Monday, May 22, 2006

On Desi Women and their rumored "sexual capital"

Sheltered by my residency within academia all my adult life, I’ve encountered little to no racism—the couple of times I have recognized racism* it has been from, (a) waiter at a take away—FWIW—he belonged to a minority ethnic group too (b) awful strange encounter on a bus in England—where this bloke accused me of being “a typical Indian girl” like he was outing a Nazi--FWIW--he was super disgruntled before he even started talking me up.

Still and all, this article from the Indian Telegraph, which generalizes that Indian women command extensive “sexual capital” in playing the dating game in the US sounds way off. I’m pretty sure that for every Desi woman who meets a fun, sane, articulate non Desi man there’s another Desi woman encountering the angry, ignorant, incoherent type who’ll try to trash her in the Craigslist Rants and Raves section. The Telegraph article is somewhat disjointed and more than a little confused, not knowing whether to indulge in self-congratulation about Desi women being desirable or tout this as a news-worthy development of the American-born second-generation’s cultural rite de passage.

Anyway, it makes me want to remind myself right now that

(a) much as the cultural fundamentalists would like to coast over the facts, Indian women have, depending on proximity, bedded the Greeks, Romans, Mongols, Persians, Africans, British, Portugese, Dutch, French, Jews, plus plenty of other ethnicities over the centuries. So if bunches of them live in the US and are going out with Americans this is hardly remarkable.

(b) In a cosmopolitan world, the politics of race and/or ethnicity don’t figure much in choosing your friends-dates-mates-activity partners. Growing up in South India, my world was defined by class (and sometimes caste) but it was rarely dominated by race issues or dependent on unofficial race markers such as color or inherited wealth. The black-as-coal and rich-as-Kubera folks back in Chennai don’t know what a great cultural lesson they gave me.**


* Sure, there have been many comments of the how-well-you-speak-English variety and much fussing over my mother’s beautiful sarees—but I’d slot those as compliment/lack of awareness or compliment/marginal fetishization. Full disclosure: I go ape over my mom’s sarees too :) . And before I forget—airport security has never disregarded my ethnic background; so if you’re flying with me, expect delays…

**Much as Hindu mythology gave me a great foundation in disability studies—I mean, if someone can have three legs and eight teeth and be in charge of the wealth of the gods (see Kubera link above, lazybones), someone with--say, one leg and a full set of teeth--surely must be off to a great start as a human?


Antinomy said...

Great survey. As a sometime inter-racial dater myself, much appreciated.

Interesting in contrast are the comments that a white, or in my case an "ethnic" white male receives when dating women of color (in my case, African American women). "Do you have a thing for black girls? Why? Why don't you just admit it?" Or my favorite, invariably spoken by African American women: "You love chocolate!"

Always fun to hear, but are they true? If one dates outside one's own "race" on a consistent basis, is it a "having a 'thing'"? And if it is a "thing" - a term deployed with various shadings of approval, envy, and contempt by different individuals - is it racist?

Where's the line drawn? Between

1) being 'simply' attracted to people of a certain hue (or for that matter size, religion, etc) as a matter of preference, like "I like broccoli"

2)fetishizing them in some sort of racist way?

Is any thing done "simply" anymore?

And is anything simple worthwhile?


PS - BTW: what is the origin of "Desi"? I've never heard the term before.

Antinomy said...

Oh yeah - rich as Kubera...that kicks ass. I'm going to aim for Kubera/Croesus idiom parity within the next year.


maya said...

*OmiGanesha* Antinomy! And my very first set of super articulate comments :)!!

Those are tough questions you ask--i could fall asleep theorizing them without ever arriving at the big monolithic truth.

So let's first establish the fact that i, maya, dunno--

but in my head preference and fetish have separate functions...a preference for broccoli implies that it is a desirable but optional item on the dinner menu, while fetish implies broccoli is mandatory at dinner.

and i'm positive that attraction or its lack is an immediate impulse so that part's simple :). Why let politics boggle with affection? An "inter racial" relationship (if such a thing as race exists) needn't be slotted as a reparation/repetition response to imperialism. Though think of all the interesting things you could do with *that* :))

"Desi" is Hindi/Sanskrit for of/from the country (here mother country or India--though it's also used as a pan south asian term).

Is someone handing out chocolate? Yay!


Antinomy said...

"Why let politics boggle with affection?"

Good question, and really the only one that needs to be answered - or rather, the only one that needs to be posed. Once you ask it, the whole problem seems to melt away.

It's easier if you're asking it in the presence of the person you love, of course: alone, is even better.

It's all the other people that wind up fucking it up.