Race, Inequality

I grew up surrounded by the Desi obsession with fair skin – but will it ever change?

There is an underlying colorist tendency here that gets perpetuated through simple everyday interactions and larger social situations as well.

With store-shelves stocked full of Fair and Lovely, the fairness cream, and light-skinned models and actresses dominating my TV screen, South Asia is truly a hub of colorism at its worst. Light skin privilege is very much alive and well here.

It begins at a young age, when the dark-skinned child is shamed for their skin tone and the light-skinned child is praised for theirs. An inadvertent obsession with light skin exists in the South Asian community that puts light-skinned South Asians on a pedestal whilst degrading, demeaning, and (even) ignoring their dark-skinned counterparts.

There is an underlying colorist tendency here that gets manifested in simple everyday behaviors and larger social situations as well. Initially, light-skinned POC’s in South Asia are inherently favored and praised – even when they haven’t achieved anything of extraordinary feat in schools, colleges, etc. Whereas light-skinned POC’s enjoy a preference and favoritism when it comes to jobs, relationships, and the like, all because they are generally considered “superior” or “more attractive” as compared to their dark-skinned counterparts.

As a light-skinned POC myself, I have seen this in play personally where I’ve been told by other light-skinned POC’s that there are things I needn’t worry about because of my skin tone. And that disgusts me to my core.

Colorism is a symptom as well as a system of oppression at work, especially in Asia. It stems from an intrinsically internalized proclivity towards light skin and a subsequent tendency to promote light-skinned individuals socially, economically, and otherwise too. It’s extremely regressive and dangerous because it encourages a harmful stereotype against dark-skinned individuals wherein they are judged and placed in society solely on the basis of their skin color.

Colorism creates an unfair hierarchy on the basis of skin color and ignores other important factors that actually matter when it comes to societal status. There are so many microaggressions at work in perpetuating this colorist tendency on the larger scale every day. Skin whitening creams, powders, and now there’s the advent of apps that lighten your skin tone – all this only seeks to deeply perpetuate colorism in a society that was already suffering due to it.

“Let’s take that photo again, I look so dark in it,” is a very common cause of misery for the modern Indian girl because looking dark skinned is supposed to be directly proportional with being unattractive.

Despite there being a wave of reclaiming ourselves for the way we are in this modern day and age of feminism, there still exists an inherent colorist tendency even in the body positivity movement where young women and men still prefer  “conventional good looks” which are more often than not synonymous with being light skinned. Colorism is nothing but an amalgamation of years of oppression through caste-based and class-based inequalities in South Asia, where the upper strata of the stay indoors,  and the lower strata work primarily outdoors under the sun.

This has persisted over the years and became an ideology where darker skin was and is associated with a sense of inferiority and lighter skin with a sense of superiority. Despite it being absolutely ridiculous, even in the 21st century, we have newspaper ads for matrimonials in South Asia where a boys’ family can (and does) ask for a “fair skinned bride”.

It sounds preposterous because it is, but colorism is a reality that needs to be fought and put to rest because nobody’s skin color was, is, or ever will be a measure of their self-worth in any way.