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9 totally racist ideas you’ve probably encountered if you’re Desi

Get those “Western ideas” out of your head, girl.

If you’ve been raised in a Desi society, some level of casual racism is just a part of everyday life. From ‘jokes’ that aren’t actually funny if you’re the least bit culturally sensitive to deeply-ingrained colorist ideals of beauty, being racist is a definite problem in our societies. Of course, it might have a little something to do with the fact that South Asia, the area the Desi community belongs to, was colonized for long enough that colonial ideals are deeply-rooted in our consciousness. Thinking like the colonizer is something ingrained in our societies and not something that is questioned often. So maybe it’s not feasible to fight your Auntie Jee’s idle racism every single time you see her and it’s definitely not your job to educate people.

At the end of the day, though, most of it isn’t even meant to be malicious—and that’s the sad part. If you’re aware of your privilege and/or ignorance, you can work actively to be better and unlearn it. But when others don’t seem to even question it, all we can do apparently is fight them or sigh in frustration. Here are some prime examples:

1. The undying memes and forwarded jokes on social media

[Image description: A young child shaking their head, looking disappointed.] Via Giphy
[Image description: A young child shaking their head, looking disappointed.] Via Giphy
Dear classmate/co-worker/family member,

Sending that meme that says ‘your future husband’ over a picture of a poor black man? Yeah, that’s not amusing. Idiot jokes making fun of the way black people look are not funny. At all. Nope. Nada. Improve your sense of humor or stop polluting my WhatsApp messages with this garbage.

2. Jokes about how you need to protect your dogs and cats because the East Asians in your area want to eat them

[Image description: The cartoon dog Scooby-Doo holds up a finger and shakes his head.] Via Giphy
[Image description: The cartoon dog Scooby-Doo holds up a finger and shakes his head.] Via Giphy
I don’t even know where to start with this one, because often, it isn’t even just used as a joke. They genuinely believe the Korean neighbors will kidnap and cook up the family dog and refuse to learn otherwise.

3. The “I’m not racist, I just don’t find black people attractive” comments

[Image description: A little girl throws her head back and slaps a hand over her face in frustration.] Via Giphy
[Image description: A little girl throws her head back and slaps a hand over her face in frustration.] Via Giphy
Alternatively titled: “I’m not racist and I don’t think black people are ugly. Beyoncé/Michael B. Jordan/Halle Berry/<insert random black celebrity> is totally hot.” Um, I hate to tell you, buddy, but that is racist. It’s basically the same as saying you can’t be racist because you have a POC friend.

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4. Saying that there are only four races in the world: white, brown, black and yellow

[Image description: A woman rolls her eyes forcefully and turns her head away.] Via Giphy
[Image description: A woman rolls her eyes forcefully and turns her head away.] Via Giphy
You’d think people would know better by now, but a lot of the older generation is still mindbogglingly clueless about just why saying something like this is not great. And by that, I mean, yes, that is a direct quote from my lovely grandmother. Considering that ‘race’ as an identifier is becoming increasingly discouraged in scientific and social vernacular because of how many problematic ideas it gives birth to, the relegation of the world’s entire population into these limited boxes is harmful. The ignorance that comes with knowledge about race, therefore, especially among the older generation, is laughable at best and horrifying at worst.

A lot of people don’t even consider their own lack of awareness as real, forget recognizing it as problematic.

5. Claims that all East Asian men look the same, feminine and gay, apparently

[Image description: A woman scrunches her face and looks around in confusion.] Via Giphy
[Image description: A woman scrunches her face and looks around in confusion.] Via Giphy
All of these statements are used as insults, obviously. And of course, they’re meant to be hilarious. Like k-drama or kpop? “Haha, why, it’s not like any of the dudes are hot? They all look like little girls, haha.” Um…

6. The assumptions that lighter skinned people are automatically prettier

[Image description: A woman purses her mouth skeptically and squints her eyes sideways.] Via Giphy
[Image description: A woman purses her mouth skeptically and squints her eyes sideways.] Via Giphy
There is no denying the Desi obsession with having the lightest skin possible. A lot of the time, things like facial features or charm don’t matter that much, because the first thing we judge people on is appearance—particularly on how light-skinned and thin people (especially young women) are. And a lot of Desi people – whether we admit to it or not – are practiced enough at judging people by their appearance to give Olympic judges a run for their money.

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7. The hair obsession

[Image description: A woman asks “For what?” and pointedly purses her mouth.] Via Giphy
[Image description: A woman asks “For what?” and pointedly purses her mouth.] Via Giphy
Women have to have sleek, straight hair on their head and fluttering lashes and perfect eyebrows and no hair anywhere else on their bodies to be attractive. Men have to be hairy, but like, in the attractive way. Anything else is just ugly and has to be gotten rid of.

8. The warnings against white people corrupting your mentality…

[Image description: A young woman looking up and shaking both fists in frustration.] Via Giphy
[Image description: A young woman looking up and shaking both fists in frustration.] Via Giphy
Get those “Western ideas” out of your head, girl. These silly desires like wanting independence, feminism and not wanting to get married are unsuitable for our society and it’s best to get rid of them as soon as possible, lest people find out because what will others say.

9. …but still fawning over white people like they are better than we are

[Image description: A black cat files its nails with an emery board, looking bored and unamused.] Via Giphy
[Image description: A black cat files its nails with an emery board, looking bored and unamused.] Via Giphy
I mean, we’ll judge their more open-minded beliefs (yep, those same dangerous western ideas we want to stay away from) and still think white-passing people are totally amazing. That token white person at a wedding will be admired throughout the function. The minor barely-a-celebrity who mentions your country will be hero-worshipped to a ridiculous degree. While we are quick to judge even slightly liberal people as westernized, we have no problems fawning over people who are actually white.

I’m not saying that all of us are like this: a lot of the Desi community, especially this generation, are working to dismantle the deeply-rooted problematic thinking. So if you are Desi and haven’t encountered any of these problems, good for you. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The first step to recovery is actually recognizing the problem, and this is where we need to start when it comes to tackling racism in Desi culture.

Anum Waseem

Anum Waseem

Grad student majoring in English literature, known in certain circles for taking impromptu naps and starting fights about feminism in class. She believes in the power of critical discourse, diversity in representation, the perfect cup of chai, a good red lipstick, and Mr. Darcy’s hand flex (2005).

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