Cryptic cultural variation

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Over at Sepia Mutiny I learned something new the other day, that not all brown people consider white the color of death! You see, in a review of Parminder Nagra’s TV wedding, a brown American writer stated “I did laugh at the effort to bridge cultures, though, when Nagra’s character got married wearing a white sari. White is the Hindu color of mourning.” Well, not only do South Indian Hindus reject this claim, but white is the color of mourning among Bengali Muslims (personal experience) and in China. Last year an attempt to portray Diwali as the pan-brown Hindu holiday was rejected by some who noted that Bengalis, for one, did not focus on this holiday. I bring this up because as brown Americans we are used to “representing” and “communicating” “our culture” to the greater society, but we often don’t really know how our own specific experience blinds us to non-existent generalities. I joked to Manish Vij that someone should write a book for browns about all the things about browns they don’t know that they don’t know (from this Bengali to other browns, not all browns are hairy & stinky! Especially those of us who are a little chinky :).

But it isn’t all ethnic. When I was a freshman in college a girl commented in an offhand manner that “That’s so funny that I’m going to pee my pants!” I really didn’t “get this,” and I had never really understood this assertion, so I asked where it came from. She explained that when people laugh hard they pee. I observed that this never happened to me, and when I asked around the dormitory I found that females understood immediately the reference and many of the males were as confused as I was. It turns out that there were physiological differences between males and females, and the propensity to urinate in response to laughter is more of a “girl thing.”

Honestly, I started thinking about this because of prosopagnosia. I mean, “we celebrate diversity,” but I’m not sure if we really know how diverse we are….


  1. Paminder’s character is supposed to be a Sikh.

  2. White is the Hindu color of mourning.” Well, not only do South Indian Hindus reject this claim 
    I may be misreading you, but my Tamil (Hindu) wife (and her family) said that white was the color of mourning.

  3. Brown girls not wearing white? White is one of the hottest colors on dark-skinned people! When I wear white, I look like one of those severe “art gallery” types. Yellow too… lucky browns! Y’all can wear so many more colors. :P You don’t know what it’s like to have dulce de leche skin. (Yeah, that’s right, I’ve found a dignifying and exotic word for pale! “Ivory” doesn’t sound exotic enough these days.) 
    Re: South Asians who are “a little chinky,” you see the same thing in Latin America: Mediterraneans tend to have a little more down than other groups, but most s-S Africans & Native Americans have sparser body hair. That’s why Brazilians produce so many hotties: by chance, _someone’s_ going to express the best of all the admixed groups’ beauty-related genes, and Brazil boasts a large N to better single out these unlikely individuals.

    I may be misreading you, but my Tamil (Hindu) wife (and her family) said that white was the color of mourning.
    i guess south indians are varied too :)

  5. Men don’t “pee” anyway.

  6. I hear that, at bikini-waxing places, there are bikini-waxers who specialize in yanking the crotch-hairs of dark gals and others who specialize in yanking the crotch-hairs of lighter-complected gals. Evidently the coarseness/fineness of the crotch-hairs is quite different, as is the thinness/thickness of the underlying crotch-skin. Takes finesse of one kind to service the darkers with minimal pain, and finesse of another kind to service the lighters.

  7. In Kerala, wearing white is quite normal. Black is the colour of death/sadness.

  8. all keralans, or just christians?