An insightful 3-4 minute read 🙂
Both of my parents are from Kerala, a beautiful state on the south west coast of India. The majority of the women in my family are fair skinned; we are told to stay that way.
An introduction to Colourism
What is ‘Colourism’?
You’ve heard of racism: prejudice, discrimination or antagonism against someone of a different race – stemming from the belief that one’s own race is superior.
Simply put, colourism is racism within one’s own race. A dominating form of colourism in Indian culture is the belief that light skin is better than dark skin.
Where does colourism come from?
A lot of people argue that colourism came about in India when Britain colonised the country, suggesting that colourism is a byproduct of white supremacy.
‘The Crazed Indian‘ on YouTube offers “It’s happened for generations. We’ve assumed that the more we can be like our colonisers, when it comes to our manners, when it comes to our looks, when it comes to our skin colour, how we present ourselves to the world – the better we are. The better we’ll fit in.”
I agree with her and I’ll add that it stems from the caste system too. You’re probably familiar with the idea of arranged marriages being normal in Desi culture, but there is more to it than just ‘my son will marry your daughter’ – social status plays a huge part of marriage proposals, you have to have equal social status to your partner, for your marriage to be approved.
How does social status link to skin colour?
Stereotypically, Indians with fair skin are portrayed as wealthy and those with dark skin are deemed poor. History states that wealthy Indians stayed indoors, and those with less money would work outside in the sun – thus making them darker. This is an awful assumption, but the stigma has been around for generations.
Don’t get me started on Bollywood. They never hire dark skinned women to play the lead role. Darker skinned women aren’t even cast as back-up dancers either – you’ll see light skinned Indians or even white women.
North India vs South India: there is a divide because of the cliche that dictates that North Indians are light and South Indians are dark. So with that cliche, comes the prejudice that North Indians are wealthier and therefore superior. Not cool.
Unfair & Lovely – Skin Bleaching
I am a light skinned Indian. Not so light that I could get into Bollywood, but ‘light enough’ to have its unnecessary privileges.
I think I was around 9 or 10 when I first came across Fair & Lovely. Lol, I can imagine my P.O.C readers rolling their eyes right now. Think of fake tan, but reversed. Still confused? Watch this 40 second video.
Now that you’ve seen that dreadful advert, you have gained an understanding of the extremities of colourism in Asia. When I was in Uganda last year, I visited a few stores and nearly ALL of them sold Fair & Lovely. Why are dark skinned women all over the world being told to make their skin lighter? Why is light skin a fetish? It’s just skin.
In her teenage years, I remember my sister putting Fair & Lovely on her face and I thought it was completely normal, because in my culture, skin lightening methods have been established by the media as a necessity. Skin bleaching is still seriously common across Asia and Africa and there are plenty of brands to promote it.
Multiple studies have shown that having light skin implies that you’re likely to have shorter prison sentences, better grades at school and success in your workplace. This is not to say these things aren’t deserved or worked for, but it exhibits a biased human perspective. It’s called ‘Light Skin Privilege.’ Colourism is not just within one’s own race, it’s a prejudice that the world has needlessly adopted and sadly accepted.
My Experiences with Colourism
If I had £1 for every time an Indian boy told me ‘you’re hot for an Indian’, I’d be rich! I always ask ‘what do you mean?’ and they say ‘you don’t look like you’re from the south.’
I went on a date with a white boy once (the Indian aunties are shaking in their sandals) and he assumed I was mixed race because I told him my mother was born in England. I corrected him and let him know that both of my parents are Malayalee and he was actually disappointed! He then attempted to compliment me by saying ‘you don’t look fully Indian, cos you’re a lighty’.
That interaction made me think, if I had been born a little darker, would men hesitate to date me? It breaks my heart that dark skinned women have been encouraged to feel this way about themselves because the media manipulates the public eye.
I think the media is really to blame for this light skin fetish that men and women have adopted. You hear it in the rap songs; there are hundreds that refer to light skinned women of colour and describing them as beautiful and sexy. You see it in magazines and television shows like Love Island – the light skinned women get a lot of attention, and dark skinned women are never praised in the same way; its plain discrimination.
I went to a predominantly white secondary school. There were perhaps 6 or 7 South Asians in my year and probably 4 or 5 black people.
My family would always tell me to stay out of the sun at school and if I ever got dark it would be made apparent. They meant well; remember, they’ve encountered years of brainwashing too. I get very dark in the summer so around the age of 13/14 I actually began to brighten the selfies that I posted on Instagram, the ‘Valencia’ filter was my best friend. It felt ‘good’ to be lighter than I actually was. I can’t believe I thought like that.
My sister told me a little about her experience at school:
“We used to sit on the field at school, all of our white friends would be sunbathing, and we would sit under a tree, in the shade. If there wasn’t a tree, the next best thing would be to use an umbrella.”
Please think critically about colourism.
As I mentioned before, I spent some time in Uganda and when I was there, I was exposed to the sun and my skin colour darkened a lot. Towards the end of the trip, I sent my mum a photo of myself that I liked. She showed her friend and he said that ‘She looks like she’s been out working in the fields in India’. I deleted the photo and began to feel insecure of my skin colour.
When I met my mum at the airport back in England, the very first thing she said to me was ‘You’re not too dark! You look nice.”
I love my mum so much and I know she would never mean anything bad by this, but I wanted to show this example to you all so I can explain how deeply rooted the issue of colourism is. My mum thought that I would be upset with how dark I was, so she wanted to make me feel better. Most of the time, people don’t even realise that the things that they say out of love have negative connotations.
If you take away anything from this article, please understand that we need to think critically about colourism. These comments do need to stop. For centuries, we have praised fair skinned individuals, but it is our responsibility to show love and admiration to our darker skinned brothers and sisters. It is appalling that history and something as narrow-minded as social status is able to determine what is beautiful. We need to help stop this obsession with light skin, its boring!
Melanin is sexy and dark skinned people should be able to wear it proud, without pathetic stereotypes and hierarchies.
If you know someone with dark skin, they deserve to know that they are beautiful, more than light skinned individuals do. So tell them. Be the reason we see a change in the world.
No one should have to bleach their skin to feel worthy.
Lots of love, Ariya x x x