Response to ‘White Women in the Indian Imagination’ on Kafila

The above post I am responding to by Alexandra Delaney starts off quoting a British born Indian. I’m not sure what such an identity means or stating such an identity means but in all probability falling back on my own experience of immigration in London it means someone who is Indian even though British born. Also somehow this British born Indian can make statements about Indian born Indian men which are extremely valid and account for something. That’s a good start innit for heterogeneity? Although the author does call it out for what it is as ‘gross racial stereotyping’, she tends to agree on this one. Very similar to the ‘I’m not racist but’ clichés one tends to hear spouted from the mouths of one who is just about to say something precisely racist. Check out a fabulous site on the same topic www.notracistbut.com

So white women are as promiscuous as their south asian sisters, she says. Okay whatever happened to feminist language and addressing sexual choices and sexual freedoms. No maybe we aren’t any less promiscuous but hey if I were to talk about my sexuality and sexual choices and sexual freedoms I demand as my own I am portrayed and perceived and treated as a ‘slut’ to put it kindly. Those of us South Asian sisters who refuse to play the virgin mary role also have to deal with the same kind of unwanted attention that our white sisters deal with. The image of the sexually liberated and ‘easy’ white woman in India has more to do with modernity/tradition, something called colonisation, something called Global South/North, something called Imperialism and less so with whiteness. Please do refer to Daily Mail and the Sun on how white men treat white women in a white country. Not very different from India would you say? And pray what is this ‘Indian imagination’? What about the Indian imagination that thinks encountering a white woman is somehow a life fulfilling event. Ever met our Indian brothers with white girlfriends?

She goes on to quote statistics – 35% reduction in women travellers with high profile reporting about violence meted out to White women. She quotes the case of a Chinese woman and a Korean woman, I’m presuming China and Korea do not fall under what is known as Whiteness, unless of course the world has changed. Then my mistake. I’m not trying to belittle the violence that white women encounter but to not see it within the larger framework of violence against women in India whether they be white or black (a term used politically to refer to anyone non-white) or Indian or dalit or muslim makes it sound like a rant based very much within a framework of whiteness and might I say class and patriarchy. In order to keep India as a tourist friendly country one ought to she says address this horrendous portrayal of white women that feeds into actual violence that they then face. I have friends who are white women. I have interacted with white women visiting this country. I have spoken to white women in London who want to visit this country. The kind of freedoms they claim in travelling through India in ways that for me sound outright dangerous and ways that I would never ever travel begs the question of who this country is unsafe for. Not to forget the ease of travelling in to this country without the absolutely demeaning visa formalities, the need to account for everything one is and will be and how one is measured up only in terms of having the potential of being ‘illegal’. White women I have spoken to tell me it is the most wonderful country to travel in. Whiteness is still very much worshipped here, a backlog of colonisation as well as the new ideals of global capitalistic wealth that is embodied by white bodies and their access to it.

To blame it on Bollywood and IPL because of which ‘lesser educated Indians’ influenced by these horrific portrayals of our white sisters cheer, jeer, harass and photograph white women on the streets of India is a bit reductionist and may I say classist and imperialist. Cheerleading is a sport in the US but the white women who dance at IPL are not even talented dancers according to her, which might have made it less offensive? Or more a sport that is feminist and not racist? And is she speaking for the IPL cheerleaders when she calls them ‘provocative’ and ‘vamp IPL dancers’? Is it not possible to move the discourse from trying to cover them up in modesty or skill and look at why such a practice exists? and what that means within the larger discourse of women and rights and women’s bodies at sports spectacles? as well as address corporate sponsorship of sport and the use of women’s bodies to sell capital???

How about looking at the constitution amongst the whiteness that is visible in India. Would it help to not look at it as homogenous especially as if belonging to one class? And what is the effect of this heightened visibility of whiteness with regard to labour and capital? Most of these white women who work in Bollywood do so without proper documentation. They charge lesser prices, will work longer and are easily intimidated by threats of immigration officers much like what happens to black people in the west (although Hollywood or the British film industry will rarely ever feature black people even in the smallest of roles!). Indian women who are junior artists who have now been almost completely erased by the presence of white women do not stand a chance. Their unions do not fight for them and for a Bollywood imagination that seeks to fantasize only about the Global North and the supposed wealth those countries have, Indian/brown women do not add up to the visual scene. Frantz Fanon in his book Black Skin White Masks traces the desire of the colonized to reclaim space that he has been displaced from, a space that casts him as inferior and emasculated. “Out of the blackest part of my soul, across the zebra striping of my mind, surges this desire to be suddenly white. I wish to be acknowledged not as black but as white.” (1986:63) Exploring this desire he speaks about how the black man achieves a moving beyond blackness through the body of a white woman. “By loving me she proves that I am worthy of white love. I am loved like a white man.” (1986:63) The white woman becomes a symbol of that which needs to be possessed to reclaim the loss that ensues from the construction of blackness as lesser than, or as a lack. This is 1986. This is Fanon who must be compulsory reading not just for us black people but also for those who come from lands and races that participated in the violence of colonisation and now the violence of globalisation and imperialism.

