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49 Responses

  1. Gerry Dorrian
    Gerry Dorrian April 3, 2013 at 9:50 pm |

    Thank you for this affirmation that racism exists outside of European culture. I hopw you get on well in Indonesia.

    1. Really?
      Really? April 3, 2013 at 10:08 pm |

      Who thought it didn’t?

      [insult snipped ~ Mods]

    2. hotpot
      hotpot April 3, 2013 at 10:55 pm |

      Yes, internalized racism is the worst, and is allowed to perpetuate itself when this issue is not politicized. Indonesians who hate their appearance because they don’t think they’re white enough, are hurting themselves more than the racist European who stays in Europe and never travels to Asia ever will. In the US, unfortunately, the “black is beautiful” mantra is associated with the 1960s and 70s, even though decades later, we’re still struggling with the same issues.

  2. macavitykitsune
    macavitykitsune April 3, 2013 at 11:59 pm |

    Yep. I have hue privilege (to some extent? I’m middling-brown, but I’ve lived most of my life in South India) and all my life, I’ve watched horrified as my genetics were used as a club to belittle friends, family etc, usually in my presence. Anyone who says hue privilege isn’t a thing is delusional. I guess I’m selfishly glad, on some level, that I’m not on the awful end of things (and that’s not a pretty emotion to have), but fuck me, if I could dismantle the whole shitty thing tomorrow I would. Internalised racism SUCKS.

    The least forgivable part, for me, is how long I went without questioning hueism at all, because it just fell into “emotional/verbal abuse” or “asshattery” categories in my mind. It took me until my mid-teens to really see it as a systemic issue and start calling it out as hueism rather than rudeness. I still feel like shit about taking that long.

    1. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune April 4, 2013 at 12:00 am |

      PS: I know how difficult it can be to talk about these things, particularly to a multiracial audience, so kudos and thanks to you for speaking up, and so eloquently.

    2. Annaleigh
      Annaleigh April 4, 2013 at 1:14 am |

      I agree with you and Nina so much. I know I have hue privilege, for sure. For me it does create weird situations, in that I have had to become used to questions about my race and ethnicity, sometimes even not so nice remarks, *but* there other women of Mexican descent here who break my heart when you see what they have internalized. Several years ago I was riding the bus one day when some women said I had such pretty skin. I thought they were talking about my clear complexion. They weren’t, they were talking about my hue, and that was so damn sad. They cover up and carry umbrellas around town because they are trying so hard to avoid tanning. Sometimes when I think about people of Latin American descent, it’s tempting to think we’ve hashed out a lot of these issues already because our multiracialness has been obvious thing for a much longer time period than it sort of has in the USA, but it’s clear that we haven’t, not nearly enough. Not when darker skinned Latin@s with a lot of Indigenous roots are portrayed in certain ways on TV, not when Afro-Latin@s are often invisible (there is basically one actress right now on one telenovela on Univision right now who is Afro-Latina).

      Just rambling now but colorism and internalized racism make me sad. Thank you Nina for the original post.

    3. pheenobarbidoll
      pheenobarbidoll April 4, 2013 at 2:03 pm |

      I have hue privilege depending on who I am around. Some in my family envy my pale skin (seriously. I could be the poster child for Irish Spring soap while my Uncle has dark brown skin, hair and eyes)and some look at me as if I’m not true NDN because of it. Out in society of course, they see my pale skin and read white, which affords me WP if and until someone discovers otherwise. Most just think I tan well when they see me darker. ( I do get significantly darker in the summer)

      The Chameleon has meaning in many cultures, so I try to apply that to myself.

      1. konkonsn
        konkonsn April 4, 2013 at 7:30 pm |

        What sorts of meanings? I like learning about animals in folklore; my thesis was based on it.

        1. pheenobarbidoll
          pheenobarbidoll April 4, 2013 at 10:27 pm |

          The ability to respond to your surroundings (adaptability) and a 360 degree vision can signify a special vision, or way of seeing the world.

        2. konkonsn
          konkonsn April 6, 2013 at 2:48 pm |

          Thanks!

