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.

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