Her suggestion is to get IPL and Bollywood to remake the image of the white woman. Not MTV, not the Daily Mail, not Big Brother, not Hollywood, nothing emanating from her dear Global North. We Indians, to help and make sure the lesser educated Indians do not wreak havoc on our white sisters ought to get our representations right. While we’re at it how about making life better for our Indian sisters too? Can we have more black/brown vamps and more black/brown provocative women on screen please? Can we have spaces where we can be sluts and smoke and drink and have sex? And can we start to look at how violence comes to be and not have a hierarchy of survivors based on citizenship and the colour of skin? Can we start to speak to each other as women, can we start to address the violence that class, caste and capital breed and not make it about one race and a race that is privileged in every sense of the word. Really do go take a class on post colonialism. It might really help to address violence better.

7 thoughts on “Response to ‘White Women in the Indian Imagination’ on Kafila

    1. Rashmi Munikempanna Post author

      Thank you! I read your feedback on Kafila and you have pointed out pertinent facts. I do think we need to speak about this but not with a tone that bases itself in white upper class privilege. I’m just surprised that Kafila saw this fit to publish!

      Reply
  1. lareinede

    I found this to be an extremely contradictory and confused piece of writing. The argument seems to boil down to the fact that white women can’t complain because racial hierarchy has and will always privilege white skin. While the first part of the article insists that there is nothing special about white women’s experiences because a) “South Asian sisters who refuse to play the virgin mary role also have to deal with the same kind of unwanted attention that our white sisters deal with” and b) “the larger framework of violence against women in India whether they be white or black (a term used politically to refer to anyone non-white) or Indian or dalit or muslim”; later it is claimed that white skin or more specifically a white women are coveted as “a symbol of that which needs to be possessed to reclaim the loss that ensues from the construction of blackness as lesser than, or as a lack.”, because of the colonial experience; the understanding of which is another point of major confusion.
    “The image of the sexually liberated and ‘easy’ white woman in India has more to do with modernity/ tradition; something called colonisation, something called Global South/North, and something called Imperialism …less to do with whiteness.” So if whiteness and colonialism, imperialism, global North/South issues completely separate from the issue of whiteness, why make Fanon compulsory reading for “lands and races that participated in the violence of colonisation and now the violence of globalisation and imperialism”. Yes of course “races” and more broadly race, (not only as a material reality, but discursively) is ostensible in the practice and ideology of colonialism. The categories of whiteness (and non-white or blackness) were contingent and co-constituted by the process of colonialism. If the author believes this, then what is so incredulous about a white woman being made to feel aware of her “difference” in a post-colonial country? Personally, I find it ludicrous to say that white women are treated as queens in South Asia, when I have witnessed the worst form of heckling and harassment being meted out to my white women friends who have visited me in India. Now as an Indian living abroad, I can certainly say that when one of “my Indian brothers” gets a white girlfriend, it is mostly considered a fulfilment of a dream precisely because of the exoticism associated with her race, and body that is believed to be much easier than that of desi girls. Is that really a VIP treatment or just plain old sexual objectification, garbed in post-colonial lusting for the master and what they “lack” as the author poignantly quoted? It is true that Delany did not bring up post-colonialism in her essay, but did she have to? This author’s attempt to challenge her doesn’t contradict the original article at all. It only exposes a narrow view of both colonialism and race, where there is only one loser and one winner.
    The final argument- “Can we start to speak to each other as women, can we start to address the violence that class, caste and capital breed and not make it about one race”- tagged under “Black feminism” highlights this perfectly. Criticizing white feminists for bringing up race is okay, but alliances based on “blackness” are “political”. I smell some hypocrisy here. Dear author, you seem to consider race to have an important place in feminism, but talking about race is only justified for those at the “bottom” and whiteness as “race that is privileged in every sense of the word” can’t complain. Just as men can’t suffer from sexism, white women can’t claim to suffer from racism. In essence, race is denied a category adequate enough to qualify difference, unless of course you are not white. However, Delany’s piece was actually precisely the kind of inter-section between race and gender which makes this sort of reductionist argument redundant and entangled in the traps set by the politics of its very own so called “progressive” discourse.

    Reply
    1. Rashmi Munikempanna Post author

      Dear Saba,

      Thank you for taking the time to read and write with your feedback. I’m sorry that you have read my writing and this post as boiling down to ‘white women can’t complain’ That was not my intention. I was hoping to situate it within a broader framework. I’m a bit troubled that Delaney’s post is about white women being treated differently and I am not sure other than anecdotal stories or voices that have the privilege of being heard there is not much really to go on. What I am asking is how do we read this as separate from Black women’s experience of India?

      I look at representations of white women/hiring of white women through Fanon which may not have come through. Although I did assume since the original post was about precisely that, one would understand.

      I did say “less” not “separate”

      I’m not sure how one decides what is the “worst” form of heckling. Would be delighted to learn how such hierarchies some into being.

      I dont think it necessary at all that Delaney brings up post colonialism. I think its important to bring it up to critique it especially with regard to her “less educated Indians” bit and what they do.

      If my article doesn’t contradict her then there must be something important that we both seem to agree on no?

      I don’t understand your use of the word “hypocrisy” at all. Since what you allege is not something I am saying this is a bit difficult to respond to. I’m not saying that white women ought not to complain. If you read Delaney’s article and mine you’ll realize I am speaking for those white women who work at IPL while she is not. What is that? Class maybe? or a fallout of how Eastern European women are seen and treated in the West? as not truly White? This seems to have completely passed you by in your attempt at reading me a certain way. Difference ought to be addressed which is what I tried doing with critiquing Delaney’s absolute condescending tone towards the women who work. Work in Bollywood and at IPL.

      I’m surprised you felt the need to spell it out to me when the post makes itself redundant! But thank you!

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s