  3. Gareth Wilson
    Gareth Wilson April 4, 2013 at 3:21 am |

    Colonialism can’t have helped, but a preference for white skin is older than that. With the same genetics, the pale-skinned people are the nobility, the people who don’t spend all day working in the sun. So paleness is a class marker.

    1. tigtog
      tigtog April 4, 2013 at 4:32 am | *

      So paleness is a class marker.

      As Nina mentioned in the OP, that is certainly true today. You seem to be imbuing it with a universality that I’m not sure is supported by evidence, though. After all, people with albinism have not generally been viewed as superior to those without.

      1. Willard
        Willard April 4, 2013 at 12:04 pm |

        I think “paleness” in this context and albinism have nothing to do with each other. It’s not the absolute hue but the subjective opinion and narrative it is imbued with. Albinism falls outside the normative color spectrum and is therefore imbued with its own set of qualities.

        1. tigtog
          tigtog April 4, 2013 at 3:57 pm | *

          That’s exactly why I raised albinism as a counterexample to Gareth’s comment.

      2. Emolee
        Emolee April 4, 2013 at 12:12 pm |

        I’m an Irish redhead. My skin is very, very pale. So pale that I have trouble finding makeup that is not too dark. As a child, I lived in Asia (Hong Kong) and people always commented on my light skin, touching it, complimenting it, and lamenting that they were so dark. I was too young to understand the broader implications. I was just very shy and hated the attention (strangers would often touch my hair as well).

        When I returned to America, I found out that my light skin was “uncool” and that I “needed” to tan (not possible for me at all). I still get a lot of comments (not complimentary) about how my skin is “so white.” So, while whiteness is certainly a marker of privilege (due to racism), the same is not always true for paleness. It did seem to be the case when I was in Asia, though (mid to late 80s).

  4. TMK
    TMK April 4, 2013 at 5:30 am |

    She is 20 or 21 and already believing dark is not beautiful.

    These girls are only fifteen, sixteen, and already internalizing that they are not worth it.

    You internalize that stuff at 3, not when you’re grown up.

    Low self-esteem and worship of Western beauty ideals seem to be the gifts of post-colonialism wherever you go in the world.

    I’m not sure about Indonesia, but Asian idealization of fair skin AFAIK isn’t that connected to colonialism and predates post-colonialism. Which the post hints about so i am not sure what’s going on:

    centuries-old entrenched cultural impressions of beauty.” Dark complexions are traditionally associated with menial labor while fairness is associated with higher social standing and cultural refinement.

    (similar thing existed in Europe prior to industrial revolution)

    All in all, i guess the author is indeed “Real American”, given that she seems to perceive the situation of another country through strictly American lenses, at least when it comes to race and beauty.

    1. tigtog
      tigtog April 4, 2013 at 5:54 am | *

      Pale skin has not been universally admired even in Europe. For instance, Roman officers as well as the rankers had a tendency to tanned, leathery skin due to spending a lot of time on the march under the sun, and this was considered highly admirable. Pale skin for the wives and daughters of the nobility and the bourgeoisie was one marker of the family’s wealth, but in the slums of Rome, there was little sunlight to be had amongst the high-rise apartment buildings and narrow streets, so pale skin alone was never a reliable marker of wealth in women. Jewelery and fine fabrics were also necessary to denote the rank of the women of wealthy families.

      Pale skin in a Roman man of military age was the marker of a slave, servant, merchant, clerk or street-rat who had never served (particularly in the days of the early Republic when ownership of farmland was necessary for a man to enter the legions). The virs militaris was held as the exemplar of Roman masculinity, and even for men of rank and wealth, a skin that showed no mark of sun damage from years of military campaigns was considered a huge political liability.

      1. matlun
        matlun April 4, 2013 at 6:55 am |

        In Europe at least this has been pretty strongly gendered, and paleness was much more important for women. According to wiki it was a big thing in ancient Rome also.

