I’m White, So That Means I’m Pretty And Smart, Right?

My answer to this question is an emphatic YES. And I am not being sarcastic.

A couple of years ago, I was on a tram in Melbourne and overheard a very intriguing conversation about being white and non-white.

Sitting in front of and facing me on this particular tram ride were two Caucasian blue-eyed, blonde haired girls who I wagered were friends, Australian and undergraduate students not much older than twenty. Eavesdropping on their banter, I was highly amused to hear how full of themselves both ladies sounded as they chatted about being fair-skinned bodies.

I don’t exactly remember the conversation word-for-word, but I do remember parts of it vividly ‘til this day:

Girl 1: I’m heading to China during the holidays after this semester. When I finish uni, someday I want to work in China as a game-show host. You know, like on their wacky variety shows where they play games for outrageous prizes. And you know what? The people in China absolutely love white people! They think we’re so pretty. They look up to us because you are white! It’s so great!

Girl 2: Oh yes, I’ve heard about that. They do, don’t they?Girl 1: Yes! It’ll be great working there. The Chinese welcome people like us and it’ll be easy to make money there. They just love this: white! (vigorously rubs hands up and down her bare, fair arms)

Girl 2: Definitely. They really like staring at us. Sometimes they can’t stop.

Girl 1: They even go to great lengths to look like us! There’s a big market in China for whitening beauty products that they use to make their skin lighter. (puts both hands on cheeks briefly) They’re afraid of becoming dark. They worship us because we look, well, white!

To sum up the girls’ thoughts as per the conversation: “I’m white, educated. So that means I’m pretty, smart and deserve respect.” And it is quite common to come across people with such demeanour.

Along with the conversation itself, such a proposition is clearly shallow. It implies that role models who possess ethical morals are callously benchmarked against a certain skin colour and ethnicity.

Abhorrent.

It also harps on the traditional notion that the West is the superior race and the East inferior.

Nevertheless, my response to the question (or statement or thought), “I’m white, so that means I’m pretty and smart (?)”, is yes.

Why?

As one who has traveled a fair bit and mingled with people of different races, I’ve come to see whites, non-whites, Asians, Europeans, Australians in any part of the world – you name it – as just…people.

I’ve come to see this statement as akin to, “I’m a person, so that means I’m pretty and smart.”

To me, “white” is just a synonym for the word “person”.

Just as age is just a number, skin colour is just a colour.

No two of us possess the same physical features right down to the same miniscule pore sizes, so we’re all emphatically unique in our way. Heck, beauty – a notch up from pretty which is merely skin deep – comes from within and radiates from the nice things that we do and this has nothing to do with looks. People have different strengths and are good at some things and not so good at others, so everyone is smart as well in some sense.

And so it would be quite unjust to outright say that the statement holds no truth, wouldn’t it?

At the end of the day, the majority of us are very similar in many ways, especially in the everyday context:

  • We work hard for our money.
  • We pay attention to people who care and love those who are there for us.
  • We love food and we eat food.

Yes, the thought “I’m white, so that means I’m pretty and smart” is shallow and reeks of racist connotations. But ultimately it is still a perspective and an opinion, albeit a rather ignorant one, that can be valid.

Rather than accuse individuals of Caucasian ethnicity who think this way as pompous and intentionally bearing racial prejudices against other races, I prefer to simply think that they have yet to discover just how attractive – in the physical and personality sense – and remarkably intellectually engaging non-whites who come from diverse backgrounds can actually be.

It takes effort on one’s part, and perhaps also the assistance of others, to change the repetitive, so-accustomed-to ways of thinking about the world and push beyond the barriers of stubborn ignorance towards the importance of other cultures ingrained within in order to see the flipside of different ethnicities at face value.

It takes the right occasion(s), or the right moment, to crop up and instigate one into consciously paying attention to the various cross-cultural contexts and issues that are ever so pervasive and have much significance in society today.

It takes time for one to learn to see situations from different cultural perspectives, and even more time to understand the entire gist, histories and complexities of other cultures.

I’ve yet to hear another shallow conversation like the one above for a while now. But I’m sure it’ll be soon. Perhaps tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’m not judging a book by its cover. I’ll wholeheartedly think of everyone around me – whites and non-whites – as awesome people with big hearts who each have their own stories to tell.

May we all get along and eventually come to understand and respect each other’s beliefs and backgrounds. And live in a harmonious multicultural society.

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21 thoughts on “I’m White, So That Means I’m Pretty And Smart, Right?

