Saturday, December 8, 2012

50 Shades of Brown

That said "Brown" and not "Grey." So if you came looking for sex, you'll be sorely disappointed.

I have always admitted to being clueless about Indian culture before I met hubby. I had no reason to care. Sure, I knew Indians and had grown up around them but there were not like Indians anymore in many aspects. The only thing I knew was different was how they interacted with people they were close to and that I almost never saw the women. (Traditional NRI's where the wife rarely left the home.)

So imagine my surprise to hear my husband talking about skin tones out of the blue one day. Now, I know people have different tones of skin but I've never heard white people talking about their shade of skin. In fact, it's a fairly new concept for African Americans to name their shades. It wasn't something I ever really thought of and racist or not, most white-Americans are referred to as "vanilla."

Hubby told me one day his brother was "fair" and in the context I didn't really understand what that meant. I can define the term but I wouldn't have used that particular word. It's vague and typically inaccurate. I paid more attention the next few times I heard shades of skin discussed amongst hubby, his family and friends. Then I started looking for a wife for BIL online and that's when I really saw how deep this goes.

There are typically 3 main descriptors used to describe Indian skin tones by North Indians. They are:
  • fair - palest brown
  • wheatish - light brown
  • black/dark - dark shades of brown
None of them are very descriptive are they? What is fair? I'm fair...I'm actually extremely fair. I'm so fair, I need "porcelain" make up - just like the little old ladies lol. What about wheatish? How would you label that. Wheat stalks are a typically fair color here in the US. Then we jump all the way to black. Indians that are darker skinned aren't even really black.

Hopefully no one takes this wrong because I assure you that no racism is intended but African American skin is not the same as Indian skin. They have different tones and sheens to them. There are some darker African and African American cultures that are literally black. Indians are not black. Granted there are some dark shades of brown but still, they are not black. The tones are very different. (And Crayola may disagree with me because they label all kinds of colors but I think you all get my point.) 

To make matters worse, in some parts, circles, classes, etc. of India, darker skin is seen as less desirable. Plenty of pardesi blogs have written about this topic and so I won't get into my thoughts and ideas on this. I had rather help you understand just how Indians define their own shades. After all, the whole point in my blog is to help others better understand Indian culture and how a pardesi may relate to it.

Those 3 shades alone are not enough. I'm really against their widespread use in Indian culture and on websites. They don't accurately describe people most of the time and it opens the same doors that indicating race does on the forms in America. People shouldn't be judged by this criteria.

To a gori this shadeism seems out of place, odd and unreasonable. I think I've stated enough how inaccurate it is. The more I think about it the more I appreciate the use of terms like mocha, caramel and coffee as descriptors of African American skin tones. You're much more able to get an accurate description of someone and all of those terms have positive connotations. Not to mention, they make you thirsty or hungry. No one ever hates food right.

So I'm proposing that Indians do the same. Learn to describe your skin tones in more positive terms. The term "fair" doesn't really have the positive connotations you want, even if it's what you've been told is good all your life. In India it only emphasizes all that is wrong with the current shadeism that you're experiencing. There are at least 50 other positive words you can use that would both help others see your skin tone in a desirable light no matter what it is and simultaneously override the negative atmosphere around shades of skin.

Here's some colors I like that I think describe Indian skin tones quite well:

Chai - hubby's color
Maida - yes, I've personally met Indian women this white living in Amritsar
Gulab Jamun

Yes, I realize those are all typical Punjabi foods. You can come up with more for South Indian foods or any food you like. My point is that in order to beat out something as negative as shadeism, you have to counteract it with something positive. Don't give people the chance to see you in a negative light. From an outsider perspective, I think that an attitude like this has helped put a more positive image of African Americans here so it could work in India as well. People just have to want it to and if it catches on, it can make a big difference in 1 generation. Give it a try. See how happy you can make someone by commenting on them in a positive way.

Here's an interesting read:
50 Interesting Facts about Race and Racism


  1. Well some of us are black. The indian skin tone ranges from very very dark to very very fair. The premium placed on fair skin is actually rather terrifying.

  2. I agree about the view of fair skin. It's over-rated. Beauty doesn't come from skin color. It comes from facial features, the way you carry yourself and your attitude/character.