hi, one of the main/supporting characters of my fantasy novel (I'm still in the middle of plotting so I'm not sure yet whether I'll write from her POV or not) is appearance-wise inspired by Nepalese and other South Asian people. is giving her blue eyes problematic? she is by far not the only character of color (my protagonist is a black girl and I have more supporting characters of colors, also Asian inspired ones) and most of my characters have brown eyes anyways, but I wanted to check, seeing as I'm a white person. thank you in advance for your response :) (and if it is problematic, I'll change it, it's only a minor detail anyways)
Can my Nepalese and South Asian characters have blue eyes?
A couple of things to clarify here:
Other South Asian characters
Do you have more main/supporting brown-eyed characters of South-Asian descent specifically? Because, if that’s not the case, she might still work as an exoticized brown Other amidst East and South East Asian characters.
BIPOC with light eyes and exoticization
BIPOC women aren’t particularly singled out to be beautiful in mainstream fantasy media and most times their aesthetic is “improved” by Eurocentric features like light eyes and fair hair.
Zoya Nazyalensky from the Grisha Trilogy (coded as- and portrayed by -a woman of South Asian descent) is described as “beautiful” multiple times, but the fulcrum of her beauty is often her blue eyes, with the author turning her into a completely white-passing character in the final book, albeit harnessing her racial conflict for an uninspiring side-plot.
Esmeralda from Notre Dame (Disney)
Esmeralda from Disney’s adaptation of Notre Dame was a French girl with black eyes in the source material, but she is changed to a Romani character who is much more flirtatious and extroverted than her book counterpart and has emerald green eyes, whereas all her community has brown eyes.
Crowd of dark-eyed Romani people from Notre Dame (Disney)
When Sarah J. Maas is not busy killing off POC characters and calling them ugly or plain beside their white counterparts, she makes sure you know they have white hair and green flecks in their eyes which makes them somewhat more palatable.
In Avatar: The Last Airbender (itself fraught with depictions that have often not received the criticism they warrant), the Water tribes, who have noticeably darker skin, are all blue-eyed; waterbending and spirit magic effectively buffering the fact that the two sole dark skinned main female characters in the series have blue eyes. In fact, for a series that has earned so much acclaim for its depiction of Asian culture, Avatar barely has a single South Asian character (let alone brown-eyed) who is depicted with the same depth and nuance as the green/blue/golden eyed benders.
The point I’m trying to make here is that light eye colours are often used to connote beauty and uniqueness in characters of colour (often by white authors) with the underlying assumption that BIPOC look pretty much the same and so they need a Eurocentric qualifier to be truly appealing (Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha is a particularly appalling example).
Examine your own biases
Is there a narrative emphasis upon why this character’s eye colour has to be blue?
Perhaps they are on the run and their blue-eyed trait makes it difficult for them to mingle with their other South and East Asian companions?
Do they have a colour change while using magic (think the Twilight vampires’ eyes switching from gold to black, to reflect their hunger)?
I am guessing there isn’t, since you mentioned it’s a minor detail that can be easily removed.
If so, consider why you chose this eye colour in the first place. Examine your own possible internalised biases. Do you want to make your character more special and beautiful than the other Asian characters? Do you think that blue eyes are somehow more aesthetically appealing due to their rarity?
South Asians are not a monolith
Finally, remember this: South Asians are not a monolith, and while brown eyed people are the overwhelming majority, people with blue, green, hazel, grey and other light eye colours do exist, particularly among those of Sindhi/Kashmiri descent in India and Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan, the latter due to their shared inheritance (with the Europeans) of the the blue eye gene. Creating a blue eyed South Asian character is not inherently problematic. However, intentions do matter, and I highly recommend studying cases of the West’s extreme, almost voyeuristic fascination with real-life South Asian people having light eyes. Is it just a simple whimsical desire to appreciate beauty, or is it rooted in a more complicated past of colourism and featurism? I’ll leave these articles for further reference.
Pakistani tea seller lands modelling contract because of blue eyes
Why do so many A-list actresses in Bollywood have Eurocentric features?
What was the Western obsession with green eyed Afghan girl Sharbat Gula really about?
“Fun Facts about Disney’s Mulan” includes a whitewashed, blue-eyed redesign
Brown-eyed girl plugs in her ko-fi, thank you very much.
- Mod Mimi
Ask published Oct 2021
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