  1. I think there is this lingering notion (in some people) that the West still ‘owns’ Asia (colonialism). Unfortunately, some people think the West is far more superior than the East and that’s a load of bull. No one is more superior than anyone!

    The girls are idiots, because there are not a lot of Caucasians in China hence they would get stared at a little more. Just like in the early days of Australia where there weren’t many Chinese people, Chinese people get stared at too. It’s kind of like if someone walks pass with 3 heads, I would turn around to look at the person again.

    Intelligence and personality has nothing to do with ethnicity and race, it all depends on the individual’s personality, whether they want to work hard or want to achieve their goals. And all ethnic and racial groups have their own unique looks, we shouldn’t say who’s more beautiful than who etc.

    However, it is true that whitening skin products are a big hit in Asia (not to mention the crazy plastic surgeries in Korea and Japan). To me, this means that some people are embarrassed about the way they look…quite frankly some (I’ve heard this before) are embarrassed about what/how their own racial group looks like.

    I think everyone should be proud of who they are, because that’s what makes them unique. You can’t replace uniqueness.

    By the way, I love the Ninja Turtle picture!!!

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    • I really like your analogy of staring at someone with 3 heads, and I do believe that since the proportion of Caucasians in China is very small. that’s why Chinese people here stare at them. And so true – ‘you can’t replace uniqueness’. Uniqueness is not just about looks. It’s also not just about being a Ninja Turtle! It’s also about the way we conduct ourselves.

      Yes! I’ve also heard that some ethnic groups are embarrassed about their ethnic make-up! But that’s another whole story for another time!

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  2. In certain ways, I do believe that it is how the Whites are brought up as compared to their Asian counterparts. In general, the Caucasians are more out-spoken and flexible, while Asians are always taught to respect their elders and not to speak against them, even at times when their elders are wrong. And when the whites speak, they speak with confidence.With that, it portrays some level of “smartness”, I guess.

    Then again, I do agree that everyone is special, and it’s how you carry yourself that makes you, you. Definitely not the skin color.

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    • A very valid point indeed! Caucasians and Asians have very different upbringings, and yes, the former are taught to be more out-spoken and this makes them seem smarter – given that they are brave enough to voice their opinions. At times, shyness or quietness can be mistaken for stupidity or cowardliness.

      And I definitely think that you, me, and everyone else is special. We are all individuals in our own way with our different personalities!

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  3. It is pretty dismal to think that today beauty is only skin deep. Although I don’t agree with these girls, but I won’t blame them for they are simply the victims of this very problematic society. Look at the reality TV shows, they have proven that one can be famous just because one’s appearance and being stared at in public is a thing to be proud of. Yes, the Chinese are obsessed with being white, but so do the Caucasians with tanning. Taking the most superficial elements from a foreign culture, be it food, clothing, appearance, and etc., and appropriate them to one’s own liking is how multiculturalism has turned out in most practicing countries. With no knowledge about the Chinese language and other deeper cultural insights, these girls can never be game show hostesses. We do have to be wary about the word multiculturalism, but I still holds faith in it and I cannot wait for the day to come when everyone is deemed beautiful and smart in their own ways.

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    • I agree with you Yuan Cao, Caucasians are indeed obssessed with tanning salons! And I totally agree with your views about how multiculturalism is interpreted in a shallow way. For some people it is difficult to engage with them about deeper cultural insights – one of the problems I find is that they already have a preconceived notion and idea of what the said culture is like and therefore they are not ready to accept and understand it in a non-partial way

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    • I agree with you Yuan. Yes, the way society is and operates is significantly to blame for the way these girls and such people think, and reality tv is a very good example of that. Same with advertisements that are hawking beauty products through ‘beautiful people’ that are often white. Multiculturalism today seems like a very simple term, when in actual fact it is a very complex one. We can eat foreign food and parade about in ethnic clothing, but what’s the point if at the end of the day we aren’t making the effort to accept each other for who they are regardless of culture and beliefs? Perhaps there are different levels of multiculturalism. However, I do think the girls can be game show hostess in China if they are lucky – most of the time they’ll be reading off autocue.

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  4. It also depends on which sort of Caucasians we talk about. Indeed Asian culture teaches us to rever our elders (for some reason this is sometimes interpreted a bad thing) and teaches us to respect our seniors (I still don’t understand why we call our tutors or professors at university by their names). Just like we call our older siblings as ‘older brother’ or ‘older sister’, I am proud to be in a culture that respects. Some people who are brought up in Western culture don’t respect their elders…not even their parents as noted in quite a number of sitcoms in America, parents are often portrayed as meddlesome.

