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Your caste or mine?

Castes.001Interesting op ed in the New York Times' "Sunday Review." 

It resurrects a 2006 Duke University study that asked people in Durham, N.C., about their racial attitudes.

The researchers basically asked the respondents -- 160 whites, 151 blacks, and 167 Hispanics -- which racial group they felt they had the most in common with. 

Blacks and whites were just about as likely to pick each other's group. Nearly half of whites said they had more in common with blacks than with other racial groups. Blacks felt pretty much the same way, although about as many felt they had more in common with Hispanics.  

But Hispanics were nearly five times as likely to say they had more in common with whites than with blacks. In fact, more than half of Hispanics (53%) said they felt they had the least in common with blacks. 

The six year-old study assumed new relevance in light of the recent killing of Trayvon Martin. The victim, of course, was a young black man. Less well publicized is that his accused killer is Hispanic. George Zimmerman's mother is Peruvian. 

Indeed, so many Hispanics immigrants have moved into central Florida they are now the area's dominant minority group.  The author of the Times' op ed suggests that they, like past immigrants, "may feel pressed to identify with the dominant caste and distance themselves from blacks, in order to survive."

That may be the social context of this tragedy. Or it may simply be another example of what the Washington Post's DeNeen Brown termed "the crazy aunt in the attic of racism" -- colorism, a deep-seated preference for lighter colored skin that seems to afflict all cultures, even within communities of color.

For example, many Hispanic women remember their mother shouting, “Ya salte del sol, te vas a poner muy negra” (“Get out of the sun, you will get too dark”).

Mamá seemed to intuitively know what studies have conclusively shown – light-skinned Latinas are twice as likely to marry as their darker-complexioned sisters.

And Harvard’s test of implicit bias indicates that Indians and Indian Americans are even more prejudiced than Whites on issues of skin tone.

All of which may help explain why more than half of skin care sales in India are for whitening. And why, worldwide, sales of skin lightening products are projected to reach $10 billon by 2015.  

It's that crazy aunt whispering in all our ears. And perpetuating an ancient caste system in the process.


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