        1. Donna L
          Donna L April 4, 2013 at 1:59 pm |

          Well, if you do a search on google images for ancient Roman wall paintings (since I’m not aware that any paintings intended to be hung on walls have survived), you’ll see that women are almost always portrayed with pale porcelain skin, whereas men tend to be shown with darker skin. It’s true in ancient Egyptian art as well that in portraits or painted statuary of married couples, the husband is often portrayed as having much darker skin than the wife; see http://www.touregypt.net/images/touregypt/bride3.jpg and http://www.art-and-archaeology.com/egypt/egy52.jpg and http://www.touregypt.net/images/touregypt/bride1.jpg.

          I assume that the idea is that the paler skin for women is supposed to suggest that they’re upper-class and don’t have to work in the sun, and spend their time indoors, and so on.

          But just because paler skin in some cultures (especially for women) sometimes signified class and had nothing to do with ideas of race that didn’t even really exist at the time — after all, the fact that ancient Egyptians portrayed themselves as looking different from people of other nations, whether from elsewhere in Africa or from the Middle East, doesn’t mean they thought of it in terms of “race” or ethnicity rather than nationality — certainly doesn’t mean that colonialism had no influence on “colorism” and hasn’t intensely magnified it. It’s foolish to claim that it’s all just some kind of inherent pre-existing prejudice in favor of paler skin that has nothing to do with colonialism or internalized racism.

        2. miga
          miga April 6, 2013 at 2:59 am |

          Interestingly enough it mirrors what I’ve seen growing up around lots of black people. Light skinned women are more “feminine and beautiful,” while a light skinned man is a “pretty boy” – which isn’t necessarily bad because if his skin and hair are “good” he can father good-looking kids, but he’s considered less manly than darker skinned black men.
          Also, while colorism is pervasive it’s also relative.
          Back home in the midwest I’d be considered medium to dark skinned, but now that I live in a primarily Caribbean neighborhood in the northeast I’m considered light-skinned (I’m about this color right now, but I get really mahogany in summer). For the longest time I couldn’t figure out who men were talking to when they yelled out “hey- light skinned!” on the street.

        3. miga
          miga April 6, 2013 at 3:11 am |

          Err, rather in between that color and this one right now.

        4. Mike Crichton
          Mike Crichton April 11, 2013 at 9:45 pm |

          It’s not just cultural, though. In every known human population, women are on average paler than men with the same background and sun exposure. Current theory is that it’s due to greater need for vitamin D in women, and folate in men: http://faculty.washington.edu/charles/562_f2011/Week%201/Jablonski%202004.pdf

      2. MissWhich
        MissWhich April 4, 2013 at 1:06 pm |

        I realize that this is a completely different situation (maybe more enmeshed with class than race), but I’ve noticed a very marked tendency in the American south to denigrate pale skin and favor heavily tanned, even “brown” skin. I’ve literally been told that my pale skin will ruin people’s photographs and that I need to get myself to a tanning bed.* I’m fairly sure this has to do with assumptions regarding leisure time (i.e. the ostensible luxury of spending time outside to achieve a tan while often people who have full work schedules have to be inside/ in an office and don’t see a lot of sun.)

        *Just want to clarify that I’m absolutely not feeling sorry for myself or trying to suggest that the poor pale people are being persecuted! I was mainly just shocked that this has apparently become a big enough cultural trend in some places to spur rude comments like this.

        1. matlun
          matlun April 4, 2013 at 2:35 pm |

          I’ve noticed a very marked tendency in the American south to denigrate pale skin and favor heavily tanned, even “brown” skin

          Yes, this is not surprising. There is no contradiction between valuing darker skin (a tan) while still looking down on other people with dark skin (PoC). (I am not saying that the people you are referring to are racist. I am talking about society in general)

          Racism may be somewhat correlated by skin hue, but that is mostly random chance IMO. People get classified into racial categories on many more markers than just skin color. If everyone in the world had the exact same blue skin color, racism would still happen.

        2. Emolee
          Emolee April 4, 2013 at 2:56 pm |

          Yes, in many places in the American South, people are expected to make themselves brown to be beautiful… so long as they are not brown to begin with, which is considered less-than.