    You are right Mabel, sometimes quietness is misinterpreted as apathetic, unwillingness to participate and cowardliness. Some people don’t know that the sometimes the quiet ones are actually the stronger and braver person than the ones who talk too much. This is not to say all Caucasians are like this, and I do agree voicing one’s opinion is good because it encourages discussion.

    But through experience and (and some historical figures have proven), I do notice that quiet ones do have strength. We (Asians) are often accused of being timid and too afraid of voicing our opinions because of ‘Confucius’ (seems so common these days that people blame all the misfortunes on Confucius) but sometimes it is wiser to choose one’s battles rather than fight all the time.

    An example I would like to provide is Jing Ke, Jing was born in the Warring States period of ancient China (475BC-403BC), the time when China was divided into vassal states and Dukes and Marquis fought each other. At that time, the Qin State (today’s Shaanxi Province) was very strong and had the capacity to conquer the other 6 states. The Prince of Yan State (today’s Beijing), Prince Dan, was desperate to kill Ying Zheng (Ying Zheng is Shi Huang Di’s name, first Emperor of China) of Qin State to stop his conquest campaign.

    Prince Dan was looking for assassins and he enlisted Jing Ke. But people underestimated Jing Ke because he was quiet and had seen him walk away from people challenging him to a fight. Jing Ke travelled to Qin State, with another assassin who was a young man name Qing Wuyang. They travelled under the pretext of representing Yan State. Upon seeing many soldiers and bodyguards protecting Ying Zheng, Qin Wuyang trembled in fear but Jing Ke very calmly told Ying Zheng that Qin Quyang was just nervous because he had never seen a Crown Prince before.

    Jing Ke went up to greet Ying Zheng while Qin Wuyang stayed behind. Jing Ke presented a scroll to Ying Zheng but inside the scroll was a daggar. Jing Ke instantly grabbed the daggar and tried to kill Ying Zheng but was unsuccessful and he died of a horrible death.

    Nobody thought Jing Ke had such bravery to go and assassinate Ying Zheng, knowing very well that he was a very scary ruler. The point I’m trying to make is that just because someone don’t say much, doesn’t mean they are cowardly and I believe Jing Ke is a good example. I think Jing Ke had never killed anyone before whereas Qin Wuyang had killed before, but Jing Ke displayed true courage.

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    • I think the historical example illustrated your point very well, which I duly agree with! I have always thought that revering to our elders is a good thing – it teaches us to focus, listen and ultimately learn something. It is totally wrong to interpret this as a bad thing. I don’t see anything wrong with calling our teachers/lecturers by their first names – I guess from the Western mindset this diffuses the ‘authority figure’ of those teaching us so as to create more friendly learning environments (though like you I would rather not call them by their first names). But at times this has drawbacks: although it does encourage one to voice their opinions and ultimately encourage discussion, more often than not there is one or two individuals who will assertively assert their opinion and insist they are right.

      I also agree that quiet people or those who talk occasionally have strength. Sometimes, they may not have strength in terms of verbally voicing their opinions, but have strength in perhaps writing or actions – which ties in very nicely with your historical example. And it also goes back to the idea that everyone is unique in their own individual way.

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  5. Thanks Mabel 🙂 back then everyone who knew Jing Ke was shocked when they found out he went to assassinate Ying Zheng. In regards to calling teachers by their name, maybe it’s a cultural difference thing. I remember I heard a woman (I remember she is from Africa but forget where exactly) she said she found it difficult and unusual that we call universoty teachers by their first names.

    I agree, and I believe sometimes writing is stronger. Some people talk a lot about things but don;t end up committing to their actions (all show and no go haha). While some people just get the job done. And the other important thing is never underestimate anyone, everyone has their own strengths. This is especially in reference to people who think they are ‘racially superior’ compared to another race.

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  6. I am white and I’ve lived in South Korea for over five years. The fact is, there is a kind of reverse racism in East Asia toward white people. They do put us on an unnecessary pedestal. This is a fact. It does not mean that I think I’m superior to them; just the opposite, it means that they think that.
    Is this a problem? Of course. Is it my problem? No. I also view people as people. So the conversation between those two white girls was actually spot on.

    What’s the problem? If they said, “They think we’re superior, and of course we are!” then that would be a problem. Their conversation just shows that they are willing to live in a foreign country and they know a bit about that country. I’ll admit that the girl saying she’s going to be a host on some game show was arrogant in that she’s assuming she’ll be that successful before even doing anything. However, that’s it.
    Also, Koreans do stare at me. They also say, in Korean, “Foreigner!” This is, again, a fact. It doesn’t bother me personally because I know that the term foreigner doesn’t have the negative connotation that we have for it in English, but it is still a fact. I have friends who live in China and Japan who’ve worked with me in Korea. They report the same phenomenon. I’m not sure why you’re so worked up over this.

