in response to an ask on angryasiangirlsunited, that mentioned white skin beauty standard in East Asia predates Western colonialism: this is what colonialism does. It not only super-imposed Western thoughts, but also created a dichotomy between the West and “East” that continued to distort any self-reflection and progress within the decolonial process. Thus, as I observe when I talk about social issues to people in Viet Nam, the excuse of “this is Eastern culture” serves to legitimize the preservation of oppressive cultural norms and practices. Meanwhile, people misconceived that the West is some sort of beacon of equality and progress, not knowing that people, especially women/people of color, have always resisted and fought for their rights within the West. This is the extent of colonialism and white-supremacy and how they continue to whitewash history (both their own nation’s and global histories) and distort former colonized peoples’ conception of themselves and their culture and community…especially regarding issues to the relationships between the Diaspora and the Motherland.
So yes, white skin preference pre-dated Western colonialism (though whether it pre-dated Chinese imperialism in Viet Nam is another story), but how we talk about that beauty standard NOW is deeply entrenched in that history of Western colonialism. And i deliberately use “white” instead of “pale” or “light,” because the direct translation of the term “da trắng” that Vietnamese people use is “white skin.” That preference for white skin no longer exist independent of Western thoughts anymore—they complimented each other, and they continue to compliment each other today. Yes, we should be careful to not apply racial politics within the US into the context of, say, Viet Nam, because those are two completely different contexts. However, Viet Nam, or any other countries in Asia, is not isolated from the economic or cultural effects of global capitalism/globalization dominated by the Westernized First World. And it the West gets to continue its oppressive influence, why can’t I offer some critical racial, gender, decolonial thoughts into such influence as a daughter of Việt Nam?
Viet Nam is subjected to global capotalism it as if neocolonialism is happening (oh, wait).
For example, much of Viet Nam’s economic development depends to tourists, who are mostly (Western) White people or backpackers. And then of course, sweat shops such as Nike’s sweat shops located in Viet Nam (and other Asian countries). Western media do influence the youth culture in Viet Nam, and what the youths parrot are usually images of White people. Yet, most youths seem to carry an antagonism (worst case scenario) or alienating “curiosity” towards dark-skinned people, as experienced by my Black-American partner in Viet Nam, probably because the existence of such people do not fit into their constructed conception of Whiteness that suppose to goes hand-in-hand with American-ness and Western-ness. The rich Diaspora do take advantage of the development opportunities in Saigon, and do bring their Western values there—values such as Vietnamese people are “degenerate that’s why they’re so criminal,” which is partly informed by their experience living through the poverty of Wartime, partly internalized colonialism, and partly First World privilege/snobbery. Sentiments that my own family voiced when I told them I want to study abroad in Viet Nam. And yes, those sentiments are shaded by perceptions of color.
Further, gender and social status do historically shaped that preference for white-skin. Pretty much the logic is if your wife has light skin, it means that you’re well off enough so that your wife doesn’t have to work in the field and can afford to sit around and be an ornament. I remember my partner, whilst teaching English at a park in Saigon, confronted a Vietnamese guy, who prefers white skinned women because it means they’re weak and delicate, and that women with dark skin looks ugly, even if she is Beyonce. Meanwhile, dark-skinned (but not TOO dark) men are accepted, if not preferred, because it means they’re strong next to their seemingly weak woman. Also, that same guy favors premarital sex, yet demands a virgin wife. Gender and social status are a big issues, even in a so-called communist country. But how can a communist country avoid the clutch of global capitalism? How can these deeply entrenched cultural notions about gender and social status be challenged in the context of White patriarchal heterosexist supremacy on a global level?
But we can’t criticize problematic norms based on the West because, well, fuck the West. Decolonization requires looking at our cultural norms as it is—that violence do exist within our own community, while at the same time recognizing that it no longer exists independent of the West. But we can demand social change within our community, in our homeland, without referencing the West as some sort of model for change. But if we do, please do not do so without recognizing and pay tribute to the efforts of people of color fighting against White supremacy and colonialism within the West itself. They are the one who demanded change and made change within the West. And that requires recognizing that the West is not white, and white is not right. #solidarity