  5. Liz
    Liz April 4, 2013 at 9:05 am |

    I’ve drawn more copies of my family tree since joining Fulbright in Turkey than the rest of my life combined. Both because people are mystified by what an American “really” is, and in the attempt to convince Turks that my Chinese-American boyfriend is just as American as I am. American diversity is not something that seems well understood by the rest of the world (or at least the developing world). Guess that’s why there’s Fulbright…

    Also, beauty throughout history always seems about exclusion. Trying to be elite, and almost always trying to be something you’re not. It shows how much of our world is still based on trying to get someone else’s approval, whether men’s or other women’s.

    1. EG
      EG April 4, 2013 at 9:30 am |

      American diversity is not something that seems well understood by the rest of the world

      Given American mass media, can you blame them?

      1. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune April 4, 2013 at 3:23 pm |

        Yep. When I was young (I’m talking ages 6-9 here), and had just started watching American TV (mostly blockbuster action movies, because that was what there was a market for initially), if you’d (general you) asked me, I would have said that most black people in the US are criminals and hoodlums. At the same time, if you’d said the same thing about, say, south Indians (many if not most of whom are pretty much the same in hue), or African black people, I would have been mortally offended and called you a racist. I took embarrassingly long to think “hey, wait a minute, maybe all the Hollywood movies are just all really racist” instead of “wow, it’s weird that black people are so mean in America. Scary…”.

        -_- I was not smart as a child in so many many ways.

        But yeah. What gets exported about racial minorities in the USA is pretty fucking different from how racial minorities in the USA look, act and think. And that’s if they’re even represented at all, as you pointed out.

  6. Nanani
    Nanani April 4, 2013 at 9:10 pm |

    Sad, and unsurprising.

    Here in Japan, women cover themselves up to avoid tanning even though most Japanese women are paler than “white” Caucasians in terms of actual hue. Just not pale enough, apparently.

    It’s also almost impossible to find sunscreen that ISN’T part of a whitening cosmetic (at cosmetic prices of course). Apparently skin cancer is A-OK, but being less than porcelain in hue is just unforgivable.

    Screwed-up priorities! Yay. /sarc

  7. Nadine
    Nadine April 4, 2013 at 11:14 pm |

    It is also related to internal colonialism within the area claimed by the Indonesian state. I’m not surprised that you didn’t mention the genocide against Melanesian people in West Papua for example, most people in other parts of Indonesia act like they don’t know what is happening there http://www.freewestpapua.org

  8. Nadine
    Nadine April 4, 2013 at 11:22 pm |

    There are some obvious similarities with American racism https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BG3gB8aCEAA4YgT.jpg:large
    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BGhmRamCYAAtLuh.jpg:large

    https://twitter.com/FreeWestPapua

    And this is funded by America. Obama resumed funding for kopassus death squads after the genocide in East Timor. If America wants to improve its image abroad it should stop funding genocide, sending out scholar missionaries isn’t helping.

    1. Nadine
      Nadine April 4, 2013 at 11:24 pm |

      I should have said “Trigger warning” for those images. They’re not as graphic and violent as the usual images coming out of West Papua but they are racist and disturbing..

    2. Willard
      Willard April 5, 2013 at 1:01 am |

      Thanks for this. Soft power at its finest.

      /bittercynicismaboutForeignPolicy

    3. maruja de lujo
      maruja de lujo April 5, 2013 at 6:50 am |

      The similarities to US American racism are very superficial. Indonesia’s situation is far more similar to that of the Philippines: it’s an archipelago with a lot of different languages and cultures, officially designated one nation by departing European colonisers.

      Of course people naturally compare other places and cultures to their own in order to feel comfortable with them, but it’s important to get over that way of thinking in the case of Indonesia and West Papua.
      If you don’t escape the mindset that the rest of the world is the US writ small, you will see the oppression of curly-haired, dark-skinned West Papuans by straight-haired, light-skinned Javanese, but you won’t see the oppression of the straight-haired, light-skinned populations of other islands by the Javanese.