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    • Yes, I agree with you when you mention that there is some sort of ‘reverse racism’ in East Asia towards Caucasians. I know people in this region who look up quite a lot to (white) foreigners and expect foreigners to be intellectually smart and exemplify moral behaviour one should follow. One reason could be because people of Asian descent – Korean, Japanese, Chinese – think that Caucasians are superior because that idea is embedded within their cultures.

      Koreans or Asians pointing to Caucasians and saying ‘Foreigner!’ is definitely nothing new. I’ve friends in East Asia who would gawk at a blonde hair, fair-skinned Caucasian person walking by. This is definitely very interesting to me, as like you, I see people as people. One reason behind this phenomenon could be that Asians in this part of the world don’t tend to see foreigners too often in their daily lives and so when they see one such person, they stare because such a sighting is just so different, something unexpected. And many of us tend to stare if we saw something such as a person covered in bright blue body paint on the streets.

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      • Good to hear we’re on the same page. So, I don’t understand your feelings about those two girls chatting on the bus. Personally, I’d be just annoyed by the inanity of their conversation; however, it seemed like you were genuinely upset and felt that they were wrong for what they said. Maybe I misunderstood your position?

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        • I’m not actually upset with the girls’ conversation, I was actually very amused and was for the life of me struggling not to burst out laughing in front of them. Why? Because not all Chinese or Korean or Japanese people want to look white like Caucasians and are happy in their own skin. From their conversation, it sounded as if they thought all Asians looked up to them 🙂

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  7. Well, I went to China and was even on a game show for two months, but not as the host. I was meant to be the foreign idiot that was always cheated out of his money. That kind of suggested that there may be a stereotype of Caucasiams was not necessarily consistent with the girls image.

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    • Your experience sounds very interesting. You are right in saying that these game shows sort of portray them as idiots – these Anglo contestants are often asked to perform outrageous stunts to win a sum of money. However, from what I feel, there is a general feeling among Westerners in Western countries that there are plenty of Caucasians/foreigners who win big on these shows where Asians cheer – worship – them on, so perhaps this is why the girls acted that way. Mass media / popular culture can be partly to blame. The Simpsons’ Japanese game show episode is one example.

      “Trailer” for episode: youtube.com/watch?v=dyyq15MNRCI

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      • I agree with you that there are a lot of Caucasians who feel there is hero worship of Caucasians in Asian countries. The truth is more nuanced. Certainly there are lots of locals who are fascinated and intrigued with Caucasians, but there are also some negative stereotypes.

        I think a lot of the nuanced approach just comes from confidence that the Caucasians exude. I think our education system encourages us to believe in ourselves whereas hierarchical education systems that are common in Asia strip confidence. Because westerners go to Asia in a confident mind, Asians almost bow down to it. This includes the abc and bbc. (Australian born Chinese, British Born Chinese, American born Chinese.) They also come across as confident and are popular, but they too subjected to negative stereotypes, such as being referred to as bananas or egotistical. Nevertheless, they are confident and are popular.

        Ironically, in regards to the post, a lot of Caucasian females struggle in Asia. Not many are attracted to Asian men and not many Asian men are attracted to Caucasian women. Meanwhile, many Asian women are attracted to Caucasian men and vice versa. As a result, single Caucasian women have far fewer opportunities in Asia. Some of these women really struggle with the decline in their desirability and in turn lose their confidence, at least as far as dating is concerned.

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        • That is a very good observation RedEarthBlueSky. I remember when I was living in Singapore and Malaysia, whenever I saw a Caucasian foreigner out on the streets here it would usually be a male. Rarely did I see a female Caucasian, though I’m sure there are quite a few of them living in Asian cities. I don’t know if it’s because they don’t fancy Asian men or the other way round – perhaps it’s because there is a lack of job/professional opportunities for them there given that there is a tendency for Asians to view white men as the all-intelligent-high-and-mighty sex.

          This is just my hunch – many Caucasian females living in Asia tend to be housewives, married to a Caucasian man/expat and take care of the kids, and they partake in community activities with other Caucasian female housewives in their spare time. I used to live in an expat dominated housing esatate in Singapore, and many of these Caucasian females seemed to stick to themselves (I never saw the chanceto say hi to them).

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