open-minded guys you’d wanna ever date anyway. These guys are usually the airheads. I take it as hell yeah, you’re hot, and I’m attracted to you right now, but in 10 mins… it’s the one I can have a conversation with that really counts.

  • Guest

    I know where you’re coming from here. I am Indian, but I have fair skin, light brown hair and light eyes, and something I get alot is “Oh! But you don’t look Indian!” with this strange sort of high pitched voice. I never know how to respond to that except with “But I am.” 

    • Guest

      That reply makes you a Champion.

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