I started writing this blog in February this year and this is my 18th post. I had not planned it out. I started out with a jibber-jabber. My purpose of writing was to document my thoughts and little snippets of my life. My story. It wasn’t long before I had people telling me how much they can relate to what I write. Particularly, a blog post I wrote garnered over 30,930 views from all over the world. But it doesn’t make me any happier/satisfied than a post with 30 views or 3 views. To me, numbers don’t matter as much as the impact it creates. Even if it’s just one person. “Don’t scale wide; scale deep. Quality over quantity.” (Lessons from my Social Entrepreneurship module that I took this semester). The most heartwarming thing that I have heard was a random person telling me that by sharing my story, I was actually giving a voice to many others who were not brave enough or just too tired to share their similar experiences.
So I am going to do this one more time. This post is going to be quite long. Brace yourself. Kindly note that I am not an expert on such issues and what I share is only an opinion and a recount of experiences which is supported by facts where possible. There are three sections namely, I not racist, The Superior Indian men/#karuppusuthuvellaikaaran, Indian women are ugly. Oh and there’s a bonus section at the very end. Haha. They are all related but they don’t exactly flow so feel free to jump to the section which interests you more.
Section I: I not racist.
Generally, Singaporeans do know that racism is wrong. The pledge that we recite in school highlights Singapore’s stance in support of racial harmony. I don’t think anyone would carry the label of racist with pride unless they have some insecurities or traumatic experiences themselves. So what is the problem? The problem is that most people are completely unaware of what actually constitutes racism. In the case where economic disadvantages, physical abuse, and/or an intention to discriminate is clearly involved, it seems that people do know that that’s racism. On the other hand, they’re quite unaware of what casual racism is. This unawareness stems from various factors. Firstly, upbringing plays a huge role in causing this unawareness. We learn what is right and what isn’t from our parents. It is unfortunate that parents err too. Some feed their kids with negative views against people of other races. I remember one of my friends telling me how his mum told him not to play with the Indian kids in the playground because they’re black, smelly and dirty because they don’t shower. I was one of his first Indian friends at the age of 17. Negative biases coupled with a lack of interaction with people of other races further reinforce a preference for the own race and sometimes, a dislike for the other race. Such preferences can start at a very young age. These preferences and biases will continue until they are put in a situation where they’re forced to interact with people of other races. This could be National Service for the males or the school. By interacting through classroom conversations, or doing a project with someone from another race, they get to slowly learn more about that person and unlearn what the parents have taught them. However, for some, they are not gifted enough to have these interactions in school because they go to schools where there are few or no Indians. Their only exposure to Indians, if any, is from the Indians in the media. That usually refers to Russell Peters and Ra Ra Kumar. Hence, they end up thinking that all Indians are jokers. Hence, at their first encounter with an Indian at a later stage like in the university, they say all kinds of cringe-worthy(if not racist) jokes. The standard operating procedure for a Singaporean Indian has always been clear. When someone says something racist, laugh it off. You can complain and draw attention to yourself. But you should be prepared to be accused of being overly sensitive and/or playing the victim card. But how many times do you want to complain? You’ll eventually get exhausted. You have to just learn to live with it. Kill them with kindness.
இன்னா செய்தாரை ஒறுத்தல் அவர்நாண
நன்னயம் செய்து விடல்
If others harm you, do good unto them, so that they are shamed into realizing their mistakes.
That’s one of my favourite verses from Thirukural which literally means Sacred Verses. That’s generally been my response to racism and any other kind of discrimination. I don’t think I am alone in adopting this approach. However, when I started thinking about the future, it hurt me to think of how I would have to teach my kids to allow other people to say discriminating things to them and get away with it. Just because…. Regardless of whether what I say would make a difference, I should and I will say these. Starting the conversation is really important. Another reason why calling them out and having the conversation is important is because by not doing so, you’re denying them(the ignorant people) the chance to actually learn about their own biases. In fact, by not calling out on them, you teach them that what they said or do to you is acceptable and they would continue saying such stuff to you and others. Then again, it is unfair to impose a duty to teach and correct them on Indians. This is because it gets tiring after a while. Furthermore, in schools/situations where there are few Indians, how many people can we expect that Indian student to teach. Besides, sometimes he gets tired of having to listen to such jokes that he starts making them first even before others say them to him.
Section II: Superior Indian men/ #karuppusuthuvellaikaaran
The superior Indian men aka Karuppu Suthu Vellaikaaran(KSV) literally means a white man with a black butt. It’s supposed to be a stereotype of a specific type of Indian men who are Indian by birth but do not identify themselves as being Indian. I know I sound like a hypocrite. I was complaining about the Anjadi Kuppeh label in one of my previous posts but here I am creating another one. Firstly, I am not making a sweeping statement that all Indian men are KSVs. I do know of Indian men who are proud of their roots and identity. In this section, I am specifically talking about a subset of Indian men who aren’t. Secondly, yes, I agree with you that I could have given them a nicer name. But this name is as raw as it can get. Besides, I am not the one who coined this term. My close friend did and I decided to just use it in this post instead of thinking of one from scratch. My apologies if you find this offensive.
