I could have predicted that Sunday night’s crowning of Nina Davuluri as Miss America would cause an uproar among the ignorant. Witness the reaction in 2010 when Rima Fakih — who, unlike Davaluri, is actually an Arab and comes from a Muslim family — won the Miss USA pageant.
So far, coverage has focused on how many of the haters are just going to hate, that it’s a great day for diversity in the United States, and that racists can sleep easy because, in fact, not all brown people are Muslims.
But when I saw the news this morning, I wondered how many of Davuluri’s peers would consider her beautiful.
Why is this? Anthropologists say that it indicated you weren’t educated or rich enough to work indoors, in a reversal of what tanned skinned skin signifies in Western cultures. Other say that its source can be traced back to the Aryan invasion of the subcontinent, when the lighter-skinned Aryans wrested control from the darker-skinned Dravidians. I’ve also heard theories that it’s a remnant of the subcontinent’s colonial history, its fascination with and emulation of British culture and aesthetics, and a deep-seeded insecurity about being "brown."
And, just like obesity in the West, an industry has formed around "helping" darker people.
Women are bombarded with advertisements and tips on how to lighten up. Lest you think it’s only women who feel pressure, watch Bollywood legend Shahrukh Khan sell skin lightening products to men. If you think I’m picking on India, check out this nonsense from my parents’ birthplace of Pakistan. Despite some indications that the "fairness industry’"is slowing down, it still remains a formidable one: according to some estimates, skin-lightening creams outsell Coca-Cola in India.