      The other racism/violence nexus that it’s easy to miss if you maintain the US-as-default mindset is in the west’s continued influence over and attitude towards the country since the Dutch left after WWII. Conservative estimates say that two million people were killed in the coup and the anti-communist purges of 1965/6. Most of us ordinary people in the west don’t even know about it and those who do often repeat the line of western politicians and media of the time, saying it was a necessary evil, or even a good thing.

      US officials deny directly providing arms to or lists of names, but no-one will deny that US anti-communism had its influence there. As in Afghanistan, militant Islamists were looked on with favour by the US because they were anti-communist.
      My point is that the US exerts a baleful influence in the country which is harder to see if you’re looking for the pattern of oppression that you see in the US.
      The same goes for racism, both among the inhabitants of Indonesia and New Guinea and from the inhabitants of rich, white majority countries (Australia because it’s nearby and the US because it unofficially rules the world) towards Indonesia. It’s harder to see if you are only open to the kind you know from home.

      1. Donna L
        Donna L April 5, 2013 at 8:41 am |

        As in Afghanistan, militant Islamists were looked on with favour by the US because they were anti-communist.

        The link Nadine gave seemed to speak in terms of Muslims vs. Christians more than anything else. To what extent is what’s going on driven by religion?

        1. Nadine
          Nadine April 5, 2013 at 11:36 pm |

          It’s driven by money, Indonesia just wants their resources – same reason European imperialists invented racism in their empire.

          In Aceh the state claims to be a force for secular enlightenment – same excuse is used by European colonizers.

          I don’t accept that colonized peope making connections with colonized people around the world to fight colonization is racist because it denies the unique qualities of their colonizers or the racism their colonizers might suffer in other contexts.

      2. Nadine
        Nadine April 5, 2013 at 11:28 pm |

        Yeah, I’m not American. I’m from the Pacific, I really don’t need Americans to tell me about Asian racism or colonialism. You can look at it through whatever frame you want but what you will see is 500,000 dead Black people. Indonesia is killing them to steal their land & resources, wiping out their cultures, introducing diseases denying them treatment then boasting that they are bringing modern hospitals & education to ungrateful savages. Similar thing have happened in America and many other parts of the world. This is justified because they’re called primitive & uncivilized but what is really about is stealing their wealth and land.

        When the Dutch left Indonesia West Papua was meant to be an ndependent state, it was Indonesia with US support that invaded that land they have no legal right to. America & Australia are still funding & training death squads in Indonesia, Just like they did in East Timor, I’m aware of this it is all explained in the link I posted.

        Objecting to the genocide in West Papua doesn’t deny white Australians or others can be racist against Indonesians or deny that the crimes of the Indonesian state arent limited to West Papua. It isn’t racist against Indonesians for Papuans to object to being colonized by Indonesia. I’m aware that our colonizers in the pacific, Asian & European, don’t want us to think internationally or make contacts with Black people in other parts of the world but I’m sure that various groups in America can relate to this situation perfectly well.

        1. maruja de lujo
          maruja de lujo April 6, 2013 at 6:45 am |

          Nadine,
          I’m not from the US either. I mentioned things about Indonesia that I assumed you already know because this is a public forum and I wanted it to make sense to readers other than just you and me.

          “Objecting to the genocide in West Papua doesn’t deny white Australians or others can be racist against Indonesians or deny that the crimes of the Indonesian state arent limited to West Papua. It isn’t racist against Indonesians for Papuans to object to being colonized by Indonesia.”
          You’ll get no argument from me there. I also object to the invasion and occupation of West Papua, and I’m glad you brought it up here.
          However, it’s wrong of you to imply that I think it’s racist against Indonesians to object to the genocide. Either you’re deliberately twisting my words to an absurd degree or you’re replying to an opionion that you’re used to hearing and assumed that I hold.

          I took issue with your comparison with US white-on-black racism because I see differences between the transatlantic slave trade (and its 20th-century echoes) and the 20th-century genocide in West Papua. And because of the problems I tried to describe above with taking the US as the standard for absolutely everything.