KSVs are not born. They are made. The general consensus is that parents only want the best for their children. It is with this intention that some Indian parents tell their children not to hang out with other Indian kids because they might end up useless and they would not reach the peaks of successes. If you think about it, it’s really sad that they would think lowly of their own kind. The logic behind it is worthy of a discussion on its own. They think that you can’t be successful if you have the Indian identity. You have to conform to the majority identity. They would intentionally put their children in schools where they would be the minority and they would have a lot of interaction with non-Indians. Some would go the next step and get them to learn Mandarin as a subject as well. They would pretend to not understand Tamil. It’s no surprise that we need a festival to promote Tamil language use. Sigh. Some would even pretend to be a Chindian or Inlay because they’re not proud of their Indian identity. Those that do identify themselves as Indians(perhaps for political reasons, haha!) would qualify that statement by saying that they are not Typical Indians. They are not like the other Indians. They are not Anjadi Kuppehs. They are the exact opposites of Anjadi Kuppehs. Anjadi Kuppehs are at the very bottom. KSVs are at the very top. They see themselves as a superior Indian. They won’t engage in activities outlined in the Anjadi Kuppeh post.
Naturally, when the golden ticket presents itself, they would use it. As highlighted in the recent article, there’s a general preference of Chinese and Caucasians in inter-cultural romance. This is something that we have already observed but now we have hard statistics to support it. KSVs intentionally or unintentionally love Chinese and Caucasian women. They consider having a Chinese or Caucasian wife as an indicator of their standing in life because any Indian man can marry an Indian woman. But only a successful KSV can score a Chinese or Caucasian woman. Thus, it also doesn’t come as a surprise that of the 1,364 civil marriages with an Indian groom, 448 were to a non-Indian bride. That’s about one in three Indian men choosing a non-Indian woman over an Indian woman. In comparison, of the 1,066 civil marriages with an Indian bride, 150 were to a non-Indian groom. That’s about one in seven Indian women choosing a non-Indian man over an Indian man. See the difference? But to be fair, these marriages are born out of love. Perhaps, not all these men are KSVs. But what makes it interesting is that these Indian men who marry out of their race tend to be well-educated. In fact, I only started seeing a lot of KSVs when I started uni. It’s almost like saying that they have reached a level of success and status to marry/date a Chinese or Caucasian woman. That they have reached a level of success and status that’s too high for them to marry/date an Indian woman. Of course, there are other issues, like religion, involved in the decision to date/marry. I hear you. It’s not that they are intentionally discriminating against Indian women. It’s a free world. Everyone has the right to marry whoever they want. In fact, marriage and dating are matters of personal preference. True. There’s a thin line between preference and “discrimination”. Perhaps, they themselves are not aware of their inherent biases. They don’t intentionally want to discriminate against Indian women but they end up doing so. Nevertheless, it does highlight some subconscious biases and a subconscious social hierarchy where Indian women are at the very bottom of it and Indian men are way above.
One thing that I grapple with is understanding how Indian men who aren’t KSVs(they embrace their Indian identity) also sometimes exhibit similar behaviour when it comes to dating and marriages. Perhaps, it’s just love. Perhaps, while embracing their Indian identity, they view Indian women as inferior to other women. This issue is not something that’s unique to Singaporean Indian men. Even on screen, we often see brown men fall in love with white women. The pursuit of white women: Brown actors like Aziz Ansari have reduced brown women to a punchline is another interesting article on that same issue. You should never place your worth on external validation. But you can’t help but wonder whether Indian women are really inferior to women of other races.
Indian women are ugly.
This is an extension of my post, Men shall eat first and other stories. As an Indian girl, I believed that I was ugly from quite a young age. Sometimes it was because of a remark by a classmate. Other times, it was owing to other subtle things.
Why is your skin so black?
Only barbarians pierce their nose.
Your curly hair looks like my pubic hair.
Is that dot in the middle of your head a button for the bomb?
I know this didn’t just happen to me. Ask around and every Indian girl will share with you stories of the stupid remarks that they have been on the receiving end of and how they felt that they were ugly. How their self-esteem slowly crippled. And how they at one point started internalising such remarks that they were hearing. In Growing up as an Indian woman in Singapore, and Fighting with colour: The struggles of a dark-skinned Indian girl by Hemma, these issues are further discussed.
Basically, our dark skin colour, an abundance of hair, curvy body shape and curly hair just does not fit into the mould that Singaporean beauty standards have. In a systematic way, most Indian girls were made to feel that they were ugly. That they were inferior to say, a Chinese girl which was what the Singapore beauty standards revolve around. I am not saying that Chinese girls are ugly. Definitely not. What I am saying is that as long as you have them as the baseline for beauty, Indian girls can never be beautiful. This is simply because Chinese girls are not better than Indian girls, and vice versa. They’re just different. Period.
