Orientalism in 19th Century Interracial Relationships

While reading God of Small things set in post colonial India, I was reminded of the effects of Orientalism among British officers in the East India Company. More specifically when examining Orientalism, the relationships between British officers and Indian women came to mind.

The theory of Orientalism discusses the dangers of both stereotypes that diminish the validity of nations on the “orient” describing places outside of the West “primitive” and stuck in time, as well as stereotypes that over romanticize the culture, depicting the people, especially the women of the “Orient” as sensual, mysterious, and exotic. Both stereotypes are equally harmful because both work to dehumanize the people that live outside of the West, not allowing people who live in the “orient” the mutual recognition they deserve.

As a case study, the interracial relationships in colonial India reinforce the idea that Orientalism can manifest as a positive, or attractive view of people in India for instance, but is still extremely harmful because it diminishes humans to a single trait. Many British Officers of the East India Company, like James Kirkpatrick, married Indian women upon moving to India with stereotypes of women in the “orient” as their reason for attraction. British men claimed Indian women to be “more sexual” and “exotic” than British women and thus preferable as a sexual partners.

The British men of the East India Company were prime examples of Orientalism in action, their attraction to the women in India was motivated by stereotypes of women in the “orient” rather than the quality of their character. Thus, the concepts of Orientalism still apply even when the stereotypes are more positive, and desirable, the dehumanization no matter the stereotype remains the same.

2 thoughts on “Orientalism in 19th Century Interracial Relationships


    Super interesting. I feel like so much of orientalism resulted in the oversexualization of women from the east and that something that we see so often today.


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