          But in the end, you’re right to be angry about the invasion and genocide, and to point it out here.

  9. janet
    janet April 5, 2013 at 3:12 am |

    poignant post. I wrote on a very similar topic on my latest blog. i am filipino american and live in the Philippines. “Instead, my skin color means I have to fight for my claim to be American.” I can COMPLETELY relate to this. I am treated like a local, but my identity is so much “American” because I grew up there practically all my life.

    1. maruja de lujo
      maruja de lujo April 5, 2013 at 7:08 am |

      Please promote yourself on Sunday! I’d like to read what you wrote (although the only language used in the Philippines that I can read is English).

  10. Athenia
    Athenia April 5, 2013 at 10:30 am |

    Thank you for writing this. :)

  11. Quicksilver
    Quicksilver April 5, 2013 at 12:33 pm |

    Thank you for sharing your stories. I’m a white USian woman, and it’s posts like these that help me better understand my privilege on an emotional level. Sure, I’m used to social norms telling me my body is unacceptable for various reasons (too fat, too hairy, not dressing sexy enough, etc), but at least my skin color and hair texture are left out of it. And I’m not being told I’m not allowed to call myself American because I don’t look right.

    I have occasionally encountered non-white or less-pale-than-me women from outside the US who tell me they envy my paleness because it would make them prettier (as opposed to envying my paleness explicitly because of the racial privilege it confers). Is there anything I can say in response these remarks to help combat colorism/Western-as-idea beauty norms without being Westerner-telling-the-rest-of-the-world-how-to-feel-about-things?

    1. miga
      miga April 6, 2013 at 3:03 am |

      Until I had the privilege of going abroad I never considered myself USian. My skin color, my ethnic background, my politics, the way history was taught to me– all of that made me feel like I just happened to be here and I would have been luckier and more at home someplace else. It’s not like my peoples did anything anyway- we only got our rights because eventually white people joined our fight and the white people in power decided to let us have our freedoms. / snark

      1. miga
        miga April 6, 2013 at 3:04 am |

        Snark not directed at you, of course! Just ranting a bit.

    2. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune April 6, 2013 at 1:21 pm |

      Is there anything I can say in response these remarks to help combat colorism/Western-as-idea beauty norms without being Westerner-telling-the-rest-of-the-world-how-to-feel-about-things?

      Uh…this is going to suck, but no. There really isn’t. Not in direct response to remarks. I found that discussing the fact that I had hue privilege, and pointing out my hue privilege/hueism from others helped others feel better, but I never do that in response to remarks from them, because it (and ohfuckme do I know this from experience) winds up sounding exactly like Privileged Person Bemoans Difficult Privileged Life. So… to quote Captain Awkward, coming back with “Hey, don’t say those things about my awesome friend!” when your friends say stuff like that is pretty much the only route you have that’s relatively guaranteed to not hurt anyone.

    3. llamathatducks
      llamathatducks April 6, 2013 at 3:45 pm |

      My go-to response to people talking shit about themselves is “well, I like your [hair/nose/presentation you gave in class/artwork/etc]!” Because they’re entitled to they opinion but so am I am who are they to tell me I should find them ugly? And while they still may not agree with me maybe it’ll still feel nice that someone has a positive opinion.

      To be fair, though, I haven’t often experienced the particular situation you mention.

  12. Colin
    Colin April 6, 2013 at 12:53 pm |

    In the UK, tanning (among white people) has definite class connotations, but they are quite complex. There doesn’t seem to be an overall preference for one extreme or the other, just a weird set of superstitions about what constitutes a ‘healthy’ tan. This ties into the British obsession with the sun and how feebly it shines on their own country.

  13. Friday links, 4/12/13 | Tutus And Tiny Hats

    [...] -Navigating masculinity as a black transman: “I will never straighten out my wrist.” -Blacksweet: grappling with skin color in Indonesia. -This piece (as well as this, to which the author links) is a must-read for anyone thinking of [...]

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