But to be fair(I mean fair in the sense of just and fair not in the sense of fair and lovely, haha), this is not something limited to Singapore. Globally, fairness seems to be the yardstick for beauty. Journalist Esther Honig’s project to see what beauty looked like all over the world highlights the unanimous craze for a lightened skin. Naturally, you would see almost no cosmetic products on the shelves which suit the Indian skin in mainstream shops in Singapore.
What is accepted as beautiful in Singapore, is largely based on what the media shows. In 2010, there was almost no Indian females representation in the mainstream media. It’s hard for anyone to even think of Indian women as beautiful if they don’t even see them. Indian women were invisible. Invisible in media. Invisible in politics. Invisible in business. But this is a chicken and egg problem.
Luckily, this has been changing at least in the media scene. There was Bharathi Rani as Priya Moorthy in Faculty and Eswari Gunasegar in Tanglin. In Miss Universe Singapore, we had Rathi Menon clinch the title in 2014. That was after a 21-year hiatus. The last time was in 1993 where Rena Ramiah Devi won the title. I am also glad that we have super cool social media celebrities like Preeti Nair(Preetipls).
I hope that more representation of Indian women(and women of other minority races) in mainstream media helps us embrace different kinds of beauty. We learn a lot from what we see on TV. As Vernā Myers puts it, the media does not have an obligation to reduce bias but it has the opportunity to do so. By telling more diverse stories, and having more TV shows about people in the minority, we can become aware of our own biases and isn’t that the first step to reducing bias? It’s also imperative that when we represent them, we represent them with respect and dignity that everyone deserves. In other words, it’s not just about representation but also how they are being portrayed. It should not be perpetuating negative stereotypes because what’s the point?
[Again, to be fair, I acknowledge that even in mainstream Tamil/Indian movies, there’s a lack of representation of dark-skinned women. A change needs to be effected there too. It’s so obvious. Casting a British woman who doesn’t understand Tamil to play the role of a Tamil woman doesn’t even make sense.]
Relating back to my post, Men shall eat first and other stories, the lack of successful Indian women, could be owing to how they’re being brought up and the patriarchal society which is far more pronounced within the Indian society.
So what am I trying to say? What am I convincing you to do?
Okay no. I just want everyone to be aware of these issues. Don’t perpetuate this further. Be a good parent. Stop telling your kids negative stuff about other races. Stop telling your kids negative stuff about your own race. Don’t be a KSV. If you’re an Indian woman, credit yourself for the little and big struggles that you have overcome. You’re beautiful. You’re intelligent. You’re important. I am proud of you. If you’re in the position of power to effect some big changes, act on it! Peace out.
Bonus section: Glossary
Since this post talks so much about Indians, I thought it would be good to clarify some terms once and for all.
- Indian can be a race or a nationality depending on the context. Either way, it may define a person’s identity. Being born to Indian(race/nationality) parents makes someone Indian. In this entire post, when I talk about Indian men and women, I am referring to Singaporean Indian men and women.
If they have ancestry which traces back to India, there can be further subdivisions like North and South and even by various states like Tamilnadu, Kerela, Telangana, Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, etc.
There can be different languages: Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Hindi, Punjabi, Gujurati, Urdu, Sinhalese. ( I don’t speak Indian; I speak Tamil.) While I use the word Indian throughout this post, I do acknowledge the fact that Indians are a heterogeneous group and what I state here might be more applicable to Tamils than Indians per se.
There are different religions within Indians: Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism. There are further subdivisions within each religion. (Not all Indians celebrate Deepavali. Only Hindus celebrate Deepavali. Not all Indians celebrate Hari Raya. Only Indian muslims celebrate Hari Raya.)
There are also different castes. In the case of Singapore, some common castes are Chettiars, Menons, Nairs, Naidus, Pillais, and Reddys, etc.
Since someone actually asked this question, I thought I should answer it in this post since it’s related to this.
What do Singaporean Indian girls think of local Chinese guys in general?
I can’t answer for all Singaporean Indian girls but I can speak for a fraction of them. Perceptions are usually influenced by personal experiences. If the discriminating remarks in their younger days were made by Chinese guys, they might completely disregard Chinese guys as an option because it might open up some wounds. That is to say, even if that Chinese guy was flirting/ with that Singaporean Indian girl, she would probably think that he’s joking. Hence, you would need to probably make her understand that you’re really interested in her and that it’s not some kind of joke or prank. Other than that, the way local Chinese guys are perceived by Singaporean Indian girls is not very different from Singaporean Indian guys. They might look out for certain physical attributes(e.g. a genuine and cute smile or dimples), or characteristics. This varies across individuals. It’s a very generic answer. But the question is generic too. :X