A few nights ago, I noticed the Daughter watching the latest Cheetah Girls movie from Disney. The movie made me remember the time she shouted in teenage frustration, “I want to be WASIAN!” I thought again about this outburst when John forwarded an article about a paper co-authored by Freakonomics author Steven Levitt. The paper claimed that bi-racial children of black and white parents are more prone to engage in risky adolescent behavior more than “single raced” children. The bi-racial kids’ one advantage, states the paper, is that interviewers rated them more attractive.
What is “wasian” you ask? It’s a slang term for being white and Asian (don’t worry, I had to ask also). The Daughter was frustrated over the fact that most of the boys in her class (a mostly Asian American class, I might add) were attracted to a particular girl whose father was Filipino and mother was white. She was also annoyed that her much lighter skinned brother was the object of many crushes by girls in his class.
Check out this Cheetah Girls video of the male love interests in the movie. They are light skinned, certainly more lighter skinned than perhaps most Indians. Heck, one of them isn’t even Indian. If you look at the movie web site, you can see that Gita, a female love interest, is also fairly light skinned.
You might be wondering how do the desire to be “wasian,” an economics paper, and a Disney movie tie together. They are all examples of how colorism affects many countries and cultures, ranging from Mexico, Brazil, Philippines, India, and the US. Spike Lee talks about colorism in the African American community in his movie School Daze. Colorism usually expresses itself as a preference for lighter skin, as a sign of beauty and status. You can see colorism at work when if you watch TFC (The Filipino Channel). Look at who are typically the leads in Bollywood movies versus who are the servants. There are a variety of reasons for colorism, ranging from colonial mentalities to class differentiation, but I won’t go into those right now.
So are Asian American kids affected by colorism? In some cases yes, and in some cases no. I remember the Daughter’s classmates sneer at another girl saying “she’s so dark” in that mean way that teenage girls do. But something the Daughter didn’t consider was that the wasian girl had other things going for her, like being athletic, smart, and generally very pretty, and she also didn’t consider that the boys that most of the girls in her class liked were dark skinned. And eventually, boys started liking the Daughter, which might sound like a good thing, but to her father was very annoying. But that’s a story for another day…