There is no doubt that Indian men have a bad reputation on the internet, and in most cases for good reason.
We’ve seen brown incels who save and circulate unsolicited nudes of women on anonymous discord channels, committing serious acts of sexual violence.
In fact, an entire subsection of the alt-right manosphere of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Nepali, and second generation Indian-American incels—which self-identifies as the ‘currycels'—is deeply insecure about their race in tandem with their violent misogyny.
But even outside of such really dark spaces, brown men permeate their casual sexism online. If you’ve ever read the term “frandship” online, it refers to the persistent (often South Asian) men who pursue women online for some sort of contact.
Brown women have constantly and rightfully called out this behaviour, some talking about how this behaviour is an issue in dating, with others grappling with how to undo the toxic traits of Indian men.
However, white women are not exempt from being subjected to these behaviours from brown men, and in fact, the prevailing colourism and internalized racism in South Asian cultures makes it more desirable for these men to contact white women.
Although anyone inflicted by constant unsolicited messages has a right to criticize it, the response to this behaviour has simultaneously resulted in an online space for a barrage of racist tropes, especially on TikTok, which has often contributed to perpetuating racist stereotypes.
White women using viral trends for social capital
It’s valid for white women to want to process the icky feeling of this relentless contact through humour. However in doing so, especially on TikTok, they have managed to create the perfect breeding ground for racism.
White and light-skinned women do not experience the same kind of online harassment as women of colour do. In making light of these messages that have actually been harmful to so many women of colour, white women tend to negate such experiences by centering their whiteness, in sharp contrast with a generalization of South Asian men.
A quick search of “Indian men in my DMs” will bring up hundreds of videos of mostly white and non-South Asian women making fun of the… Indian dude in their DMs.
Often times they will look harmless like this:
Then you really start to scroll through the plethora of them, wherein the words “old,” “Indian,” “creep,” and “men” are used almost interchangeably.
You start seeing how white women use these DMs for TikTok trends that bring them internet clout.
One popular trend is using Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi”, pretending to be the “Indian guy” as the lyrics “I’m your biggest fan/I’ll follow you until you love me” play in the background.
Another trend uses the song “Jenny” by Studio Killers to text a friend to confuse them, with an emphasis on the lyrics “I wanna ruin our friendship/We should be lovers instead.”
These women will post these viral TikTok videos, specifically trying this trend on the “Indian guy in [their] DMs” and posting screenshots of their confused and excited responses in broken English.
Racist white guys and the absolution of their sexism
The comments on these videos will often further make fun of their English, some referring to the infamous “Bobs and Vegana” meme. Others are extremely racist, where they talk about how unattractive or disgusting Indians are as a whole.
Then there are the white men who feel comfortable in mocking the alleged Indian men in their girlfriends’ DMs with quotes like “Wil u be marre me?”
This isn’t limited to TikTok.
A now-deleted TikTok video explained how people have anecdotally heard of and even know some white men cosplaying as creepy Indian men, weaponizing their racist beliefs to make women uncomfortable on the internet.
What other purpose does this serve but for white men to point to racialized men for their outwardly creepy actions, all the while attempting to absolve themselves of their supposedly lesser, benevolent forms of misogyny?
What’s the problem if they are indeed creepy Indian dudes?
One TikTok video explains how this trope can be linked back to British colonialism, where British men would fabricate reports of Indian men sexually assaulting white women to justify the colonization of India.
Additionally, the forced migration of Indian labourers to the Caribbean constructed their own stereotypes of the “jealous” East Indian man, who resented the lack of Indian women around him, resorting to murder and violence.
This narrative has always been used to position Black and non-white men as threats to white women, and subjugate their position as suitable partners, indirectly contrasting them to white men.
More recently, South Asian men have been desexualized and portrayed as nerds with inadequately-sized penises along with an inability to romantically engage with others. For example, the character of Raj Koothrappali in The Big Bang Theory is socially inept at talking to women, but often comes off as creepy and inappropriate when drunk.
But when they do work their way up to western standards of masculinity and attractiveness, like Kumail Nanjiani, they are held to a different standard and unfairly criticized.
Funny how that works, isn’t it?
If not “bobs & vegana,” is “send nudes” chill?
In an essay for Rife Magazine, Hansit Deb explained how he was “well aware of the fact that a brown man initiating a conversation with a woman online has certain implications.”
This certainly doesn’t mean that brown men have it worse, as brown women are constantly either fetishized or given masculine traits to desexualize them. In addition, Brown men like Kumail Nanjiani, Aziz Ansari, and Hasan Minhaj will fetishize and idolize white women on screen.
Collectively, as brown men, we need to move beyond just “listening” and “learning” how to dismantle the toxic patterns we perpetuate, but according to Deb, we also need to laugh at how harassment singled out from brown men is reflected on… only brown men.
“Men of every cultural, social, and economic background harass women online, and it seems that Indian men deserve to be the butt of the joke since they cannot spell “boobs” or “vagina”, unlike white men, who can send a well framed sentence like, “Send nudes,” which I suppose communicates the message of online harassment more succinctly,” Deb wrote.
A few brown women on TikTok have pointed out this discrepancy in how white women respond to creepy dudes in general.
And that’s the difference; no one wants to normalize harassment.
Saying #NotAllMen is hurtful, because the rebuttal to violent misogyny is rooted in power imbalances which will rarely hurt a man beyond the consequences of his own actions.
However, singling out traits of an entire group of men, be it broken English or other unfounded stereotypes which can be attributed to those who don’t fit the “creepy Indian guy” bill, is based in ideals of white supremacy and racism.
Maybe for non-South Asian women, using racist TikTok trends might be the way they cope from the exhaustion of these unsolicited messages, but does that necessarily help South Asian women?
If important conversations around brown masculinities and patriarchal beliefs, which brown women constantly initiate by will or force, is being sidelined by white women and their whiteness without giving space to brown women, it might be causing more harm than good.
About the author: Karan Saxena (he/they) is a journalist and writer from Mumbai, India. He is currently in Vancouver pursuing his Master of Journalism at UBC. He graduated from the University of Manitoba with a BA (Adv.) in Political Studies and a BA in Women's & Gender Studies. Karan loves researching and writing on queer culture, climate change, immigration, power structures, fascism and violence. He could talk for hours about fashion, French pop music, the ongoing exploitation of the global south, wealth inequality, and the versatility of tote bags!