||[Sep. 5th, 2004|03:19 pm]
alphaforum - alphabetical journal of ideas
Ah, feeling lazy. Edited part-post on 'whiteness', September 2, 2004.|
The aesthetic of whiteness in Chinese cultures is a confusing one for me and for many (anglo-saxon) Westerners. I grew up wanting to be 'white' (anglo-saxon), then tanned on discovering that asian women are exoticised by the west for, among other things of course, their brown skin, never sure if it was the right thing to desire desirability in this way, but racial-sexual harrassment seemed like a nice change from racial harassment. When we went to Malaysia a friend and I spent the bulk of our time with English and European people who idealised brown skin as an indicator of too much leisure-time born of wealth. Working on a tropical island we couldn't help but get very brown and the English manager would comment that we were looking healthier and more 'authentic' for the purposes of the resort's image. We were business assets - asian eyes, 'asian' skin and english language to give westerners that 'authentic' experience of the tropics, without the communication difficulties. It wasn't until after, when we were in the city of Singapore that we experienced doubled and even tripled marginalisation. Having grown up in a very white city we were looking forward to blending in with the crowd, but our tanned skin was not welcomed in some of the more upmarket areas. Brown skin is not as it is in the west - a sign of the wealth that permits leisure, but is an indicator of second class citizenry. It means you have to do manual labour because you don't have the money to buy a higher existence. The desire for whiteness is not a desire for 'whiteness' or anglo-saxonry, but a class-based desire. White skin as a sign of beauty is a symbol of being able to better yourself socially (such as by successful marriage), and white skin is itself the sign of success. And yet, although our behaviour was western, we didn't seem to get the same service as other anglo-looking westerners. Also, the asian currency crisis of '97 was still going on. In Malaysia, we were told by a family friend that, our status as Chinese was seen as a muggable/kidnappable quality, as was our status as westerners - the moneyed classes in south east asia. Having grown up between cultures we found ourselves in a more complicated cultural space, with more race anxieties than ever before.
There were clinics for laser skin whitening, and bleaching soaps, creams and lotions. I even bought some (ah, they don't work). I also noticed advertisements on walls of agencies that I thought were pages from mail order bride catalogues giving such details as height, weight, age, number of children etc. But they turned out to be ads for a maid agency, for ordering women from less affluent and darker skinned asian countries like Burma and the Phillipines. The Australian couple we stayed with in a million dollar apartment in Holland Park had one. In the papers that came with her was the permission to slap her if she misbehaved. The couple didn't want one, they wanted to make their own instant coffee, but it was the thing to do in Europetown. They wearily gave in to keeping up with the Joneses. By their early 30s they were ready, both financially and emotionally, to retire.