It seems very obvious to me that she meant 'dirty' as a description of herself at that point in time and 'dark as a Tamilian' is part that is contentious. But many people have taken it to me she DID mean 'dirty as a Tamilian' too which I find befuddling.
Now is 'dark as a Tamilian' itself something to take offence to. Well, that depends.
a) 'dark as coffee' - hahah funny
b) 'dark as a chimney sweep' - haha..mmm well
c) 'dark as a Tamil' - edurA aruvaaLai
It could be meant as a simple descriptor of a fact - that Tamils on average are darker than the rest of the India. Watch Russel Peters pull this Lankan guy's leg about skin-color. Of course he's a stand-up, he's Indian etc. A sober vice-consul should know better.
I am less interested in the reality (as always) of what she did or did not mean, but more in the teasing apart what caused the outrage.
I think considerable part of the outrage comes from the existing popular opinion that pegs darkness as lower on the aesthetic scale and the associated hyper-sensitivity of us folk about it.
A diplomat should have known better before trying to joke about it.
Would she have joked about 'dark as an African'? If so, then she'd be my kinda girl, but unfortunately in the wrong line of work.
Had I been in the audience, I'd've found it funny though. That's perhaps because I am ..err..buffalo skinned.
PS: Comments with socioeconomic observations about fairness creams shall be disallowed.
PPS: Kamban about the dark hunk Rama:
வெய்யோன் ஒளி தன் மேனியின் விரி சோதியில் மறைய
பொய்யோ எனும் இடையாளொடும் இளையானொடும் போனான்
'மையோ, மரகதமோ, மறி கடலோ, மழை முகிலோ
ஐயோ! இவன் வடிவு' என்பதோர் அழியா அழகுடையான்
The Sun's luminous rays disappear on his dark form (so dark is he)
With the maiden who's waist is so thin that it is probably a lie to say it exists, and with his younger brother- he went
Kohl or emerald or the sea full of waves or the raincloud (what does one compare him with)
Aiyo! What a form!' is what can be said of He of endless beauty