For me, this recent HuffPo article really struck a nerve. Cleverly disguised as flattery, this article so effortlessly reduces Indian people to their “datability” and crushes a culture of 28 states, numerous faiths and hundreds of languages into one spiffy little assessment.
The author, Andrea Miller, who is married to an Indian man, mentions 7 things that she thinks any non-Indian who wants to date an Indian should know. Those 7 things might resonate in different ways with different Indian people. Some might agree, some might disagree, others might want to puke. I, personally, want to puke. Here’s why:
I hate being essentialised.
There I’ve said it. To be reduced to some part of my culture or heritage that’s superficially charming to someone outside it, is NOT fun. It does not make me feel good. It takes away the fullness of my life and reduces it to what YOU like about it.
I don’t care much about Miller’s list, or her assessments. I understand that they’re tongue-in-cheek. I understand nuance and the fact that she reduces Indian people to our quaint and charming social customs and exuberance for life, is supposed to be a lighthearted and loving how-to. (For a much more fun “how-to,” see here.)
The point is, however, that the very idea of a HOW TO in regards to dating, presumably, one person from such a diverse culture reeks of arrogance and privilege. Not all Indians love Bollywood, Bhangra or their families. Some Indian food is delicious, some is gross. Some of us are damn fine — others, bless their hearts, not so much.
And that’s where this article really makes me angry: all those references to the Kama-Sutra and snagging yourself a sexy, exotic Indian. This is not funny and it’s not flattering. It’s objectifying. I am an Indian woman and more times than I can count, people have touched me without permission, while commenting on my eyes, hair, or skin. They’ve commented on my presumed sexual expertise. They have told me how they’ve always wanted to “have” an Indian. I have friends that have been violently assaulted by people saying these very things .
So while, the jokes about communicating with cabbies, and the quips about bhangra are pretty annoying, what is insidious about essentialism is the fact that it removes a person’s humanity. It makes them an object. As a crunk feminist, I know that objectification, whether it be in Hollywood, Bollywood, or a dumb HuffPo blog is actually DANGEROUS. It reduces people not only to their “databilty” but to their body parts in ways that actually lead to physical, mental and emotional harm. It’s not funny and it’s not cute.
It’s a political act, and it’s not a feminist one.
Post Script, for a little levity:
Because Miller spends a lot of time discussing Bollywood, I can’t resist making one vehement statement about it myself. I have a complicated relationship with Bollywood. I personally love Shah Rukh Khan and as many of my dearest friends can attest, ALSO love Kal Penn. So, #*%$ you: HE DOES COUNT.