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Misplaced Values and Issue of Colorism

May 08, 1988

View states that colorism in America resulted from the preferential treatment accorded the lighter-skinned offspring of slave masters and slave women. The existence of colorism is not confined to this country. In India where persons of African ancestry are almost never encountered, every microshade of skin color between teakwood and mahogany is noted with subtle but obsessive concern.

One sees personal ads in the daily newspapers that read, "I am seeking a husband for my Brahmin daughter. She is 23-years-old, has a Master's Degree in Sanskrit Studies from Calcutta University, and is plain but with good features."

The last sentence should read as follows, "She is intelligent, a beauty and would have been married five years ago except that she is a little too dark for the taste of most prospective husbands of our caste." Plain is a euphemism for too dark, and permitting your daughter to marry into a lower caste is still considered bad parenting.

Varna is a Sanskrit word usually translated as caste, but it also means color. Generally speaking, the higher the caste, the lighter the skin color. This is true even in Tamil Nadu where the average citizen makes the late Godfrey Cambridge look like an albino. Brahmins (priest caste) are lighter than sudras (servant caste), and sudras are lighter than harijans (outcasts or "children of God" as the Mahatma Gandhi called them).

LOU GOTTLIEB

Sherman Oaks

Because of an editing error, Njeri's story incorrectly stated: "Between all blacks and all whites with the same approximate level of education--12 years--light-skinned blacks earned about 58 cents for every dollar a white person earned." In fact, the 58-cent figure referred to all blacks, not just those with lighter skin.

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