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Pet Sins August 2001

Color-struck Asians

Some readers share their observations on the skin-color obsession among Asians and Asian Americans.


When I was younger, I would have thought that non-whites, being exposed to racism, would be less likely to discriminate on the basis of skin color. But upon getting more exposure to Asian Americans as well as with Asians from Asia, I have come to see that this is not the case.

The comment "She would be pretty if she was not dark-skinned" was heard more often than not among Asians as diverse as Vietnamese, Indians, Chinese and Filipinos.

Then there was the man from China who refused to watch any film with blacks as the main characters because he "didn't like looking at dark faces." The same fellow would rave on and on about the beauty of the white actors and actresses when watching movies with mainly white characters. And there was the case of the Filipina American who claimed that she wouldn't even make friends with dark-skinned people, including darker-skinned Filipinos. I've met a few Chinese and Filipino individuals who bragged that they were popular within their ethnic communities because they had light skin. It didn't seem to bother them in the least that people were supposedly interested in them primarily for the color of their skin than for the quality of their personalities. Asian women and even Asian men avoided the sun religiously because they were afraid of getting a tan.

These examples seem extreme and insane, to me at least. I have certainly met many Asians and Asian Americans who don't have such views and who do not discriminate on the basis of skin color. So I wouldn't make the claim that all Asians are plagued by colorism. But from what I've seen, individuals who have no strong color prejudice, or who at least try to rise above bigotry in their personal dealings, are the minority among Asians.


I am a brown-skinned African American woman and my husband is Jewish. We have two biracial children, both who are fairly light-skinned. Once when my son was a baby I took him with me into a Korean-owned dry cleaners'. The woman behind the counter said "oh what a cute baby, so light-skinned." I was shocked at this comment. What difference did his skin color make?

Another time I was in a Korean-owned store and a young Korean man came in. He was quite dark-skinned, almost as dark as me. And he was very handsome! I don't know if he was sun-tanned, or that was his natural complexion, and I didn't care! The Korean woman who owned the store kept on asking him why he was so dark, and who was his father, etc. She asked him if he was part Puerto Rican, and he said "no." She kept on quizzing him, and he looked annoyed, but he answered her politely.

I am dismayed to see how "color struck" and racist against darker skinned people some Asians are. After all, what did blacks or Hispanics ever do to them?

Unfortunately, "color-struckism" is also alive and well in the African American community. I know of a Caucasian woman who had a baby by a black man. She opted to place the baby for adoption, but the African American family she selected said the baby was "too dark!" Can you believe this, in this day and age?

I think this stuff is silly in light of the fact that we're all human and mortal. I'm sure plenty of blonde, blue-eyed white folks died on September 11 -- when those planes hit, all their prestige, education, money, light skin, etc., couldn't save them. So what's the point??